Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sloppy goals against defensive teams could destroy Arsenal's title hopes.

Arsenal can cope with one of Henry and Fabregas having a poor game, but when both are afflicted by poor passing and an unsure touch, we find it difficult to play our preferred style of football. In Henry's case, blame cannot be entirely squared in his quarter. In an attempt to overcome the congested central routes into the goal mouth yesterday, too often we took to pumping long balls up to Thierry, or attempting to put crosses into the box. In both cases, Thierry is not enough of a target man to overcome the challenges of players like Yobo and Stubbs, and, with the crosses into the box, too often he was the only player waiting for the ball and easily outnumbered. Fabregas seemed oddly ponderous, and surprisingly unsure of himself. Everton successfully stifled him when he got onto the ball and he struggled to make an impact of the game; especially when his shooting was poor or easily charged down.

The two men who did most to try and overcome the dark blue mass which presented itself everytime Arsenal pushed forward, were Rosicky and Hleb. Hleb did much to carve out openings through skilful dribbling, if his final ball was sometimes poor. He was not aided in his endeavours by an Henry who had oddly poor reactions to the ball when it was played into space before him. Rosicky had a great game, and never stopped running for the ninety minutes. He deserved a goal, but he couldn't seem to beat Howard. It is a worry that he didn't score, because its games like that - when Henry and Fab are off the pace - that he needs to step up.

And so to Robin Van Persie. An abject first half was followed by an extremely pleasing second. On the right hand side he looked much more comfortable and linked up extremely well with Walcott, who played in some form of bizarre wing-back position. RvP's free kick was excellent and his passing was good in the second half. I would even forgive the schoolyard-esque volley he blazed wide towards the end because his choices when on the ball had otherwise been good in the second half.

Yesterday was a day when we needed a player like Baptista or Adebayor to beef up the team and/or to have a more convincing forward man to play the ball towards. We lacked a plan B yesterday, and with the introduction of Walcott, moved to a plan c of playing a, revolutionary, 2-6-1 formation. Indeed, it could almost have been an old fashioned 2-3-5 at times.

A serious cause for concern is continued sloppy defending. Boro, Villa and Everton have all come here and scored with virtually their only chance on goal. It's not good enough and we won't be challenging for anything if we keep on letting in soft goals. I'm not sure who exactly was at fault yesterday - it seemed to be a combination of Jens, Kolo, and Hleb - but Cahill should never have been allowed to get the ball where he did and to stroke it home. I also didn't realise what a wind-up merchant Cahill is: every decision, he'd be back chatting to Mike Riley.

Indeed, whilst whining about the referee is clich├ęd, Riley did have a poor game. He allowed Howard and the other Everton players to consistently waste time, whilst being incredibly officious at the same time. Every free-kick had to be taken in the exact spot where it was given. He had to have a word with every player after every foul. He stifled the game when it could have flowed, which is always the sign of a poor ref. I would say, we should have had a penalty in the first five minutes, but this was perhaps balanced out by refusing to give Johnson a penalty late on in the match, when he appeared to be knocked off the ball in our box.

So, Everton become the latest team to park the bus at Ashburton, and we're still struggling to find an answer. One thing seems certain though: by conceding these soft early goals we're making the solution even harder to find. The defence needs to get its act together, and we need to get the early goal, if we're serious about a title challenge. Especially when the Chel$ea juggernaut moves relentlessly forward, and Rooney shows signs that he's back to his best.

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