In the preview I wrote, “there will be goals in this game for sure”. I don’t know how, but both sides managed to keep the ball out of their opponents’ nets when scoring would have seemed like the easier option. Arsenal had a lot of chances, very good ones. And they missed them all.
Twitter went mad after the game, as it usually does after a disappointing result I guess. I was too down to find the energy to write about such a performance so I thought it’d be better to go out run some errands, get routine maintenance done on the car just to take my mind off the game for a while.
Even that didn’t help and since Mrs Desi had been busy for a while, we decided to catch a late night movie at the theatre just across the road. The Descendants just lulled me to sleep. I found it even worse than Arsenal’s effort at Bolton and that is saying something. Anyway, the point is these events have delayed the writing of this article by almost a whole day but have also helped me get the negativity out of my system so, hopefully, this should be a balanced review.
The first half-hour was easy for Arsenal and the Gunners should have gone 2 or 3 up in that time. Bolton were giving the players a great deal of time and space in dangerous areas. The movement of Arsenal’s attackers was good as was their passing but the finishing was just awful. Ramsey rushed his shot when in the clear, Oxlade-Chamberlain scuffed one when well-placed, Walcott found a way to hit the goalkeeper’s leg when clean through, and Mertesacker fluffed an easy header when completely unmarked.
I think the easy option here is to blame the players but to me it seemed more of a confidence issue. They were all nervous in front of goal. A string of poor results can do that to the best of players. The issue with such a situation is that it can easily turn into a vicious cycle that is hard to break. Low confidence leads to mistakes, which in turn lead to poor performances and results, and ultimately that lowers the confidence further. Obviously, players at that level try hard to break this but it’s not a switch one can turn on or off. The work rate can be there, the movement can be there, but at the vital moment – in attack or defence – the player might become indecisive or hasty. The difference is in fractions of a second. The composure, the belief, these are intangible qualities that are hard to judge from outside and even tougher to instil. More than anything else I believe Wenger’s biggest task right now is to get the belief back up. Given that we are likely to see a brooding atmosphere for the next home game, which doesn’t give players enough time to rest either, it will now be a significant challenge.
Coming back to the game, after the opening half-hour I thought Bolton did well to drop really deep and narrow. They cut out space behind the defence and that limited Arsenal’s ability to create quality chances. Van Persie still found a way to hit the woodwork twice – first from a superb cross by Sagna, and then in a solo effort where he created space for himself and chipped the Keeper and the defence from the edge of the box. He recently did exactly that to similar effect in another game, didn’t he? Well, let’s just hope the days of Van Persie hitting the frame in almost every game are not back. This Arsenal side, in its current avatar, will really struggle to score if RvP can’t find the back of the net.
For their part, Bolton grew into the game after Arsenal’s initial dominance. N’gog, in particular, gave Koscielny a tough time. But it wasn’t until the final 10-15 minutes or so when the hosts really pushed Arsenal back and looked more like the side capable of winning. I thought this resulted from the substitutions that Arsene made which weakened the midfield somewhat. Add the usual tendency of lumping the ball forward under pressure and it played nicely into Bolton’s hands. Arsenal created virtually nothing towards the end barring that Van Persie chip, which really was a solo effort. In contrast, the hosts had a number of good chances.
Understandably, many have regressed to the usual criticism of a lack of transfer activity. People want something to change, which is perfectly valid, but should one’s imagination start and stop with transfers? I, for one, don’t know of any player good enough to improve Arsenal who was available this January. Of course, that is quite likely down to the limited information I have but it’s impossible for me to see the likes of Bobby Zamora or Louis Saha making Arsenal a better side.
As stated above, I think the big challenge for Wenger is to find a way to get this team believing in themselves. And he has to find a way to get more from his wingers and midfielders. It’s a tactical issue. There were some encouraging signs on that front. Oxlade-Chamberlain is clearly working on his off the ball movement. Theo is also getting more involved. Ramsey is getting into good positions. But they need to move up a notch or two and, to an extent, their development will also be linked with the confidence of the side. Furthermore, chopping and changing at this stage will only act as a catalyst to the negative loop.
Fans could play their part but, in the current environment, I don’t have any hopes on that front.
The returns of Sagna and Arteta were encouraging. They are very important to the structure of the team and hopefully their efforts will help others do better.
Szczesny: Was shaky and unconvincing throughout the game. Didn’t have to make many saves as most of the times the hosts couldn’t hit the target even when well placed. I thought he did make a good save against Davies late in the game but the commentator insisted it was a penalty. Not sure what to make of that.
Sagna: Had a decent comeback. Put in some good crosses. Good energy on the flank. Mostly strong defensively. But Petrov was able to put in a number of quality crosses from his side so he wasn’t always in positions where he could block them. Part of it came from the fact that Arsenal tend to be too narrow, especially when the ball comes back just after set-pieces. Don’t really blame the defender in this instance but that’s an area where the Gunners have to improve.
Mertesacker: Missed one excellent chance when he could have headed it towards goal from four yards or across the face of goal for Ramsey who was completely free. Had a very good game defensively, won 4 of his 5 ground duels and all 3 aerial duels. Also made a number of vital clearances in the Arsenal box.
Koscielny: Struggled against the strength of N’gog and in reading the flight/bounce of the ball more than once. Also misplaced a number of easy passes. Probably his weakest effort for the Gunners this season.
Vermaelen: Had a lot of work on the left but had a mixed-bag in terms of quality. Won many of his duels and limited the impact Chris Eagles could have in attack. Also went forward regularly and put in some dangerous crosses. But his passing was subpar and led the team in the “Total Loss of Possession” category.
The defenders weren’t too bad as Szczesny didn’t have that many great saves to make but they weren’t always in control of the situation. On another day we could easily have seen Bolton winning this one with a “freak” goal.
Song: Another one who had a bad day at the office. Wasn’t getting into good positions and that allowed Bolton to win many of the second balls uncontested. Passing was poor. Didn’t bring the ball out from defence as often or effectively as he should have. Only won 4 out of his 10 ground duels.
Arteta: Again topped the passing chart, by far. Also joint highest in winning back possession in defence (with Mertesacker) and midfield (with Song). Without Arteta, Arsenal could have lost this game as his positioning and composure was vital to the defence.
Ramsey: A patchy effort from the Welshman. For instance, he made a very good run – that few would have seen – but then couldn’t finish despite receiving a great pass. Work rate was very good and he had almost as many touches as Song despite playing fewer minutes. Passing accuracy was better than many players. But couldn’t offer incision at the top and was also dispossessed more often than others.
I thought Arteta carried the midfield but the other two had a poor game, especially given the amount of space they had. Song was a massive disappointment, Ramsey is still struggling. I strongly believe starting with Rosicky would have been the better option but Wenger can always argue this team could and should have won.
Walcott: His movement was good. For instance, he had to hold the run that got him in behind as Oxlade-Chamberlain was a touch slow with the pass. Also won a number of corners and his passing in the final third wasn’t bad. But finishing let him down more than once as he seems to be suffering from a lack of confidence that comes from getting fewer chances in front of goal.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Much improved movement from the youngster as he floated all over the pitch. Was very strong in the individual duels when running with the ball. But he is still quite raw. Wasted a number of opportunities to pass and has a tendency to blast from distance that doesn’t help. Had the second lowest passing accuracy among the starting outfield players just above Vermaelen. It would seem the two didn’t link up very well on a consistent basis.
RvP: Head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch. Created the chances for Ramsey, AOC, and Mertesacker. Also hit the woodwork in excellent displays of movement and technique. Deserved to be on the winning side but just didn’t get enough support from his teammates.
Van Persie was exceptional and the winger’s weren’t bad but this game lacked a player who could utilize the space between the lines in an intelligent, incisive manner. Neither of the wide men were capable of that. They also ran out of ideas once Bolton dropped deep.
Subs: Henry’s movement in and around the box was very, very good. But his overall effort was lackadaisical. Since he didn’t get the ball in the dangerous areas often enough to cause damage, it was his nonchalance in the other areas that will stand out as the lasting memory. Rosicky got very little time on the pitch.
Wenger: It’s tough for the manager to get the side back on track after a poor run of results. In that sense a draw is better than a defeat. In the previous games Arsenal might have conceded at the end but they didn’t do so in this one. He will receive flak for perceived inactivity in the January market but he is wise enough to put that behind him. The next challenge is the most important and the side has to show they know how good they actually are. Hopefully he will find a better balance from the resources available than he did in this game.
Stats used in this article are from EplIndex.Follow @goonerdesi