“As Valencia’s deflected shot found the bottom corner I stared at the screen in disbelief. The sense of unreality swept over me. For a good while longer than a few seconds I’ve been (fruitlessly) trying to persuade myself that this wasn’t happening. This could not be happening. Simply because everything about this goal was so unjust. So underserved. So much against the run of play. Even in my worst nightmares I couldn’t have envisaged that scenario.
Except that I could. It was oh so predictable. Some of you (the not so seasoned supporters of Arsenal FC) would ask how such a farce could be predictable. Who could have thought that Fellaini would not be flagged offside when he clearly was offside, that it can lead to a collision between Gibbs and Szczesny, which would leave both out of the picture? The veterans would have the answer to that question. They had it long before the game. They probably had it for ten years. Cause it’s Arsenal.”
I wrote this article almost six months ago (read it here). That was when we last lost a game at home. And the similarities between us going down to United in November and losing to Swansea yesterday are striking.
As are the similarities between Gomis’s goal in November and Gomis’s goal yesterday. Chambers (sorry, Bellerin) got roasted on the right by Montero, cross came in, Mertesacker (damn, Koscielny) got caught napping and Monreal lost his aerial battle against Gomis.
The most disappointing thing about yesterday’s loss was that it was completely and utterly avoidable. True, our first on target only came in the 58th minute (Arsenal by the numbers), but after that we created a flurry of chances. However, despite our game finally starting to click around the hour’s mark, I can recall only two clear-cut chances: Ramsey hitting the side netting and then producing a moment of magic to split up Swansea’s defense Ozil-style and fashion a chance for Sanchez. Alexis scuppered it, which is pretty unusual for the Chilean, though Walcott definitely should have scored from the rebound.
But look, I’m not here to apportion blame. Is Giroud to blame for not scoring for the 4th consecutive game when he’s being marked so tightly? He’s no Aguero to create something out of nothing. We all know Giroud’s limitations: he cannot really dribble, he’s not a speedster, he rarely pulls off a skill move. Despite that, the Frenchman did his best. He headed over in the opening stages, curled a shot just wide before the half-time whistle and was actually that man who recorded our first shot on target.
Can we blame Walcott for not scoring? Certainly, but again we have to take into consideration Theo is frozen out, doesn’t feature a lot and IS NOT a centre-forward. Not like Giroud anyway.
Wenger then? For what, really? Starting Rambo and not Walcott, which narrowed our play? Should he really have started Walcott knowing space would be at a premium and Walcott is no dribbler like Cazorla? Maybe the substitutions? Too little, too late? Again I’d protest. Wilshere for Coquelin and Walcott for Giroud with 25 minutes remaining is as ambitious as it gets. Why has Arsene opted not to throw Rosicky on? Another dribbler like Jack, he certainly would have come in handy. Who should have left the field then? Sanchez, a natural goalscorer? Cazorla, who marshalled us from the back? Or maybe Ozil, who created 5 chances in a game so tight and was easily our best player on the pitch?
This is the umpteenth time I lament Oxlade’s unavailability. A three-week injury has gone on for 2 months now, but really, you shouldn’t pin all your hopes on one player staying fit and being able to play every game. We need a winger in the summer. We probably shouldn’t have let Campbell go, though it’s another story entirely.
Our play for the goal conceded was atrocious, however. Barrow whipped in a cross past Monreal, Montero roasted Bellerin and then both Mert and Kos lost Gomis and allowed him to plant a free header. Even after all that Ospina probably should have saved the shot. For me, though, he’s not the biggest culprit in this passage of play.
I also have to give credit to Swansea. Yes, they came here to defend and try and get the point, they got all three. The Swans didn’t really deserve the win, but we should know better than waste our chances. The second Sanchez and Walcott failed to score with the goal at their mercy I had a nagging feeling we were staring a loss in the face. I’m really, really sad this feeling wasn’t just that: a feeling.
The lesson we should learn? It was summed up by Arsene:
“We were unlucky I think against a team who refused to play completely and just defended. It was a question of being patient enough and if we couldn’t win it not to lose it. Overall I was encouraged by the quality that we showed in the second half, but it’s frustrating. When you cannot win a game, don’t lose it. We knew exactly what could happen. It was not even a break. We were warned of the kind of goal they could score with Montero kicking the ball in the air and we were short in jumping for the ball. For the rest we rushed our finishing because we had plenty of chances in the second half. It was just a question of scoring a goal.”
It reminded me of how we lost to Borussia at home last year. If you can’t win it, try not to lose it. A point yesterday would have still left our fate in our own hands. Three wins in three games is a hard feat to accomplish (esp a win against United away), but it’s possible. It’s manageable. It’s within our capabilities, within our reach. I still remember Andrew Mangan’s headline after that Borussia loss: “Avoidable point dropped”. Sums up our yesterday’s performance.
Now we badly need a win at OT and even that doesn’t guarantee us 2nd. We need Swansea and/or Southampton to do us a favour and rob City of points. And look, it’s not completely out of the question. Swansea’s yesterday’s win ensures they now trail 7th Southampton by a point and Tottenham by two. Which means the Swans are now fighting for Europa League places and I’m sure they WILL fight. If Monk’s side beats City it’ll be poetic justice: Swansea taketh away and Swansea giveth. The other team City will face? Southampton. The Saints now need points almost as badly as Swansea and will give City a run for their money.
So second is not out of the equation, as you can see, though now we need at least a draw against United. We’ll guarantee 3rd with six points in three games, so two home wins against Sunderland and West Brom should do the trick.
There are nonetheless two positives about yesterday’s game. First is that it was our first loss since early February and only 3rd in 2015. It is also only a second defeat we suffered at home this season and as it stands, our 3rd loss at the Emirates in two seasons.
Another positive about our yesterday’s result, is that it’ll keep us on our toes. Remind us that we aren’t invincible. That we should fight, should take our chances. Hope we’ll learn the lesson, bounce back against United and move on.