So we served up the latter and it's tough to know where to begin. Prior to today, other than the sheer firepower of Man City, the two sides that have impressed me most would have to be Everton and Southampton. Coincidentally, both of those sides pressed us high up the field and got rewards, whilst Everton offered little in attack, Southampton should have been out of sight by HT but we turned it around after a masterful teamtalk from Wenger. As the season progresses, game plans and weaknesses become more apparent in sides and your side has to adapt to the necessary changes needed in order to win titles. Yesterday it felt like we were extremely naive and sadly we were completely off the boil from the outset. Mertesacker dallied and within a nano second Suarez had the ball. I'm not wholly convinced it was a foul but we might as well have not bothered even pretending to defend the set piece. I'm not even interested in people debating an offside, it wasn't, move on. Set pieces suddenly became a huge issue, Koscielny standing six yards off Skrtel is asking for trouble but in truth the header was magnifcient. For me though it was how cheaply we were dispossed that disappointed me. Ozil couldn't have played any worse, inaccurate passes leading to counter attacks. Three of his mistakes led to either goals (on two occasions) and massive chances on another. We played entirely as individuals, as liverpool hunted to get the ball back, They wanted it, we didn't and when that happens in inexcusable. One of Ozil's errors came from Henderson's pressure, which should come as no surprise. I remember in his Sunderland days he stuck to Fabregas like glue, he might not have the talent of our mercuial German but that's why they have players like Coutinho and Suarez, they do the damage, 4-0 after 20 minutes is what you expect from a Sunday morning side, it was an embarrassment but who do you blame?
There were too many below par performances, in a big game you can't really afford to carry anyone. The back four were abysmal, they were exposed, yes, but also dreadful. Our midfield was utterly hopeless, it has to be able to get through dark periods in games but I don't think we have that ability in our locker. At times you just need to be determined and physical, surely Wenger has learnt that from the Vieira and Petit days? I also think our shape upfront was disjointed. Oxlade-Chamberlain plays extremely well in centre midfield and then he is shunted out onto the right hand side. He did function well there last season but then so did Podolski but he was dropped to the bench. I also have to question Santi Cazorla's discipline, too often he was caught too far inside and this completely exposed Monreal (who can also count himself lucky to have started).
A Step Back
No, not in terms of the side going backwards, more us, the fans, taking a step back. This was another reality check but the key is we must bounce back. The players have the ideal opportunity now with the visit of Man United on Wednesday. Win and it'll go someway to helping overcome the defeat suffered yesterday. That'll lead us into league games against Sunderland, Stoke and Swansea (subject to Cup progression of course). So it's imperative that we give ourselves a solid platform to build upon again. The great Man United sides of the past rarely lost back to back games and would invariably good on 10+ game unbeten runs, We need to give ourselves the best opportunity to maintain our league position. Thankfully Man City did us a bit of a favour and we only dropped a point behind one side. There may be opportunities to overtake Chelsea before we go head to head with them in March although their fixtures do look favourable, which is why it is imperative that we shake off whatever it ws that caused us to get sloppy yesterday. It also worth noting that free scoring Man City now havent managed to score in two games since Aguero got injured. That is flying slightly under the radar as we take centre stage in the world of the tabloids.
It has been noticeable that going forward we dont seem to create many chances. There are times when we isolate Giroud and by doing so we will lose possession. He can't do it on his own, as he has neither the pace nor the ability to dribble away from someone. If you surround him with players, then he comes alive but far too often we get away from that and I have no idea why. Then you have Ozil, of course the media are going nuts about how ineffective he is but that's more down to our style of play, which currently hasn't adapted to his game. Ozil finds runners, of which there have been few and far between. Look at goals such as Wilshere's at Villa. Monreal breaks in behind, Ozil finds him and before you know it 1-0 Arsenal. If we are to persist with this static style of play then we are wasting the talents of one of the worlds great players. Few players have the vision but they also need the incivisve movement of others. Remember Vieira's goal against Leicester? What a pass from Bergkamp but without the run, Bergkamp probably pops it off to the left or right and we continue to probe. You begin to feel that we are badly missing Walcott to be that option to unlock defences and someone needs to step up. We are missing Ramsey who likes a forray into the oppoisiton box but we seem to have too many players who are happy to create and not enough that like to supply the end product. Please don't take this as an assesment purely based on yesterdays performance (although it was evident at Anfield as well) but we have been getting by and it's somewhat surprising that despite being top for so long that we haven't really torn a side to shreds. The most emphatic scoreline was against Norwich in a 4-1 win but in truth they tested us that day and we resorted to playing on the counter attack for much of the 2nd half. We let first halves drift by us and usually we spring to life in the 2nd half but we can't allow 45 minutes to just pass us by, particualrly at home. The last time we led at home in the league at HT was against Hull in early December. Since then we've played Everton, Chelsea, Cardiff, Fulham and Palace. It seems somewhat bizarre but it seems to be becoming a trait of ours.
At the end of the day we have been a 4th place side masquerading as the league leaders for quite a while. This season has been nothing but an unadulterated success so far. We've battled and fought back to finish in the top 4 for the last couple of seasons and now we are talking about title challenges, for which I am overjoyed. However, when you give yourself the opportunity to challenge you want to see if you can see it through. This is where the test starts. There have been signifcant improvements this year and whilst it isn't always essntial to beat your rivals it is important that this side has the belief that they can go into games and win. At the minute I don't think they (the players) believe it, despite winning in dortmund, which you would have thought would have gone a long way to destorying the stigma attached to us, It would be nice to see us thrash a big side, like has happened to us more often than not but i'd happily settle for a 1-0 win on wednesday but if we want to win the league then we can ill afford any more days like City and Liverpool away. Wenger has said yesterday raises some questions, he has three days to find the answers.