By Tony Attwood
This has been a season of blips, and each blip has been seized upon by the media as a total disaster, and quite possibly the end of civilisation. Not to mention the time for a major overhaul of the team.
Except that is what we had with the defence last summer. It seems a bit early to do it all again.
But we had these discussions after the opening three league games, and then again with the defeats to Liverpool, Manchester United and Everton in November / December in which we conceded nine and scored three. Those three successive away defeats were seen as a sign of Arsenal’s weakness, and we sank to seventh, four points behind the highly-tipped West Ham. Highly tipped to be in the Champions League next season that was. (And no games in hand at that point either – they are now three points behind Arsenal having played two games more).
Then we had another blip – our third – at the start of January with defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool (that in the league cup) Nottingham Forest (FA Cup) and a goalless draw with Burnley. We scored one goal in five games.
Now it looks like we are in another one and they do look like they are coming a bit too “thick and fast” to use the media’s favourite phrase.
|16 Mar 2022||Arsenal v Liverpool||L||0-2||Premier League|
|19 Mar 2022||Aston Villa v Arsenal||W||0-1||Premier League|
|4 Apr 2022||Crystal Palace v Arsenal||L||3-0||Premier League|
So probably the best way forward is not to make too much fuss out of this, but instead to look to the broader context. If Arsenal can stop this blip from becoming more than a slipup then we are still in a strong position. If it goes on we could be in trouble.
Although not as much trouble as we appeared to be when bottom of the league after the first three games.
The essence of the problem probably lies with the age of the players – the youngsters don’t have enough experience to grab a game that is slipping away and turn it around. But such players are hard to find and everyone is after them. It is generally not a case of going out and plucking one off the shelf. And meanwhile younger players can get injured quite often.
And certainly, the most obvious conclusion, when this result is added to the season as a whole, is that away from home we are not as good as we would like to be. We have been improving but away we are still worse than Manchester United and Tottenham, and that makes life tough.
So what we need to do is to make sure this run of two defeats in three games now comes to an end, and return to the positive runs we have had previously. Six wins and two draws in a league run from mid-September to early November. Four straight league wins in December in which we scored 14 goals. Five straight league wins in February and early March…
It is clear where the fault lines are that stop Arsenal just bursting through into the top four non-stop… we are having these good runs and then instead of having the occasional one-off bad result (which almost every team has) we are getting a run of poor results.
The reason however is not clear. At least not to me. But if I had to put money on it I’d say the most likely explanation seems to be the age of the team (remembering as we noted before that this is the youngest team in the Premier League), and their lack of experience in terms of dealing with bad games.
Although the only differences between the lineup in last night’s game and that against Aston Villa was the change in goalkeeper (Ramsdale instead of Leno), and Nuno Tavares instead of Kieran Tierney. Otherwise, the teams were the same.
So we can blame Tavares – but he is a young player who came from Benfica last summer, where he had only played 25 games. But then if we had bought older players they would be demanding to be first choice every week, rather than waiting for a chance to slot in because of an injury.
Tavares had a hard time of it against Nottingham Forest and did so here again, and probably just needs more time to mature and adjust. Our next player for the position is Mazeed Ogungbo who has been playing there for the under 23s but it would seem to be too early for him. The other option would have been Cedric at left-back and Ben White at right-back. Or maybe we should have kept hold of Holding. And certainly with neither Tierney nor Takehiro Tomiyasu we don’t look so good.
But it is easy to be wise after the event. We still have a game in hand over Tottenham and a win in that match would take us three points clear of them. It’s still not all over, although it feels very disappointing.
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