So the ‘promising’ start to the season well and truly evaporated today. We languish in ninth place, though a win would have taken us fourth, at least until tomorrow. Despite the disappointment of the performance and the result, that does show that a win or two can still take you a long way up the table in a very short time at this stage of the season. So it’s not all over.
That was the positive side. On the negative, we are already ten points behind Chelsea, who still look as though there is little in the League this season to challenge them. They don’t look like the best team ever, and they have imploded after great starts before now, but they are a long way ahead of us already. Five or six points behind and I wouldn’t be too bothered at this stage, but ten is big.
We started quite brightly in this match, but it didn’t last. I think I’d have trouble picking out a man of the match for Arsenal. It was all average at best.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: not having a top class keeper will cost you points and prevent you winning a title. You can get lucky in a cup competition in many ways, but you will never win the league on luck or with a less than top quality keeper. The only goal of this match came from a speculative shot that a top keeper would have done better with. Okay, it was hit well and swerved a little, but to push it back towards their approaching centre-forward is poor. You could point fingers equally at Santos playing Holt onside and to a certain extent Mertesacker for his slowness chasing Holt, so to always blame the keeper is perhaps unfair. On the other hand, the keeper has one job. He only has to save things that actually get past the defenders, who between them break up 90 per cent of attacks. It’s usually more obvious when a keeper makes a mistake, but that’s one reason why you need a good one – a world class one if you want to win big competitions. We don’t have one, and Arsène for some reason doesn’t seem to think a keeper is worth paying big money for.
So Mannone continues in goal; he spills shots; rebounds get put in; we lose matches.
I wasn’t over-concerned when the goal went in, as we’d looked reasonably good to that point. After that, the Arsenal performance started to go downhill and I gradually became more concerned.
We got to half time and in the ESPN studio John Barnes and Martin Keown were told about eight times how to pronounce ‘Cazorla’, but still couldn’t manage it. Unfortunately that wasn’t the limit of the Spaniard’s problems, as even Santi couldn’t hit his man nearly often enough with passes today.
Our other Spaniard, Arteta, laboured hard, but to generally little effect today. Even leaving the keeper aside, several players looked short of the quality required today. You can carry one player having an off day, but not six or seven. Top clubs require players who are consistently good, not sporadically. I won’t single anyone else out. Some are young and might prove themselves; others will never be better than squad players for a top club.
Don’t let anyone say Arsène won’t make changes, though. Today he brought on a sub after only 64 minutes instead of the usual 67 or 70. It was the Ox who came on to give us some hope, but he got injured in his first challenge and after hobbling around for a while was himself replaced by Arshavin.
The Russian tried a little harder than he sometimes does, but he’s not the player to inspire a performance from a struggling team these days.
With about 15 minutes to go, I tweeted: “RT if you still think Arsenal will win”. I got about 15 or 16 very quick retweets, so clearly some fans were still confident – or at least hopeful. Sadly, any hope was unfounded, with none of Giroud, Podolski and Cazorla on form today. And as for Gervinho . . .
Gervinho simply can’t beat a man with skill. He does a lot of running but when he comes up against an opponent he stutters to a halt and ends up running in circles. Show him the goal and he usually hesitates so long the chance is gone. So it was on 88 minutes, when with pretty much the only clear sight of goal one of our forwards had all game, Gervinho took too long and his shot was blocked at source.
Mertesacker went up front for the last ten minutes. Who decided that? We need a goal and instead of bringing on a quality replacement striker, we send forward a centre-back. I would really like to know whose decision that was.
So we were beaten by Grant Holt, the modern day Micky Quinn. My only consolation is that I know within two years of Holt retiring from the professional game he will weigh at least 15 stone.
We are currently in the middle pack of also-rans, not the challengers. It’s not too late to become challengers, but on this performance it looks unlikely it’ll be much of a challenge. We have to improve. We improved last year, we could improve this year. Let’s hope it’s soon.