It’s Not As Bad As It Seems… Yet

Now, having had almost twenty-four hours to cool down, I believe I am ready to assess Sunday’s match with Manchester United in a decidedly non-Arsenal Action-type way. I won’t be calling for Wenger to resign and I also won’t be pronouncing our title challenge dead on arrival. My regular readers will know that I am fully behind and committed to Arsene Wenger and that I am hardcore optimist when it comes to the Arsenal. While others around me lose their heads, I try to be the lone voice of reason… or hope.

Despite some of the stuff I’ve read, I didn’t think we played a terrible match. If the two own goals cancel themselves out, we were beaten by two counterattacks. Two very ugly counterattacks, defensively-speaking, on our part. And here is where I will ask a question of the Boss. The fixture has left me wondering if maybe there is such a thing as “too much attack.”

How many times did we lose possession on the edge of our final third only to find the ball quickly pumped up to Rooney, who then found himself with the opportunity to run at an isolated defender? Almost too many too count. Where is the defense? No one appreciates the club’s footballing ethos more than myself. But I wonder if, in the big matches like this one, we really must find a way to temper our attacking enthusiasm in a bid to protect our already vulnerable defense.

Let’s be honest. Even with the addition of Vermaelen, our defense is a far cry from what it was for most of the 2007-08 season. Clichy is a shell of his former self and so is Sagna, for that matter. Gallas is better than he was for much of that season and Vermaelen is better than Toure was but we still ship goals against quality sides at times.

Our whole approach, at least in the big matches, seems to have an air of naivete′ around it. Do we really think that we can approach United or Chelsea like we would, say, Pompey or Bolton? Even at home? I believe Wenger must realize that we have to begin to compromise-just a bit-when it comes to our tactics against bigger sides.

Opposition does not have to worry when we get the ball into wide areas because they know we have no one in the box capable of scoring with their head. The return of Bendtner is promising but he is obviously far from being anywhere near 100%. The fact that Theo is also far from his best means that, at the moment, we have no extra speed or aerial threat. It makes it much easier for sides to clog the middle and when everyone pushed forward yesterday you got the sense that we were falling for United’s trap.

Don’t get me wrong. I respect the Boss and his footballing philosophy and I certainly don’t think some big overhaul is needed in either management, personnel, or tactics. But, look at what United did to us yesterday. They were content to cede much possession in return for playing most of their game on the counterattack. And it was highly effective. We should learn and take something from that.

On the other hand, we created more than enough chances to win that match. Arshavin alone had enough chances that he should have realistically had at least two goals. Sometimes, the gods punish those who try to do the right thing. We couldn’t take our chances yesterday for whatever reason and the match certainly had that “it’s just not going to go in” vibe about it. But, unlike in the past, it wasn’t for lack of trying. The team came out shooting but they just wouldn’t go in.

I’ve said for years that the thing that distinguishes the current team from the Invincibles is our lack of an effective counterattack. I guess that’s to be expected from a team that dominates possession, even against the other top sides. It has improved recently with the addition of Arshavin, but we play at a far slower pace now than we did in 2004. Having a side willing to go on a fast counterattack is the difference between a draw, or loss, for this side and a win for the 2001-04 side. Yesterday, United looked more like the Invincibles, in that respect, than we did.

Either way, we can make up the ground lost at Chelsea next weekend and be back where we started when this run of fixtures started. It won’t be ideal, but it could be worse. Next Sunday now becomes a sort of acid test for this side. I try to avoid pronouncements like that, but after the Villa draw and the loss yesterday, we can’t see it any other way. We will not be able to make up another double-digit deficit on Chelsea or United at this stage of the season. On Sunday, we will see just how bad we want it and how much Wenger has learned from the two spirit-crushing home defeats.