Wins for Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United on Sunday will see Arsenal bumped from third place on the Premier League table to fifth place after their disappointing 3-3 draw with Norwich City at the Emirates, as both Spurs and Newcastle would be a point better than Arsenal.
One thing is sure, barring losses to both teams, Arsenal will be out of third place tomorrow, and with just a single match left in the season to play, the likelihood of Champions League football next season is looking rather improbable.
When I articulated fear earlier this week about the possibility of Arsenal losing their hold on third place, a few thought I was fear mongering.
But there was one thing in my defense, actually two. The first is the surprising losses to QPR and Wigan, in matches eerily similar to this draw against Norwich. The second, is found in the following observation, which coincidentally I made after the first Norwich match.
A number of times I’m convinced that Arsenal are too full of themselves. This is especially true when they play lesser opposition—teams like Norwich or Wigan, for example. They seem to think that the mere name “Arsenal” is enough to win such matches.
This exact attitude was what lost Arsenal the opportunity to consolidate their hold on third place, after a promising start, just two minutes into the match.
After Yossi Benayoun's early strike, it seemed to the team that the 90 minutes of the match had been played already. This was what lost the match.
Let me analyze what happened in the first half.
The diagram represents Arsenal's formation this season, the new-found 4-3-3, which is a little different from the 4-2-1-3 (4-2-3-1) of the last several seasons.
The prominent shapes designate the midfield trio, with the larger one representing the axis that holds the midfield together, the box-to-box role.
As you can see, it is the link between the most advance midfielder and the most defensive.
Remove this link and the team become rudderless. The most advanced midfielder's role is to help create scoring chances while the holding midfielder covers the defense and helps to enforce the team's game plan.
The box-to-box role in this system is the spine of the midfield, what Arsenal have lacked since Mikel Arteta's injury. Aaron Ramsey did okay in the Chelsea match, but he was terrible today.
In essence the big problem in the first half was an absent midfield, due to lack of proper linkage between Alex Song and Tomas Rosicky.
I like Aaron Ramsey, but that doesn't mean I should not call a spade a spade. He failed at his role just like Benayoun failed in this same role at Swansea City. When that happened, I said so. There's no way to sugar-coat this. Ramsey failed in his role and it cost us.
But Ramsey didn't single-handedly lose Arsenal the match.
It was the entire team that lost the match, mainly through an attitude problem. I can't imagine the team losing this opportunity to take the entire three points had it played like it did in the last 15 minutes, excepting the cheap final goal it gave away.
The collective attitude problem meant that the entire team forgot the basic tenets of pressing and movement. In the first half especially they didn't press the ball early, and this allowed Norwich to play their own game.
Lack of movement means that team was more often than not redundant in possession. This left possessing players with few passing options.
For the goals Arsenal conceded, all resulted from lack of commitment from the players in the middle when possession was lost. It was as though nothing was at stake.
As far as blame is concerned, there is enough to go round.
For example, despite his brace, Robin van Persie was atrocious in front of goal and Wojciech Szczęsny was terrible in goal. For Arsenal, this was a bad match.
There are many more things to say, but I'd like to conclude.
Much like the easy thing to do is scream and abuse everyone, I think fans should take this one on the chin. No doubt we are sinking. Let's sink together so we can all come up together in the coming days.
This is a wake up call for next season.
I keep saying we need a solid midfielder. I have even mentioned the box-to-box role in one of my recent articles. I had observed that the only other options we have beside Arteta are the injured duo of Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby. No one however, can guarantee their form and fitness next season.
I hope this lost jolts Wenger into taking proper action concerning patching up the holes in the squad.
One other major problem I observed, is the lack of leadership on the pitch. There was no one talking to the players to chase down balls.
That kind of leadership is needed on the pitch. It comes with enough gap in seniority. Enough to make some of the younger players listen.
Again, a lot was wrong here. I'd therefore like to congratulate my enemies, the ones that celebrate when things go wrong with the team.
Congratulations, you just won. However, temper your celebration. You never know, both Newcastle and Spurs could throw away their matches too.
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