Arsenal Players Go Missing. Please Return To Owners If Found.
Stoke City 3 – 1 Arsenal
1 – 0 Jones (28)
2 – 0 Pennant (40)
2 – 1 van Persie (81)
3 – 1 Walters (83)
No excuses,we were just not good enough today! Thanks for the amazing support anyway!
So said Wojciech Szczesny on Twitter last night. An honest opinion from the Pole and an honesty with the support that I hope he never loses. Arsenal are Masters at platitudes, Kings of the correct words. And then a performance like this happens.
In the past, clubs in lower divisions have paid for those supporters who travelled to witness dire performances, to travel for free to another away game. God knows but Arsenal could do with some positive PR right now. You could feel the goodwill built from beating United seeping away the longer this performance went on.
Being beaten on the pitch is a part of football. To surrender meekly is not. Arsenal looked from the edge of that precipice.
As Manchester United showed the winning desire, rebounding from their Emirates defeat to put Chelsea to the sword, Arsenal succumbed to defeat, losing to a team that had spirit. A team that had organisation. A home team that had 26% possession of the ball. How can you not win a game where you have 18 shots on goal. When only three of those are on target, there is your answer.
It is desperately hard to find any positives from a performance such as this. And I know, I’ve tried. The only one I’ve come up with is the fighting spirit of Jack Wilshere and Robin van Persie’s goal. Not much to show for an afternoon’s work, gentlemen.
The bigger problem is that such a defeat tarnishes the whole of the season, making it seem as if the problems are the only aspect to take from 60 or so games thus far. When it is a cumulative effect, such as a trough into which a squad has fallen, the impact is exacerbated.
They are not nor should they deflect from the positive aspects. And the reverse is equally true.
It did not to be this way. Arshavin and van Persie spurned decent opportunities inside the first five minutes. Perhaps a warning sign of what was to come. At The Emirates, Stoke were torn apart in the first half and produced defensive discipline in the second. They carried on where they left off.
As soon as Arsenal had possession, the massed ranks were effectively marshalled and provided a wall through which no amount of Arsenal guile could find a way. Principally because there was no Arsenal guile.
When Stoke took the lead, it was not much of a surprise in (a) they scored and (b) the manner of the goal. Arshavin conceded a lazy freekick. Stupid because of the push and lazy because he had a CBA moment, refusing to jockey and keep a Stoke attack in the corner until they surrendered possession.
Pennant whipped the freekick in, Jones bundled the ball over the line. Having been unmarked. Post match, Arsène noted that 21 goals had been conceded by Arsenal from set pieces. Bacary Sagna said that Arsenal are “too nice” when defending.
Neither is acceptable for they are flaws which have been on display all season. They are understandable to some extent because from the attacking sphere, Arsenal are not much of a threat from set pieces. How can you practice defending them when you do not know how to attack them?
On Saturday evening, Match of the Day viewers saw an instance of defending filled with passion and desire; Christopher Samba of Blackburn apparently holding West Ham at bay single-handedly. That is defending that Arsenal need. The desire, not Samba I hasten to add.
Before half-time the deficit was doubled and could have been trebled. Pennant put the Arsenal defence on the backfoot and they stayed there too long. When Djourou challenged, the ball looped off him and into the net. It sums up the luck Arsenal enjoy on days like these. Some redemption from that cruel mistress came when Walters hit the bar moments later.
Changes of personnel at half-time brought Chamakh and Bendtner into the fray. Arsenal came no closer to scoring than in the opening half. More lively for certain but same possession and lack of guile brought few chances.
Bendtner went close, just missing with a curled effort. Stoke went closer, Sagna and Szczesny both doing excellently to keep the margin at two goals.
When Arsenal did score, van Persie was unsurprisingly the man to do so for the eighth consecutive away game. And Arsenal conceded almost straight away when Djourou made a hash of his clearance, leaving Walters the relatively straightforward finish.
Arsenal can still finish second. They need to show desire if they are going to do so. They need to show that they can concentrate. They need to show guile. All of them were absent in large quantities yesterday. Villa and Fulham must be hoping that this lacklustre Arsenal stays on the pitch for the upcoming fixtures.
As much as he might not wish to do so, Arsène has uncomfortable questions to answer. How can the performance level be so vastly different from last week? How can the defensive unit habitually concede similar goals? The answers sought do not come in the form of words, they come in actions.
Time is running out this season but it needs to be drilled into the heads of these players that they have not won anything. They have no laurels upon which to rest.
The players worked hard to be in a position to challenge for honours this season. They are working equally hard at making that all forgotten. It was a performance that was simply nowhere good enough by players in an Arsenal shirt. And that is not good enough.