Arsenal Surrender EPL Title: Thoughts on Arsene Wenger's Tactics, Poor Defending

Robin SAnalyst IApril 21, 2011

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 20:  Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal brings down Gareth Bale of Spurs during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on April 20, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

After Manchester United's draw with Newcastle United, Arsenal just needed a win at White Hart Lane to close the gap to four points and keep their title hopes alive. Instead of closing the gap with a win, Arsenal plunged to third spot following a frustrating draw.

The game wasn't frustrating but the result was. Tottenham should be satisfied with a point as they're now only two points behind Manchester City.

However, the same can't be said of Arsenal as they've allowed Chelsea to get back into the thick of action at the top of the tree and now find themselves in the fight for third spot. Manchester City could push Arsenal further down.

Finishing second might not be a disaster but finishing fourth after fighting for the title for a good part of the season is. Arsenal don't have anyone but themselves to blame for the current predicament.

They lack the professionalism to see games through and simply aren't championship material. They concede soft goals and opponents always feel they've got a chance with Arsenal, even if they're two or three down. We're talking about a team that can't protect a four-goal lead, so nothing is impossible against them.

Before slamming the players for their lack of professionalism and mental strength, let's focus our attention on the man of the moment.

Arsene Wenger is clearly under immense pressure. The pressure to deliver trophies is getting the better of him. Something that has been distinct over the past few weeks; from the touchline wrangle with Kenny Dalglish to bleating persistently at White Hart Line, he's livid with himself more than with anyone else.

What shouldn't be forgotten is the fact Wenger himself is responsible for his current plight. He had raised the expectation levels and now he's unable to deliver at that level. Plus, his decision in recent years to sign promising youngsters over established stars has antagonized a large section of supporters.

To make matters worse, some of the youngsters haven't lived up to the expectations that Wenger had for them. At this stage, Wenger's outburst at supporters that finishing second wouldn't be a disaster is ill-timed. That clearly sent the wrong message out to fans and players, and only added fuel to fire.

After going through a disheartening spell of five years without a trophy—make it six now—that's not what anyone wanted to hear. Finishing second after five years without a trophy is a disaster at a club of the stature of Arsenal. It's not a disaster when you win silverware every other season. That's a vast topic, so I am saving it for another day.

Coming to the Tottenham game, a draw was never going to be enough. Arsenal got what they least wanted and not for the first time this season. The draw has virtually ended Arsenal's title aspirations and now it's only a matter of formality before Manchester United lift the title for a record 19th time.

Arsenal should look back at this season and regret thinking what might have been. With a bit more professionalism, discipline and desire they could've easily toppled United to win the league title. The Gunners dug their own grave with catastrophic performances at home. And with that sort of home form you're not supposed to win anything.

Although Arsenal's home form has been disastrous, their away form clearly is nothing short of spectacular.

Everyone had their eyes set on Arsenal's away form before the North London Derby at the Lane. But Arsenal couldn't emerge victorious despite their outstanding away record. That means Tottenam now are on a three-game unbeaten run against Arsenal in the League—a humiliating statistic if you're an Arsenal fan.

The very thought of Tottenham dominating Arsenal is disgraceful to Arsenal fans. However, much to their disappointment, that's sadly what has happened this season.

Tottenham advanced further than Arsenal in the Champions League and took four points out of a possible six in the League. If anyone wanted to point out Tottenham's mauling at the hands of Arsenal in the Carling Cup, I just have one thing to ask: Does that even count?

Which one would you choose: Surrendering a two-goal lead to your bitter rivals at home in a league fixture or beating the same opponent away in the "Mickey Mouse" Cup?

Arsenal's inability to defend a two goal was very much evident once again at the Lane, as if the capitulation at home after being two-nil up wasn't enough.

Arsenal opened the scoring through Theo Walcott when he latched on to a slid pass from Cesc Fabregas and slotted home with aplomb.

Tottenham, however, took less than three minutes to level the score. Rafael van der Vaart blasted one in by beating Wojceih Szczesny at near post. Later, Samir Nasri's stunning long-range effort gave Arsenal the lead, and deservedly so.

Robin Van Perise made it 3-1 with abit of assistance from the goalkeeper Hurelho Gomes. In the dying minutes of first half, Arsenal's poor defending allowed Tottenham to make it 3-2 at half time—Tom Huddlestone's unstoppable missile reduced the deficit to one goal.

In the second half, Arsenal struggled a bit and failed to take their chances. Arsenal surrendered the lead, as usual, when Szczesny conceded a penalty and van der Vaart couldn't fail from 12 yards out.

The game might have been sizzling but Arsenal's defensive performance was anything but that.

The first name on the culprits list is Szczesny. He was beaten at near post and conceded a needless penalty later. Although van der Vaart's shot was thunderous, the keeper should've done better at near post. That's one of the first lessons in goalkeeping manual: don't get beaten at your near post.

Not surprisingly, Szczesny's distribution was poor. This was something that I had noticed when he made his debut at Old Trafford. He just can't a kick a ball far enough accurately.

It's worth remembering how poor his kick was in the build up to Liverpool's goal last week. He made some fine saves against Tottenham, but his distribution and kicking have to improve if he's to become one of the best.

Time is on his side and with experience and little more practice that will improve. That's where Lukasz Fabinaki has the edge, and I wouldn't be surprised if he returns in goal next season.

As much as you criticize Szczesny, you can't overlook the defence. Once again the mediocrity of Arsenal's rearguard showed up.

Szczesny got little to no support from his defence. The second goal resulted from a poor clearence by Fabregas. And for the third, a simple through ball cut the defence wide open which lead to the penalty.

Aaron Lennon wasn't marked at all and the gap left between Johan Djorou and Bacary Sagna was shocking. Lennon's pace is well publicized, so that much space and time shouldn't have been given.

Arsenal's most improved defender, Djourou, had a poor game in totality. He was lucky not to have conceded another penalty.

Coming to midfield, Abou Diaby is more of a liability and it's time he's gone. He was easily dispossessed in his own half and had a shocking first half. His natural inclination is to hold on to the ball for an extra split second which usually ends up in him getting dispossessed cheaply.

I have seen how folks extol Alex Song in recent times. He had an indifferent game in midfield. He's outpaced, outmuscled and outwitted in midfield. That's not what you expect from your midfield enforcer.

You can't help but wonder what might have happened with more competition for places. Song is more or less guaranteed a starting berth when fit. So with little competition you can't blame him for taking his place for granted. A bit of competition brings the best out of any player. And that bit of competition is lacking in Arsenal's defensive midfield position.

Wenger should seriously ponder over bringing in an established DM this summer. Again this should've been done last summer.

In the final third, Arsenal were brilliant. So nothing much to inspect there.

Also, you wonder what Gael Clichy is good at. He's undoubtedly one of the fastest players around in football. Folks make you believe he's an attacking wingback. But what does he do going forward?

He's not a good crosser of the ball, and his shooting is as good as Manuel Almunia's goalkeeping. While, he's not the best defensively.

So, in terms of efficiency, he's not as good as he's made out to be. Compare and contrast Real Madrid's Marcelo with Clichy, then you will understand what an "effective" wingback can offer in offense, especially an attack-oriented team like Arsenal need a better wingback.

Marcelo's superb partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo is a joy to watch and one of the many reason why Real Madrid is having a good season. The latest is King's Cup triumph over Barcelona which effectively ended Barcelona's chase for the treble.

And most likely, knowing the manager that he is, Mourinho will oust Barcelona in Champion's League semifinal too. Let's not get too far and get back to Arsenal.

In conclusion, I just wanted to touch up on Wenger's tactics. Let's face it, Wenger's substitutions are always ridiculous. Wenger ended his team's chance of winning the game when he took off Nasri and Walcott.

Nasri was clearly seething. Wenger then deployed Andrei Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner who were abysmal in the final 10 minutes. If that wasn't enough, the ludicrous sight of a technically-poor Bendnter struggling out on the flanks summed up Wenger's lack of tactical astuteness.

When looking for the winning goal, why wasting a centre forward out on the wings? Why not be brave and play two up front?

To be honest, I would rather have Marouane Chamakh over Bendtner. Is he still there in North London? Or flown back to France? Maybe back to Morocco?

Nonetheless, that's title for another year. Chelsea have an outside chance though it looks unlikely. Arsenal should fight it out to snatch the second position from Chelsea. If only that was an achievement...!


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