The most frustrating thing is that, after a disastrous start to the season, we had done the hard bit.
Written off by everyone, we somehow battled back up the table, all the way to the top four.
A team that seemed to have been cobbled together off the back of Steptoe and Son’s wagon on the last day of the transfer window was starting to look like it could really do the business.
But four points from 12 in our last four games tells its own story.
There are mitigating factors, which I will go into later. But there were also some very worrying signs from yesterday’s defeat – signs that have also been evident in most of our recent games.
Perhaps most damaging is the fact that some of our senior players seem to be undergoing a drop in form at the same time. I am thinking particularly of Walcott and Song here, who were both very poor yesterday. Others who have been out of form for a long time (like Arshavin) have not stepped up to fill the gap.
We had been getting results while having Arshavin, Chamakh and Djourou off form. But now we are carrying too many players having bad games on a regular basis.
In my darkest moments after the game I began to wonder whether the malaise that afflicted the team in the final third of last season has resurfaced this year.
The symptoms last season were:
- Too many players going through the motions.
- Seeming lack of commitment and effort from some players.
- Over-reliance on van Persie to score the goals.
- Throwing away leads – turning winning positions into losing ones.
- Keystone Cops defending.
To a greater or lesser degree all of the above have been evident in our recent matches.
There were few heroes for us yesterday. Koscielny and van Perise were the stand out players, but many of the others were below the standard we should expect of them.
In fairness, we were up against a confident and skillful side. The Swans were a pleasure to watch. They play the game properly, they are committed rather than dirty and they clearly have great team spirit.
Their performance in pressing us all game long, then keeping the ball with composure and panache should be a lesson to us. There are no world class stars in their line-up, but every player knows his job and is confident that his team mates are doing their jobs.
I won’t do a full match report, but suffice to say that when Robin opened the scoring I really thought we were finally going to break loose and give somebody the hammering that we have been threatening in most of our first half performances in recent weeks.
Swansea got back into it with what looked a soft penalty (I thought Ramsey managed to pull his leg out of the way before making contact, but the replays were inconclusive). Once level, their confidence rose and they started to play really well.
Most of the stats (possession, corners, attempts on goal) show that we were second best, so Swansea probably deserved their second goal. It came from an Arshavin hospital pass to Ramsey, who had Joe Allen on top of him as he received the ball. When it was played to Swansea’s right, Dyer was unmarked on the edge of the box (our temporary left back, Miquel, had lost his bearings) and he shot past Szczesney, who might have done better.
So, once again, we had managed to turn a winning position into a losing one. How would we respond? Quite well, as it happened. Walcott found some space for once, Djourou played a long ball through the channel and Theo was one-on-one. I confess to assuming he would fluff it, but instead he finished calmly. Game on again! But not for long.
Within seconds of the restart we were behind again. Swansea was able to win the ball far too easily in midfield despite the presence of several Arsenal players. A couple of quick passes, a simple through ball and Danny Graham was able to tuck in a soft goal which turned out to be the winner. ,Szczesney had started to come, confusing the chasing Koscielny, then changed his mind and ended up in a bad position.
Afterwards we huffed and puffed. Thierry Henry came on but this time there was no magic ending. The best chance, sadly, fell to Mertesacker a yard from goal. He somehow contrived to strike the ball with the side of his heel when any normal contact would surely have produced the equaliser.
I mentioned mitigating factors.
We have been without any recognized full backs for many weeks now and this has undoubtedly been a contributing factor in our problems.
Two of Swansea’s goals came from our left back position and, on both occasions, Miquel was nowhere to be seen. I’m not blaming him. It’s not his position and he seems a really good prospect, but we are suffering for a lack of specialist full backs.
Also we were without guaranteed starters Vermaelen, Arteta and Gervinho, not to mention Wilshere.
But we should still have enough quality to overcome such problems. If this year’s squad responds to these setbacks with the same lack of moral fibre as last year’s, then we are in for a very bumpy second half of the season.
Top four is still very achievable, but we have made it so, so hard for ourselves.
If Arsene has a magic hat, it’s time to put it on.
Szczesney: Poor for the second and third Swansea goals. I wish people would stop this “World’s Number One” nonsense. He’s a promising young ‘keeper who may be the number one in four or five years time – but only if he learns from the mistakes that are starting to cost us points on a regular basis. 4
Djourou: Did OK while playing out of position and made a fine pass for Walcott’s goal. But he does not inspire confidence and has a habit of playing the opposing forwards onside by not moving up with the rest of the defence after set pieces have been cleared. 5
Mertesacker: Generally did well but should have scored in the dying minutes. He gets shoved off the ball too easily at times but his passing was good, once again. 6
Koscielny: Made a slow start, losing possession a few times in the first 15 minutes, but then settled into the sort of battling performance to which we have become accustomed. Went marauding forward at the end in search of an equalizer, taking a leaf out of Vermaelen’s book. 7
Miquel: Promising youngster, but he’s not a left back and he left us badly exposed at times. 4
Song: I don’t know if his head is at the ACN, but Song is way off form at the moment. He seemed sloppy, lackadaisical, careless with possession and even allowed himself to get muscled off the ball on a regular basis. We need the dynamic Song back pretty pronto. 4
Ramsey: Non-stop effort, but his end product has to improve. Often he seems to do all the hard stuff, wriggling out of impossible situations or shaking off defenders only to trip over his own feet or misplace a five yard pass. I feel he will be a great Arsenal player when it all comes together, but right now he is hit and miss. 6
Benayoun: Plenty of hustle and bustle, but Benny seemed a bit slight and was bundled off the ball too easily. He doesn’t get many starts so I don’t want to be over critical, but he didn’t really stamp his authority on the game. 5
Arshavin: Looked lightweight and shorn of confidence. Under pressure he often chooses the wrong option and plays a colleague into trouble, as was the case in the build up to Swansea’s second goal. I doubt if many Arsenal fans watching the game expected him to make anything happen. 4
Walcott: I’m starting to lose faith in Theo. So many times he picked the wrong option, so many times he seemed clueless when in good positions. He should not be starting ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain on this form. He would have had a “3”, but gets an extra point for the goal. 4
Van Persie: Whenever he had the ball he looked pure class. Unfortunately he did not get enough good service to show his class often enough. Took his goal superbly. 7.5 (Arsenal’s MoTM, although a couple of Swansea players would have received “9”s).
Henry: Didn’t get the chance to do much, but was a darn sight better than Arshavin or Walcott.
Rosicky: Helped drive us forward. Might have been a better starting option that Benayoun.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Direct and strong – did his chances of getting a starting berth absolutely no harms at all.