Craven Capitulation

Fulham – Arsenal

1 – 0 McBride (6)
2 – 0 Boa Morte (19)
2 – 1 van Persie (36)

“faith: complete confidence or belief in something, esp without objective proof”.

That’s how The Penguin Concise English Dictionary describes the word. And it pretty much sums up how supporting Arsenal is at the moment. I have complete confidence and strongly believe this team will get it right yet this is little or no objective proof for this. When a Priest or Vicar goes off of the rails, they have a crisis of confidence in their faith; I would suggest Arsene must fast be approaching this with 4-5-1.

Another shocking away defeat to a poor team. It leaves Arsene in what he had described as the most important twelve days of the season, facing day eleven at the crossroads between success and oblivion. Having stated categorically that Chelsea and Manchester United were still catchable, Arsene must face facts and know that they are not. Sixteen points separate the leaders and Arsenal; an insurmountable gap even if you take into account the game in hand, a visit to the JJB in a fortnights time. That should be an opportunity to close the gap. On the showing of the last five days, there is no evidence to support that; quite the opposite in fact, that fixture presents the moment when sixteen points (or more) becomes set in stone. A harsh reality indeed.

Once I had seen the starting XI, a nervous feeling came over me. The previous belief of a comfortable victory margin turned to one of a victory but a hard fought one. And a nasty little thought that perhaps Arsene had underestimated his opposition for the evening, resting players unnecessarily, looking ahead to the weekend rather than concentrating on the here and now. If that was the case, he would never admit it. There were so many problems that the team selection created. The absence of Clichy and Eboue in the same match meant that this particular back four had never played together before. It showed. The introduction of what was effectively three new players meant each operated as a separate entity rather than a single unit. Senderos is still gathering his match fitness, something that will have to wait somewhat longer to be regained as his suspension will end at the same time that William Gallas returns. Neither of his yellow cards can be argued with: a rash lunge with both feet in the first half, compounded by poor positional sense allowing himself to be caught the wrong side of his attacker in the second, outdone by pace something that I predicted yesterday I’m rather sad to admit. Throughout his time on the pitch, the young Swiss was continually marking space, unsure of how to react to the impending attack. Meanwhile on the left, the form of last season seemed a distant memory as Flamini looked as ill at ease in the fullback berth as he had in Amsterdam in the pre-season, something that no doubt contributed greatly to his decision to refuse to play there earlier in the season. Surely it would have been more sensible for Wenger to select Hoyte in that position?

Had he done so, then Song may have been spared his torrid evening. He has enough critics within the crowd as it is; that number could well increase following this performance. Cruelly exposed by Boa Morte’s fleet of foot for the second, he was rarely able to compose himself; his performance was a litany of mistimed tackles and wayward passes. Indicative of poor technique? Perhaps but more in tune with the actions of a man who has played little regular first team football, eager to impress but unable to dominate his midfield opponents. If he had been an animal he would have been put down; he got the footballing equivalent when replaced by Fabregas.

The evening was lost within twenty minutes. Before this match, Fulham had not scored in the opening 22 1/2 minutes. Tonight, the overwhelming generosity and seasonal spirit of the visitors defence gave them not one but two presents, something that the hosts fought with every sinew in their bodies to defend and do so they did successfully. The opener was another goal conceded from a corner. Very similar to Faye’s goal at Bolton, McBride was able to escape his markers attentions to headly firmly past Lehmann whose hand directed the ball away from the head of Flamini where it would surely have landed but the German’s intervention.

This type of goal is too readily conceded by the defence and far too frequently. There are two fundamental problems with the way that Arsenal defend corners. Firstly, for those played into the near post, no-one is attacking the ball from a defensive perspective. Should an opponent do so, they will invariably get a free header. If that does not happen then the second ploy is to place a forward on the edge of the six yard box. What should happen is that his marker positions himself between the man and Lehmann. What is happening is that the marker is behind the forward, not totally goalside with his arms around his opponent. Result? The forward moves to head the ball, the defender too far behind to beat him to it. If he does move toward the ball from that position, as with Bolton, he gets in Lehmann’s way. A goal seems inevitable each time a set-piece comes into the Arsenal area, a weakness for all to see and most do so.

If Flamini was unlucky for the first, he was at fault for the second. Having comfortably escaped from Song, Boa Morte put in a superb cross, too far and fast for Lehmann to come for. Flamini was in No Man’s Land at the far post, neither marking Radzinski tightly enough nor attacking the cross to divert it to safety. The end result was inevitable, a well-taken finish by the Canadian.

Once the mountain to climb became clear, the pressue piled on with Fulham only too happy to try to exploit any spaces. Boa Morte could have made it three but Lehmann stood ‘big and tall’ as commentators like to tell us. A pointless phrase if ever there was one: if you are ‘big’, surely you are ‘tall’ as well? I digress. The mountain became a molehill with ten minutes to half-time. Rosenior’s foul on Hleb gave Arsenal a freekick twenty five yards out. van Persie’s resultant shot an absolute peach, Niemi could only flap at it as it flew into the net.

Chances thereafter to both sides; Boa Morte and Walcott hit the bar and post respectively; the ex-Arsenal man had a goal ruled out thanks to the Assistant’s offside flag, Henry the same. Henry narrowly failed to convert Hoyte’s cross whilst Gilberto’s burst following van Persie’s deft flick deserved better although Knight’s tackle merits some applause. I’m not sure if the unmarked Henry would have agreed though.

From Arsene’s demeanour after the game it was apparent that he was furious. Rightly so yet he does himself little credit or favour by bemoaning the state of the fixture list. A timely comparison would be with Manchester United. Arguably they have a weaker squad than Arsenal on paper yet they cope with the rigours of the Champions League in midweek and Premiership on a Saturday perfectly well. The root of this is a problem with the formation and what is becoming a crisis in confidence at both ends. With two London derbies sandwiching the Porto match, the time for experimenting with the line-up is over; no more understrength teams s’il vous plait. Pure and simple, three wins are required out of necessity. Not primarily for the points in the case of Porto but definitely for confidence in themselves and for us to regain the confidence in them.

15 thoughts on “Craven Capitulation

  1. Flint McCullough says:

    What can you say?

    Confidence low. Thank God that is November over .

    You are right, for me AW has to know & pick his best team,then play it until someone is injured.

    1 of the few things I have disagreed with AW about is this tiredness thing. It is an attitude of mind. I remember Peter Simpson saying he didn’t mind the midweek games because he would rather play than train. Different era yes but although the game may be quicker now it is generally played in perfect conditions, a situation that was rare after 3 months into a season then.

    Alternatively we have to accept that we might not even get CL qualification this season, admit it to remove expectation & get the young players plenty of playing time.

  2. S. Wan says:

    Hi Flint,

    According to your strategy, I suppose Arsenal might not have lost (and might even win) last night, but we would have a lesser chance of beating Tottenham this weekend (as they do not have a mid-week match), and probably lose to Porto and then humiliated by Chesea after that as our team would be exhausted by then.

    Last night’s lineup was forced on Wenger as he would prefer some fresh legs to face Tottenham and Porto. The Porto match is a must-not lose one. So is the home match against Tottenham.

    However, I admit that giving time to young players is all right but playing 5-6 young players at one match is jsut suicidal.

  3. Frank says:

    I was at the game last night and the first thing that I have to say is that the Arsenal support was absolutely magnificent. Very, very impressed.

    I think Arsene got it wrong – pure and simple. The two big mistakes were to play Flamini at left back and Alex Song in the middle. He might have got away with one of those but not both.

    In terms of performances I thought that Jens looked decidedly unsure of himself and does not connect well with his defenders. OK he made one or two good saves, but his command of the area for their first goal was non-existent, in fact he seemed so wound up that I am surprised he could concentrate. I was sitting with a guy who came to the game looking forward to seeing the great Thierry Henry play and to see how Theo was coming along. In the first instance he was very disappointed and commented that he had not realised how disconnected he was from the rest of the team – he was neither linking with them nor leading them. Several times RvP tried to play long through balls which were perfectly reachable if TH had started his run as RvP received the ball, not after he had kicked it. In Theo he was not disappointed – one or two naive passes and tackles aside.

    Maybe the game on Saturday will erase the memory of this dismal performance – but I won’t forget the performance of our supporters for a long,long time and by God are we going to need it on Saturday.

  4. Yogi's Warrior says:

    I couldn’t help but overhear someone on the train to work this morning and hit the nail on the head. Wenger’s excuse for too many matches is understandable: when you’re winning you want to play everyday, when you are not you want the players on the training pitch putting things right.

    The Champions League this season is more of an immediate concern. I’m starting to feel that we are more reliant on CSKA cocking it up than us getting the result in Oporto. At this moment in time, I’m not confident or optimistic about either.

    SW – I disagree about the situation being forced on Wenger last night. That is his mental attitude, one that has worked well in the past but bit him hard, fairly and squarely on the backside yesterday. He has created a bigger problem for himself for the Chelsea game; namely only Djourou and Gallas available as centre-halves due to suspensions. One injury and he may have to recall Connelly from Bournemouth. He might have been better putting out a Carling Cup side for the match last night if he was that concerned about tiredness.

    Ultimately the performances are not good enough. Interestingly though, Tottenham fans are starting to believe that its a good time to play us, something that was a common theme before the West Ham, Newcastle, Bolton and Fulham games. Perhaps we can benefit from that. Just so long as the first defeat at The Emirates is not this Saturday – that would definitely make confidence amongst supporters sink to the bottom.

  5. Vivb says:

    Hoyte can play in the centre.

    I think Wenger has finally seen that his aim of creating a side of young players was always doomed to failure, Cesc is too lightweight for the premiership and the ploy of packing the midfield with 5 players and having Henry as a solo striker is doomed. Expecting players like Song to perform is unfair to the player, I’d rather see Muamba who has now got experience of competing/playing regularly in the championship.

    Before the season started I said if we got to christmas and were out of the premiership title race and out of the champions league Wenger’s position has to come under scrutiny. We have been unlucky (Henry’s dissalowed goals at CSKA and even last night where he was no more offside than Anelka on Saturday). However we have gone backwards in the last two seasons. This side/squad is no better than Liverpool/Spurs/Bolton etc indeed Spurs will be level on points with us if we lose on saturday. Teams have worked out how to beat/nullify us. In fact I’d say the football this season has been painful to watch far to fussy compared the the following moves of a year/ 2 years ago.

  6. Frank says:

    Vivb,

    Very grim comments. ‘Wenger’s position will come under scrutiny’…by whom do you think? I have seen some fantastic performances this season which have almost come off, some of the results have been painful but mainly because they were undeserved. I think Wenger got his tactics wrong yesterday becuse he did not expect Fulham to be up for the game and he wanted results against Tottenham, Porto and Chelsea. We are still only inches away from getting the results. Cesc is too lightweight for the Premiership is just plain wrong. What indications have you seen that Arsene is changing his strateg? and what was it about buying Gallas, Baptista and Rosicky at the beginning of the season that made you feel that Wenger’s position was somehow under threat even before the season started? Are you one of these fair weather supporters who wants the manager sacked after a run of bad form?

  7. Flint McCullough says:

    Cesc is not too lightweight for the Premiership but perhaps he needs someone a bit more physical than Gilberto as his partner.

    To SW I would say 3 points is 3 points regardless of who you beat. Perhaps it would have been better to have got them yesterday even at the cost of a thrashing at Chelsea.

    As it was it would appear that our centre backs were so exposed that they collected the yellows & red to put them both out of the Chelsea game anyway.

    Confidence is more important than tired legs. It is amazing how you can keep going when you are winning.

    A win would have set us up for saturday.Now we have the opposite.

  8. Flint McCullough says:

    Frank – Just looked at another blog & apparently a large section of the “so called” Arsenal supporters were booing Song, which was the reason he was taken off at half time.

    Is this true?

    If so it is the slippery slope.

  9. Frank says:

    Hi Flint,

    I was at the Arsenal end and the support was fantastic, non-stop singing for the whole game..really got behind the team. Singing for Cesc to come on started almost from the kick-off. I don’t recall any booing of Song, although the away supporters booed Cesc when he came on.

  10. Yogi's Warrior says:

    Most of the players who have been victims of the “boo boys” have been considerably older than Song. The player deserves sympathy for this. However, I cannot believe that he was substituted for any other reason than having a torrid time of it.

  11. Frank says:

    I think you are right YW. Wenger realised he had been caught by Fulham and had misjudged them. Song looked really uncomfortable and so he brought Cesc on. It was not becuase the kid was being booed. I know I said it before but I’ll say it again becuase I was so impressed. ..the Arsenal supporters were magnificent.

  12. Frank says:

    btw YW, Radzinski scored their second goal

  13. Yogi's Warrior says:

    Frank you got me paranoid for a minute. I did get that bit right though in the article. Which is unusual for me I know as I’m not the greatest proofreader of my own stuff, can spot other peoples grammatical and factual errors a mile off but not my own. Bit of a lazy git I guess.

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