ARSENAL: New year brings back our old failings
Not a great way to start the new year, with the Gunners as flat as the booze left over from the previous night’s celebrations.
It was a massive anti-climax at St Mary’s, as we travelled down to the South Coast in high spirits, hoping to maintain the festive mood, by kicking on from our somewhat fortunate triumph at Upton Park.
Instead of which, sadly the Arsenal returned to being the same flaccid and ineffectual side that we witnessed at Anfield the other week, but with our woes compounded against Southampton by some calamitous goalkeeping.
With the injured Welbeck sidelined along with the suspended Giroud and with us being left with Alexis as our only recognised striker, Arsene had little choice but to set our stall out as he did against West Ham, with the Gunners designed to play on the counter.
Yet any such game plan went straight out the window with us going a goal behind, following the brainstorm that saw Szczesny being caught in no-man’s land.
Although we did create a couple of decent opportunities, Forster managed to increase the sense of frustration by denying us even a conciliatory goal.
In truth, the 2-0 defeat was somewhat flattering because if the Saints hadn’t been quite so profligate in front of goal, the scoreline could’ve proved far more embarrassing.
The patent lack of balance in the Arsenal squad is the accusation most frequently levelled at le Gaffer and it was never more apparent than against Koeman’s sensible outfit. Alexis, the Ox, Rosicky and Cazorla must represent the smallest and least physical attacking threat in the world.
Behind them, we had two still wet-behind-the-ears teenagers, who both made the muscular Wanyama appear world class by comparison.
I wouldn’t have expected our defending to have been quite so poor, but sadly virtually the entire team played as if they’d been out on the tiles until 4am. After Szczesny gifted the Saints a second goal, Arsene’s only option was to throw Theo into the fray, but he was on the pitch for 20 minutes before his first touch of the ball duly received ironic cheers.
It was the overall lack of urgency at 2-0 down that was most infuriating.
I could’ve easily accepted a defeat to such a decent Saints side, at St Mary’s, if this had been an entertaining display, where I felt that the Arsenal had at least done our ability true justice.
But if I was proud of the effort we expended in achieving an enthralling win at West Ham, I was all the more disappointed by the pale shadow of a jaded-looking team that trudged off with their tails between their legs at Southampton, hampered by the limitations of our incongruous squad.
So just as I thought the Gunners would be starting the new year with the little bit of wind in our sails that might kick-start our campaign, sadly we’re right back in the doldrums again, looking to this weekend’s FA Cup encounter in the hope that it might prove some sort of catalyst.
The only consolation being that if we had managed to beat Southampton, Arsene might’ve been able to kid himself that he can paper over the cracks whereas surely now even the parsimonious professor cannot ignore the need to make the investment necessary to fill the increasingly yawning chasms in the Arsenal camp.
We controlled the first half yet found ourselves 3-1 down, and the problem for me was evident. Once again we were a team not prepared to take a shot. Yes, there were some individual errors, but the long and short of it was that the majority of the team were too focused on getting the ball to either Costa or Hazard rather than take a little responsibility themselves, especially in that first half.
What was worse, was that a relatively poor Tottenham side demonstrated exactly what can happen when the team that do take these shots and their chances.
This defeat could not have come at a worst time for us — with the gap at the top now gone, a semi-final against Liverpool on the horizon and we have to face City, with Lampard, at the end of the month. This kind of result will almost certainly cause a crisis of confidence with some of the players (and with the fans — me included!).
I’ve talked a lot about mental strength in the last few weeks and this result has demonstrated to me that there are certain members of our team who do not have the stomach for the fight and Jose needs to do something about that.
Of course Jose deployed his usual smoke and mirrors diversionary tactics after the game — another (deserved) dig at referees, the continual targeting of Hazard — even finding time to mention Sterling — all to demonstrate the inconsistency not just of then officials but also of the governing bodies.
This would be fine if it had any effect — but as we know both referees and the FA are pretty blatant in terms of their “differing levels of leniency — or not as the case may be” and whatever Jose says will not change that.
And, sometimes, it’s better just to come out and say we were well beaten — which in this case we were — five goals conceded tells its own story.
So anyone surprised that Lampard will remain with City until the end of the season? The whole thing stinks and although I imagine it’s not illegal, it’s certainly been done in a manner to deceive and demonstrates to me why an individual should not be permitted to own two football clubs — even if they are in two different countries.
The potential for these sorts of shenanigans is ripe and without going all jumpers for goalposts and all that, just doesn’t seem to be within the spirit of the game.
But even if you ignore all of that side of this whole thing, one can’t help but think less of Lampard himself. Firstly, there are those fans in New York — I know that many Premier League fans look down on “soccer’ fans from across the pond, but the fact is that football fans bought season tickets and merchandise as a direct consequence of Lampard signing for New York — the club made a financial profit when it’s looking increasingly like the plan was always for him to go to City — all sounds wrong to me.
And let’s not kid ourselves, Frank would have been party to all of this when he made the move. Yes he’s a professional and yes Chelsea had decided not to give him a new contract but he had publicly stated that he would never play for another English Premier League side. I would imagine Chelsea, along with fans like me, would have taken him at his word on this and why wouldn’t we?
Personally I find it all a little grubby and for me doesn’t show Frank Lampard in a particularly good light.
I just hope that this under-handed business does not result in yet another Premier League medal for him at our expense.
Obviously, all improvement was illusory. New year, same Liverpool.
2014 will be known as the year we lost the league and Suarez. Despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth, particularly teeth sinking into Italian flesh, you still have to be thankful for some of the incredible football that was played by a team nobody gave a chance to 18 months beforehand.
It’s gone to hell in a handcart since of course, despite spending the GNP of a small country with poppy fields. Fortress Anfield is a fable now, like El Dorado or Atlantis, but every few years we get to watch a world class operator at work. In the week Torres left Chelsea for absolutely nothing, the memory of what he did here still counts for something. That’s our story in a nutshell though, “every so often”.
Suarez has gone too but that doesn’t mean he’s the end of the line. Even now, with the latest title race over the hills and far away, we still get to witness craziness and that’ll have to suffice. It’s hard for older fans to accept but this is a rollercoaster club now. Wash away all thoughts of any fortress. Madness stalks the place. The walloping of Swansea had enough holes in it to sink a cruiseliner, but when it was good… oh boy.
The key is speed. That’s why Sturridge is missed. Although he’s four foot two, Sterling is making the lone striker role look easy. Coutinho and Lallana combined to create Suarez-Lite, goals and trickery partly making up for the loss of the real thing. At the back there’s the usual hideousness of course. Rafa once orchestrated a whole season with only 25 goals conceded. We’ve already let in 27 so far. It feels dusty and archaic to even expect such chastity nowadays. If Chelsea can’t do it… The sharks of the early Premier League began calling matches “Event Days”. It chilled the blood back then, but now it’s the only way to look at it. A calm, methodical 1-0 win, 2-0 if you want to be all daredevil, seems feeble after three years of Rodgeball.
The brief sighting of the ponderous Balotelli alerted everyone to what was wrong before. That peculiar experiment is almost over. Like Tyrannosaurus Rex, Brendan’s vision is based on movement. There were premature catcalls over the idea of Gerrard’s recall too, but back he came against Leicester. He can still take a penalty, if that’s any use. A career in American Football awaits. The rest of the match passed him by a lot of the time but Lucas also seemed surplus to requirements. If he can’t actually stop players running at what is a joke defence anyway, what’s his role?
To accommodate Gerrard, Henderson was shoved out wide again. It does not work. True, Lallana’s injury was unfortunate but frankly it never looked a secure lead anyway. Crueller types will even say Leicester outplayed us for long periods. Their goals certainly weren’t against the run of play, unlike Liverpool’s. It was doubly galling to hear their awful supporters gloat. They had a banality checklist a mile long and seem to have stored up all their idiocy over the 10 years they’ve been absent from the top flight.
Coutinho and Sterling persisted without ever hitting the heights of Monday. Mario was nowhere to be seen but his compatriot Borini graced us with his presence. I’m sure somebody knows why the birthplace of Pirlo also produced the two thickest footballers of all time.
I’m not sure why it’s bothering me so much. It is what it is. There must be someone who likes candyfloss all the time but they won’t live very long. The same goes for this pink, sugary splatter we’re being force-fed.
It’s football for kids.
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