Southampton 1 – 1 Arsenal
1 – 0 Ramirez (35)
1 – 1 Guly (41 og)
A friend of mine has a theory about high-scoring wins, a big margin of victory means that the following game will see you struggle to score. Somehow Arsenal contrived to prove that point with a lifeless performance at St Marys, one which brought them a point but did it make enough of one? It is part of the endless bafflement, frustration of football supporters that a team can easily slip from the sublime to the ridiculous. Despite how it may be portrayed, it is not the sole preserve of this Arsenal vintage, many of its predecessors were equally capable of playing a team off the park before turning out to be a Sunday Park side.
Post-match, Arsène was equally disappointed,
We lacked purpose, penetration and speed. All qualities we have usually but lacked tonight.
He has become more irascible as time has passed over the past two seasons, particularly in the pre-Christmas half of the season. This time, as with last, it is not hard to sense why. Yesterday was the opportunity to consolidate the challenge for the top four; it was an opportunity wasted as Tottenham won – Chelsea to do likewise tonight – and created a gap of five points through Arsenal’s failure. The upcoming fixtures offer the prospect that we may go into February once more with a significant gap to close on them.
Immediate attention turned to the squad and strengthening. It is not a case of replacements, it will be surprising if any of those cast to the training ground and no more, leave. Arsenal have to bite the bullet and strengthen before selling, taking six months of financial pain for footballing gain. Little surprise that post-match, Wenger was once again coy about his targets,
We are looking everywhere. We are open-minded. We want to strengthen the squad everywhere.
It would naive to believe that he was going to name anybody specific at this stage. The received wisdom is that signing players now is harder than in the Summer. Possibly and believable with Arsenal having difficulty finalising Thierry Henry’s loan last Winter despite several weeks warning of the impending event. No repeat this time around with the manager confirming that this is not an option being pursued at the moment. Smoke and mirrors aside, that suggests a central striking solution has been identified.
Whether that will arrive is largely, you suspect, down to Theo Walcott and his contract position. Last night’s performance did nothing to enhance his reputation as the Second Coming of Thierry Henry. Forwards are like that though; starved of service, they struggle but the central striker at a Premier League club, a Champions League competitor has to be able to take that one opportunity when it arises. Walcott did not nor did he contrive to create the opening which changed one point to three. Such performances are part of the learning curve upon which he has embarked, the criticism that follows is something he will have to get used to. Just as one good match does not make him the saviour, so one average or bad match does not make him a waste of space, not worth the money being bandied about. The truth is somewhere between the two.
But it is not about one player, it is about the whole and we should not lose sight of that. Four wins and a draw in the last five games is a good run to be on. A shame about some of the previous fifteen because that form is as good as those at the top of the table. In many ways, we should have seen this performance coming. The five, six, sevens of this season have always been followed by Premier League matches in which we have struggled to carve a result. In fact, Wigan is the only Premier League game following a high-scoring win that has itself been won. Granted three of the other fixtures were against Chelsea and the two Mancunian clubs but the pattern is there. Whether it is coincidence or not, I don’t know but the regularity of the occurrence suggests that there is an element of psychology involved, Southampton and Aston Villa with all due respect to that pair, are not flourishing. They are games that Arsenal should win if they have genuine aspirations for the top three. As with last season, we are now relying on others to falter rather than our own head of steam, to achieve a Champions League place at the end of the season.
It is this which must spur the manager more than anything in the transfer market. You read or hear managers about needing characters in the dressing room, about how Tony Adams would have kicked some life into Bacary Sagna for his performance last night. Well, that kind of character is few and far between. What is apparent though is that some leadership is needed, a willingness to stand tall and drive the side forward with passion. I don’t think you will find that in one signing but what may be found is the catalyst, the players who collectively bring that out in others.
And maybe the manager needs it as well. He sees the players on the training pitch, knows their frame of mind but sometimes that will not be apparent until the white line has been crossed. Then he needs to know that there are people he can rely on. There was some mental strength shown in achieving a point yesterday but where was the spark that changed one point into three? That is the key to any signings this Winter; those with the quality to make a genuine difference.