Thursday, February 02, 2012

Sleepwalking Towards the Europa League: 10 thoughts on Bolton 0 Arsenal 0

Given that Sam Allardyce supposedly had the hex over us while he was in charge at Bolton, it was interesting to find out that we've actually won 9 out of our last ten games against Bolton in the league. Until today, our last failure to beat Bolton was the rather galling 2-1 defeat last year, when Nasri choked, and we failed to defend our set-pieces. My thoughts on yesterday's game as follows:

* After 3 defeats in a row in the league, this was always going to be a tense match, and it was vital that we started well. And we did, actually. We should have gone in ahead at half-time, but we spurned a number of chances. Had we managed to get one goal, I think we would have got more, but we wasted our opportunities when Bolton looked a little stretched.

* We were 2 players away from what is probably our strongest side. Gervinho in for the Ox/Walcott and Santos/Gibbs in for one of Mertesacker/TV/LK and you have our strongest XI, in my opinion. Yet the XI we had out yesterday looked like a team which hadn't really played together a lot this year. The problem with constant injuries is they prevent any form of relationships building up between players in the side, and that was very evident yesterday.

* Still, it was good to have Arteta and Sagna back. Sagna was rock solid. We have missed him hugely - he is probably our best defender, and he can also whip the ball in from the flanks very well. Indeed, we should have scored when he crossed for van Persie in the second half, who hit the post, when on another day he would have scored. Arteta maybe slows our play a little, but he gives us a solidity in midfield that we sorely lack without him. Put simply, we play better with him in the side.

* On another day, one of van Persie's attempts would have gone in and we would have won. In particular, his chip was ballon d'or quality, and deserved a goal. Sometimes, games, and even whole league seasons, rest on such margins.

* If you can forgive RvP for missing an outrageous chip from outside of the area, it's harder to forgive Walcott for some of his misses and his overall performance . When you're one-on-one with the keeper, as he was, you simply have to score if you want to be considered a world-class player. It was a catastrophic miss from a player who simply isn't very good. His abysmal sliced shot in the second half confirmed his shooting prowess. Theo isn't terrible - he has a clear role to play as an impact sub, given his speed and his occasional ability to finish. But it has become increasingly painful to watch him his miscontrols, mishits, and failed finishes this season, even with all the assists he's given to van Persie.

* Walcott's limitations as a player have become acutely apparent due to the appearance of the Ox, who is on another level to Theo. Chamberlain's ability to pick a pass, as he did for Theo in the first half, is superb, and his scorcher from outside the area in the second half deserved a goal. He has been a bright spot in an otherwise dark start to the new year.

* PARK-WATCH: on the bench, didn't come on. With every passing day, Park's continued presence at the club, and his transfer fee, become more and more baffling. He's not alone though - why, exactly, did we loan Benayoun, if not for occasions such as yesterday? These are wages and fees that we have pissed away - something which is particularly unacceptable given the season ticket rise last summer.

* SZCZ looked oddly nervous tonight. Even his Cruyff-turns in the area didn't come off. The last thing we need at such a crucial stage in the season if for our most confident player to suddenly lose it.

* Ultimately, a draw was the right result. We had some good chances, but didn't take them. Bolton had a few decent chances as well, and they didn't take them. And thus it finished goalless. Bolton could have had a penalty, but then maybe Mark Davies shouldn't have dived in the first half.

* A draw in isolation isn't a disaster, but fourth place looks further away than ever at the moment. And when added into the rest of our recent form, our lack of activity in the January transfer window is, frankly, absurd. In my last article, I wrote about how Arsenal appear to be engaged in long-term thinking in the transfer-market, refusing to pay big fees until the current transfer bubble bursts. But even if they are, players moved during the last window who are better than those we have, and who we can, surely, afford. Bobby Zamora, for example. Zamora won't set the world on fire, but he has proven Premier League ability, is better than Chamakh and Park, and was available for £4m. Who did we get instead? An over-the-hill hero - and I say that as someone who loves Thierry - and a random kid who's played one match for Dortmund and who has already had one serious injury in his short career. Keisuke Honda was on the verge of a 14m euro move to Lazio, until the Roman club couldn't find a way to structure the fee. We could have afforded that - why weren't we in for him? He has proven quality which Eisfeld does not, at the moment, possess. I simply worry that the club's current obsession with value has gone too far. That we're so obsessed with our long-term transfer strategy, that we've almost forgotten about the short-term. And if you don't pay attention to the short-term, the long-term becomes irrelevant. Arsene will undoubtedly tell us to judge him in the summer, and I worry that many will. I also worry that he is taking too much flak for a club without a firm direction at a boardroom level. Maybe Stan should take a break from buying new sports teams, and concentrate on the ones he already owns.


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Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

Will Gervinho replace the Ox when he returns?

Anonymous said...

What makes you think we will qualify for the Europa League? I don't see us getting above where we are now!

Anonymous said...

It is cheering me up a bit that we probably will not have to suffer the Europa league.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather we didn't finish in a Europa League place either, all those Sunday games. It would also increase the chances of big changes in the summer were we to miss out on Europe altogether. Perhaps Wenger will walk without the CL anyway. Let's hope so, he's clearly lost his touch, he keeps making the wrong decisions again and again and again.