Arsenal 0 – 0 Southampton
There was something inevitable about last night, about how 2016 has gone in general. Crowned ‘Calendar Year Champions’, Arsenal’s defence of the trophy has been lacklustre to say the least. No Premier League goals since Olivier Giroud scored the third at Anfield, 305 minutes ago.
It all got a bit much for Arsène post-match,
Indeed, Wenger made no secret of his frustration, pouring scorn on the question of whether he should have signed a striker last month,
If you know a world-class striker who could strengthen our team you should have told me before the transfer window was over. They do not walk in off the street and say please take me. They are all at big clubs and under contract.
Arsenal didn’t lose the match but lost crucial ground in the title race. At some point the poor form was going to catch up with them and that time is now. Two points clear on the first weekend of this year, Arsenal now trail the leaders by five points and have an inferior goal difference compared to the top three. Finding form now is imperative or this season will quickly disappear into another year of empty words.
That last night failed to bring three points is entirely due to an outstanding performance by Fraser Forster. Nothing unusual in that, frequently we witness an opposing goalkeeper have one of the nights of their lives at The Emirates; it was the same at Highbury as well. Arsenal helped him at times with shots which were tame but when he needed to be agile, Forster belied his frame with admirable athleticism.
An evening of hope, of promise, failed to deliver. Mesut Özil had the best chances, with his sumptuous control deserving more than finding Forster’s feet in the way. He didn’t take that or other two clear opportunities and you see why he scores an average of a goal every six or so matches.
Arsène mindful of the runaround Per Mertesacker was given at St Mary’s and by Diego Costa, kept faith in the partnership of Gabriel and Koscielny. Southampton rarely challenged them, even when gifted the ball. It was a quiet night defensively for the XI but that seeped into attack with Arsenal at best lacklustre for the first hour or so. The performance really only picked up with the second half well under way.
Is that the difference between the champions and also-rans? Between Arsenal and the top three? The others seem to be hitting cruise control or digging in deep to grind out a win. We’re not. We’ve been waiting for someone to go on a run which makes the difference to the title race and Arsenal are doing just that. The only problem is that it is in the wrong direction.
The answers have to be found quickly. After Bournemouth come Leicester, United and Tottenham, two of which are away from home. If January had a tricky run of fixtures, February offers little respite. Lose any of those three games and the title is gone. Yet Arsène doesn’t believe the players are under pressure,
No, honestly I don’t believe that. If we could not play, could not create chances I would say yes you are right. But (we had) practically 70 per cent possession today, and 22 shots on goal. Finishing is a bit cyclic, up and down, at the moment I must say it’s very down.
Perhaps it’s time for the players to be put under pressure, to get them to show the fight and spirit champions need. I understand he is protecting them and rarely criticises in public but at times, they need the kick. Sometimes they have to be told they are failing and as much as they get the plaudits, need to have the brickbats as well.
It’s all very well arguing that finishing is “a bit cyclic” but this is now the third consecutive Premier League match without a goal. With Alexis back, the firepower was supposed to be improving but far from it, we seem no closer to ending the goal drought than we were before kick-off last night.
That responsibility primarily falls on the main strikers but also on the midfield. Ramsey and Campbell aren’t above criticism in this respect but last night was evidence that we miss the likes of Cazorla and Wilshere whose scurrying runs drive the team forward with more purpose. We’re a bit too predictable at the moment.
The title race isn’t over yet and with the upcoming games, Arsenal are in with a chance of clawing their way back into it. The only question is whether they can rediscover their goal touch before it’s too late.