Another match, another defeat. Things are certainly far away from being rosy at Arsenal Football Club now. The AGM that is scheduled for today, couldn’t come at a worst time. Attendees will have the 2 consecutive defeats in mind and questions will be asked of how “weak“ the squad is. Probably one of those days which I don’t wish to be in the shoes of Arsene Wenger.
Yes, we are still missing a lot of players who could have contributed yesterday. Abou Diaby, Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Bacary Sagna, Theo Walcott and Ale Oxlade-Chamberlain would have been options to change the game, if not used tactically right from the start. Yet, the players we put out yesterday were no slouch themselves. These players have shown, perhaps not collectively but at least individually, that they are capable of playing with the best. Unfortunately, that quality was no where to be seen when Shalke came to town.
It’s another one of those collective failure. Shalke got their two goals in a 10 minutes period between the 76th and 86th minute. We did not register our first shot on target until the final minute of the injury time, that’s the 93rd minute, if anyone’s counting. Creativity, or the lack of it, was to be our downfall. The German side came with a plan, a plan to press us and deny us time on the ball. We just couldn’t cope with that. Comparatively to the Norwich game, there are more positives to be found. Easier to get to that than the multitude of problems we faced.
Francis Coquelin, pushed into the midfield role, had a very good game. Yes, his passing wasn’t completely accurate the entire game. However, I’m sure that we all appreciate his tenacity, something we’ve missed from our recent games. Coquelin had no qualms about going to ground to win the ball. His desire to be first to the ball was clear to be seen.
Another player, who had just 10 minutes of the game, also impressed. Too bad for Serge Gnabry that his debut in the Premier and Champions League ended in defeats but once again showed that he could very well be the one we constantly talk about in the near future. Almost with his first touch of the game, he showed the kind of ingenuity and skills that helps unlock defences. A move that a former fan favourite, Nwankwo Kanu used to favour, the drag turn or however else you call it.
The second goal was conceded when we pushed Per Mertesacker forward to find the equaliser and left gaps behind in defence. The move came from another pass to the space behind Andre Santos, a common feature in yesterday’s game. The big German’s move up front make no sense when we don’t even pump the crosses in to utilise his height advantage. That said, Mertesacker has rarely been threatening in set piece situations and thus playing him up top doesn’t make much sense on that front.
Santos was also involved in the conceding of the opening goal that Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored. It was a nicely taken goal by the Dutchman but he should really have been caught offside during that move. As it turned out, Santos did not keep up with the line and ensured that the Shalke striker was well onside to take the shot. Amateur mistake, if you ask me. No full backs should ever be the last line of the defence and if the centre backs step up, they should too.
Yet, those two incidences were just a combination of times where Santos was caught out. Shalke sensed that this was the weak area to expose and continually went at it. On one hand, Lukas Podolski provided very little protection to the Brazilian but even then, you would have to question Santos’ positioning and seemingly unaware of the runners behind him. Some of the fault could also be placed on the hands of Arteta or Coquelin but they already have their hands full handling the Shalke midfield. Kieran Gibbs’ stock have certainly risen without even being on the pitch.
Without the pace of Walcott and The Ox, we struggled to make much headway against a Shalke side that kept a high line and just like at Norwich, were able to squeeze us in midfield and deny Santi Cazorla the space to operate. Gervinho up front cut a very frustrating figure. When the dribbling didn’t work, Ivorian just kept trying and trying, and still got no headway (no pun intended). There was little variation of play to keep the likes of Joel Matip and/or Benedikt Howedes thinking. You’ll be hard pressed not to think they had a very comfortable game.
Two defeats on the trot and we’re facing some what of crisis or a mini crisis, at the least. The leadership of the Champions League group was lost and we certainly have made it harder to have the chance to rest players come the second last or last game of the group stage. It doesn’t get easier with the game against QPR and Manchester United coming up on the horizon.
We need to bounce back and do it fast. What we have on show, is definitely not good enough for the second game running. Time to get worried.