Birmingham were horrible in their tackling and Howard Webb’s refereeing was nothing short of woeful. Still it was quite expected and we should have overcome these challenges but it was not to be.
I’m concerned mainly because we have been struggling with our football. Apart from the home win over Porto we haven’t got our game going in most of the recent matches. Four men mid-fields of the quality of Hull and West Ham troubled us for large parts of the game, Porto away was tough and Stoke away wasn’t a great game. The wins over Burnley and Sunderland too were extremely hard fought.
The only reason we are where we are in the table is because we eked out results thanks to undeniable mental fortitude and the ability to fight till the end. But spirit can only take you so far and the real question is what’s happened to our football?
Focusing on the specifics of the game, I thought we got our act together only for a total of a quarter hour or so. A few minutes either side of the twenty minute mark and for ten minutes or so after the double substitutions we looked like the team all of us expect Arsenal to be. Birmingham had no answer to our movement, passing and pressing during these minutes.
At the end it resulted in a goal that was brilliantly taken by Nasri. For large parts the hosts succeeded in putting bodies between the ball and the goal but Nasri capitalized on one of the rare moments when we actually got a sight of goal.
The rest of the game was scrappy with neither side creating anything of note. There is a clear reason why only 25 goals had been scored at St. Andrews this season prior to our game. Birmingham don’t have any real attacking threat and they don’t let the other team play.
I thought our players were too isolated in attack. In the last few months we’ve done well when we got bodies into the box. Unfortunately, the midfield of Diaby and Denilson didn’t work and Cesc had to drop deep far too often. That left Bendtner isolated and rendered ineffective.
Our wide players struggled to contribute. Part of this was due to a lack of co-ordination with the midfield. The other reason was that the full backs had to stay deeper due to the lack of pace of Denilson and Campbell. The vicious tackle on El Capitan and persistent unpunished fouling didn’t help the cause either.
In spite of our problems the phenomenal spirit of this team saw us take the lead. As is our wont, we managed to self destruct. Arshavin’s miss was criminal, Nasri’s attempt to pass when clean through was dumb and the spirit which got the goal and the recent victories went AWOL at just the wrong time.
Almunia made a bad mistake for the goal and there can be no defending his error. Having said that, I feel much bigger mistakes were made by the defence in front of him.
Denilson was five yards away from the play and kept jogging around aimlessly instead of “reading the game” and “intercepting the pass”. Diaby, Song, and Campbell got sucked towards the ball and were caught in no man’s land. Not a single player was aware of Phillips’ run!! In the end Eboue Sagna was in a one v two situation at the back post even if one of the attackers was off side.
My point has always been that with such schoolboy defending any goalkeeper will struggle with his decision making and I’m convinced six months into the next season we will be cursing whoever is bought in the summer. Anyway, that’s a topic for the future.
Another big question is why didn’t we bring on a Eboue after the goal was scored? Surely, we were aware that Birmingham always fight till the last minute.
The only thing we can do now is look to the future. We cannot buy players and we cannot magically heal the unfit. What we can do is to keep our chin up and focus on playing football. One winning streak has come to and end and that means it’s time to start another.
Almunia: Was having a decent game till the soft hand at the end. He really needs to work on the strength of his arms.
Sagna: Decent in defence, had a couple of good moments in attack, probably stayed in a deeper position because Theo doesn’t do as much for the defence as Nasri or Rosicky.
Campbell: Was turned by Jerome a few times. Clearly lacked pace but had enough in experience to handle the Birmingham attack. Not sure he can get away with it against a team like Barca.
Song: I’m very uncomfortable with him in defence. he struggles with his decision making when there are vast empty spaces in front of him (As was the case for the foul which got him booked), and we really miss him in midfield.
Clichy: Decent defensively, should be contributing much more in attack but I’m not sure it’s his fault. The team shape isn’t right and the full back’s primary responsibility is in defence.
Denilson: Had a really poor game. Didn’t supply the creative players well enough. Couldn’t win the midfield battle against the likes of Ferguson and Bowyer.
Cesc: Way off colour by his standards. Did play a few good balls but just not the Cesc we are used to. I have been getting a feeling that in the last few games he’s been mentally preoccupied. Physically he’s a a game trier but his mind isn’t in it.
Diaby: Was magnificent in one-on-one’s and rode the challenges well. Poor passing and decision making in the final third.
Walcott: Didn’t get much space to use his pace. Made a couple of good runs but the end product was missing.
Bendtner: Was isolated for large parts. Hardly received any supply. Touch outside the box wasn’t very good.
Rosicky: Looked lively in patches. Had some good creative moments but the team was generally asleep. Was our best player till he was substituted.
Subs: Nasri scored a peach, messed up a good chance. Arshavin missed a golden chance but showed more purpose than the last few games.