Saturday, 15 November 2008
Faint title hopes extinguished
Maybe I'm being premature but I now cannot see us winning the league title this year, it's obviously still theoretically possible but there appears a rather wide gulf between what is possible in theory and in practice. Today's two nil defeat to Aston Villa demonstrated just how we are not quite all there from the title challenging point of view in several ways, both tactically and as a team.
I've been out of the country for the past couple of weeks, so forgive me if this all sounds a bit objective when we have just suffered such a sickening home defeat, but frankly what's the point in busting blood vessels and booing the players.
As many people remarked last weekend, our current starting eleven is pretty handy if the opposition turns up trying to play football, however if they come, as they are perfectly entitled to, to defend and play on the counter, then we are significantly less effective. There is also the rather obvious fact that the centre of our defence is simply not anywhere near right.
Tactically the same or very similar happened against Hull, Stoke and Fulham. The opposition knew that they would be likely to be destroyed should they try to take us on in an open attacking game, hence they sat back, defended in numbers and then stung us on the break. We should be able to expect this tactic from the opposition, but sometimes we do not appear to, our tactics remain unchanged and we are stung as we were today.
When this tactical naivety is combined with our suspect centre back pairing, a small midfield that does not do enough to defensively shield the back four and an isolated lone striker, then you have a recipe for disaster. Interestingly the majority of gooners that read this site feel Djourou and Toure would be our strongest pairing at the back, strange that Arsene seems to disagree so strongly. Dropping Gallas appears impossible for Arsene, but it is an option that may well have to be entertained at some point in the not too distant future.
The warning signs have been there for a while, they were apparent in pre season, it's just that our attacking play is frequently so good that it can paper over the cracks. The warning signs were there today, Villa looked sharp and dangerous on the break, even missing a first half penalty. There's no doubt poor refereeing contributed, certainly for the second goal, however one should not live in denial and pretend that the cracks do not exist, they do. I was slightly perplexed by the 4-5-1 formation against such a defensive Villa line up, it really played into their hands.
We have some fantastic players, we have a great manager, and it is not even debatable that we have the finest young players in the land. However in my eyes we are living with too many flaws to be making a serious title challenge. The centre of defence is not right, I am also disappointed that a certain young Swiss is not getting more playing time; the midfield does not have the muscle to rough it up at times, while the defence is not as well shielded as it has been in the past. Tactically we are also being found out, however this is partly down to personnel, maybe the players we have only have one way of playing.
These criticisms are not a knee jerk reaction, they represent a trend that has been developing over the course of this season, you simply cannot expect to challenge for the title when your defense is leaking goals so freely and when your tactics do not stand up to the tests that they face over the course of a season. What we must do is hang onto our best players and ensure that we remedy these problems as soon as possible, we can certainly beat anyone on our day in the cups. I really hope we can because it's incredibly frustrating to see us losing in such a manner when we have so much talent at our disposal.