Tried to fry an egg
Broke the yolk, no joke
Something’s gone wrong again
Look at my watch, just to tell the time
But the hand’s come off mine
Something’s gone wrong again
This isn’t something new. Arsenal kicked off last season with three disastrous red cards (though Jenkinson’s sending off in the 8-2 defeat to Man U could be seen as a mercy slaying) and followed that up with two own goals against Blackburn to start the season off with just one win, one draw, three losses, 6 goals for and 14 goals against. All 14 of those goals didn’t come from individual player errors but enough of them did that two of the first three losses were easily down to errors (Ramsey o.g. v Liverpool and the two o.g. against Blackburn by Song and Koscielny).
And last night, Bacary Sagna was playing a fine game, winning every header, putting in a real shift on his side of the pitch both offensively and defensively, and Arsenal were up 1-0 against the League champs thanks to a Theo Walcott goal; when out of the blue Sagna makes a soft back pass, Robin latches on to it, and in his haste to win the ball back, Sagna fells Robin in the penalty area.
Szczesny did his now customary thing where he jukes one way and goes the other but Robin’s penalty was taken with power and easily beat the Pole. Van Persie then pretended not to celebrate but given some of the spicy challenges earlier in the game (he was yellow carded for what could have been red for a foul on Mertesacker) and the small fact that he took the penalty I’m guessing that he took the little boy inside him out for ice-cream after the game.
Arsenal have been making these kinds of errors all season and while I know it’s fashionable to complain about corners and goals conceded from set pieces its really been the 14 errors leading to goals that have cost Arsenal this season. By my count, Arsenal have dropped 23 points from their matches this season because of 12 of those 14 errors. Arsenal are currently 21 points off the League leaders.
And the most frustrating part about these errors is that overall, Arsenal’s defense is better than last season. We aren’t leaking goals the way we were before with the corners and set plays killing us. Instead, we are making bone-headed errors and that’s killing us. 6 of one I hear you say but it’s really not. Arsenal have only allowed 36 goals so far this season and let in 49 last.
Then later, Sagna was very lucky to escape Phil Dowd’s red wrath when he made an ill-advised slide tackle which saw the referee play “advantage” and after play was finally whistled dead, hand out a stern warning to the Frenchman instead of a second yellow. The United players were trying to help out their fellow professional as well; first Rooney, then Rio (both English you might note) went over to the referee and clearly said to Phil Dowd that Sagna’s slide was a “second yellow”. Of course, since there was no “waving an imaginary yellow card” they were just having a word with the ref and the announcers were glowing in praise for their team effort.
But regardless the hypocrisy of the pundits, It’s hard to admit this but Sagna looks spent. I was one of the few who wanted him to be captain this summer instead of Vermaelen. I always felt like he was Arsenal’s most consistent performer: he’s consistently been at the top or near the top in aerial duels won, he’s been a consistent outlet for Szczesny’s errant long kicks, he’s been a tireless worker, and when he was out last season, Arsenal’s midfield fell apart due to the lack of width he provides. And one of the main reasons why Jenkinson can’t get a look in is because he links up so well with Theo Walcott while Jenkinson and Theo seem to get on like fire and ice.
Two leg breaks, 30 years old, and working very hard for six seasons in a physically demanding Arsenal team may have finally worn Sagna down. Still, I’m not ready to ditch him after one poor season. Let’s not forget that part of the problem with this Arsenal team over the last 8 years is that we keep letting older players go. There needs to be some experience in this Arsenal side and unless he demands some huge salary or a trade I say we try to keep him in the fold for a few more years. If for no other reason than the fact that he’s very strong, wins a lot of aerial duels, and he can fill in at center back.
Meanwhile up front Lukas Podolski looked plum unfit. He looks like he has less pace than molasses in January, he won exactly 0 of the long balls that came to him and generally really struggled to get into this game. Still, I think both he and Theo Walcott need to seize this opportunity now that Giroud is out for two more games and give Arsenal some options up front as a unit.
And they will get chances from this Arsenal team, if — IF — they work as hard as they did yesterday. That’s my takeaway from the game really. Arsenal worked so very hard in midfield, mostly it was the effort of Ramsey pushing forward and Arteta covering back which provided the platform for the Arsenal performance. Rosicky and Cazorla led Arsenal with 5 shots each and had either been even slightly more on point (how one footed is Rosicky?) would have scored a goal.
All that hard work was a joy to watch. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; it’s not fair but in the Premier League, referees reward players who work hard, close space, and kick first and punish players who kick back. Arsenal played on the line of foul play for the first 43 minutes of that game yesterday and it nearly paid big dividends. You kick early like that and the opposition will pick up yellow cards, in fact United had four yellow cards after Arsenal scored and that’s just how Premier League officials are: they reward the aggressive team and punish the retaliatory team.
I’m not suggesting that Arsenal need to become Stoke City and go around Shawcrossing people or pulling defenders down in the box but that pressing game they played yesterday is exactly the kind of tactic that I believe will pay off in the Premier League. Work hard, leave everything on the field, and finish these last three games of this season on a high. Then, come what may, finish where we finish, we can be proud of this team and the way they turned the season around.
Arsenal now have to face a relegated QPR, relegation threatened Wigan (whom we can all but relegate that day), and a relegation threatened Newcastle who are owners of the worst defensive record in the League. Chelsea have to play Man U, Tottenham, and Everton and Tottenham have Chelsea. I don’t think Arsenal can just show up and get three points against any of those teams, they aren’t going to do us any favors, and I don’t expect Tottenham to rest on their laurels or for Chelsea to give up on fourth place in pursuit of Europa League glory.
So, Arsenal have to win all three games and rather than thinking we can just turn up and get three points we need to get stuck in in every game and give maximum effort for the remaining 270 minutes of the season.