I don’t know how a team can concede one, leave alone three, against a Spuds side as toothless as this one was. But as it is, Arsenal have gifted their bitter rivals three soft goals to throw away a two goal lead.
That old enemy, losing concentration and desire midway through the game, came back to haunt the side that looked like it could run away with the game and score 4 or 5 in the process. I’m not furious we lost this game. I’m incensed that a 5-0 turned into a 2-3.
The only credit I can give to the Tiny Totts is that they had quality in the final third and took their chances when the gifts were presented to them.
The first half started brightly. Spuds got a corner early on and Bale attempted a lame back-heel that was easy for Fabianski. After that it was all Arsenal.
Nasri’s opener came from a delightful ball over the top by Cesc that found the run of the Frenchman. Nasri’s first touch was not perfect but Gomes couldn’t control it and Samir was able to nick it away and squeezed it in from the narrowest of angles.
Arsenal created a number of half chances after that. The best one fell to Cesc who shot wide when he had a clean sight of goal.
The second goal cushion arrived when a quick break allowed Fabregas to run at the Tottenham defence. He found Arshavin on the left and his ball was turned in by Chamakh.
After this Chamakh had another golden chance when he was clean through. But instead of taking charge of the situation he waited for a foul or for a teammate. Neither came and the chance was missed. The Moroccan would go on to make a similar mess in the second half.
In the first half you could see Arsenal were completely on top. The Tiny Totts were limited to set-pieces and couldn’t create a single clear chance. Arsenal players maintained a good shape, read their attacking moves well, never allowed Van der Vaart or Bale any time on the ball, and kept finding spaces in the Spuds half.
You could sense that the first ten minutes or so of the second half would be very crucial. If Arsenal can maintain the same discipline they should not have any problems despite Redknapp bringing Defoe on for the ineffective Lennon. If anything it should have opened up the midfield for Arsenal.
Five minutes into the second half disaster struck. It’s known as the classic Denilson disaster. Arsenal were camped in the opposition half for a set-piece. Assou-Ekotto launched a long ball forward that was won by Defoe whose flick-on found Van der Vaart. The Dutchman was allowed to control the ball and roll it to an onrushing Bale as Denilson simply jogged alongside. Even Sagna was guilty of ball-watching and not putting enough pressure on the only real creative player in the opposition. Once the ball went past Denilson to Bale he had a clean run on goal and there was very little Fabianski could do.
Arsenal lost their composure for a while but it seemed like the players regained it around the hour mark. Once again it was simple football with neither side creating much except the chance for Chamakh.
The second disastrous moment for the equalizer came out of nowhere. First Dowd gave a dodgy free kick just outside the penalty box. Then, inexplicably, Cesc raised his arm in the wall and the ref pointed to the spot. Now there can be an argument that Fabregas was not looking at the ball and his arm wasn’t above the head of Chamakh so the ball would anyway have hit Chamakh. But the simple fact is that there was no need for raising his hand in that extended manner and if you give the ref a chance to screw you, he will.
Van der Vaart put the spot kick away with ease and it was anyone’s game now. I call this the classic Arsenal disaster. Unlike the one with Denilson where the Brazilian does something stupid or shies away from a key challenge, this one is spread across the team. Any Arsenal player is capable of making a rank amateur mistake in the penalty box. That’s the classic Arsenal disaster. That’s why Arsenal need clear focus on defensive training and a tough, new coach who can freshen the drills and bring some belief in the way Arsenal defend set-pieces. Just putting numbers in the box doesn’t always work.
We saw the dreadful impact of this five minutes from time when the turnaround from complete domination to abject surrender was finished. Koscielny fouled Bale as the Tinies were on a break. I thought Spuds stole 10-15 yards for that free-kick. This gave Van der Vaart a brilliant angle to deliver. His ball found the back of Kaboul’s head as Van Persie made a lame challenge. The ball, as we all feared it would, snuck into the corner of the net.
Between the second and the third goals Arsenal did create a couple of chances. Gomes kept a Cesc strike out with a brilliant save and Koscielny missed a golden chance as he headed over the top with the goal gaping.
After the third goal Arsenal couldn’t really muster anything as the team lost all composure and ended up hoofing the ball all too often.
A number of recurrent problems were again highlighted by this game.
First was the lack of a leader on the pitch. Arsenal heads dropped every time a goal went in and they took a few minutes to recover. After the third goal we wasted 10 minutes as no one was there to take charge of the team and bring some order to the chaos. It’s difficult to criticize most of the players because you could see they were trying hard. The problem is, when the Arsenal system is broken, the players can’t do much even if they work like donkeys.
Second was the lack of tactical substitutions and decision making, an area where I’ve always maintained Arsene needs some help. The first goal gave the Tinies a lot of belief and we needed a substitution by the hour mark at the latest. Denilson should have been taken off, Walcott brought on the wing, with Nasri coming in the middle, Cesc dropping deeper, Song sitting in front of the defence with discipline. We had a man advantage in the middle anyway. It should have been used. Denilson was completely useless in the second half. Arshavin should also have been taken off around the hour mark.
I thought Van Persie, Walcott and Rosicky were the right players to bring on but the latter two came on too late in the game. I don’t pretend to know more than Arsene but we see the impact of substitutes in many games and for Arsenal it’s not as strong as it should be given our bench. A good reshuffle would also allow us the moment we need to take a breather and get the composure back.
Finally, there was the case of Denilson. He just gives up. I don’t know what to say to that and why we haven’t sorted it out. If he is a good reader of the game he should have put a slide in to intercept the ball from Van der Vaart. There was only one pass for the Dutchman and it wasn’t that difficult to read. There are times when it seems Denilson thinks that just by running back and being in front of the box his job is done. That is not acceptable.
Fabianski: Didn’t have much to do and couldn’t have done much for the goals.
Sagna: Was superb against Bale for most of the game. The Welshman was hardly in the game until he was gifted the goal. Can’t fault him for the defeat.
Squillaci: decent for most parts. Read the game well, swept up everything that came in behind Sagna, should have contributed more on set-pieces at either end. Conceded some needless fouls around the box.
Koscielny: very similar to Squillaci. His foul led to the third goal but it was really high up the pitch so can’t really blame him. Should have scored with the free header.
Clichy: had Lennon in his pocket. Defended really well. Spuds rarely had anything down their right. Can’t fault him for the performance.
Song: excellent work on the right flank, especially in the first half. Passing wasn’t very good in attacking areas. Should have stayed deeper when the team lost its composure. Showed a lack of maturity and decision making at those moments.
Cesc: Completely ran the game and was head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch. Gave away the penalty in a moment of madness. Couldn’t bring the team’s focus back when a leader was needed.
Denilson: I’ve said enough in criticism but he was decent in the first half as he is when the opposition isn’t putting us under pressure. Not good enough.
Nasri: Scored a great goal, worked really well on the right, couldn’t have asked for more except better deliver on set pieces.
Chamakh: scored a fantastic goal, made some superb runs, excellent work rate, but bottled it at big moments.
Arshavin: had a couple of sparks, created the goal for Chamakh, tracked back often enough, but I thought it was the wrong choice to start with him.
Subs: Van Persie’s delivery on set pieces was good, his movement was quality, but he didn’t get the ball often enough. Rosicky was energetic but his decision making wasn’t very good. Walcott didn’t have the composure in tight areas.
As I’ve said in the past, there is no point talking about title chances after every game. There will be good runs and there will be games that are complete disasters. At the end of the season we will see which is more. Right now the disaster column is leading.
Wenger really has to get a grip on things. Right now his players are not delivering to their potential and the buck stops with the manager.