Title challenge over after loss to Bolton Wanderers.
Bolton led at half-time thanks to a Daniel Sturridge header. Cesc Fabregas had several long-range efforts – one which was saved by Jaaskelainen and one which hit the post – along with chances for Walcott which were repeatedly blocked. Arsenal were mainly restricted to their usual intricate passes outside the box, which was often followed by a cross which seemed to be aimed at Bolton’s centre backs, not our strikers.
Wojeich Szczesny saved a dubious penalty at the beginning of the second half, and Robin Van Persie scored at the other end only minutes later (his 7th in 7 consecutive away games). With the clock slowly ticking away, Wenger threw on Andrei Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh in desperation. However, the team rarely looked like scoring a second goal, and Bolton capitalised on poor defending when Tamir Cohen scored in the last minute.
Yesterday’s performance provides some of the best examples of our recent defensive frailties, as well as our profligacy in front of goal:
- Alex Song was just one of the players guilty of giving the ball away too easily.
- Marking from set pieces was pretty poor – both Bolton goals came from corners.
- Johan Djourou gave away yet another unnecessary penalty early in the second half – the 3rd penalty we have conceded in 3 games.
- Golden chances were missed by key players, but otherwise Arsenal delivered pointless crosses into the box, which were rarely attacked by our players.
United are now clear favorites for the title. They are 6 points clear of Chelsea, 9 ahead of Arsenal. The bookies are giving odds of 66/1 against Arsenal winning the Premier League. Worth a punt? No. Don’t waste your money. Manchester City are 8 points behind us with 2 games in hand. We have more chance of finishing 4th.
2 wins in our last 10 games in all competitions is simply not good enough. The fact that we were unbeaten in 16 Premier League games (until yesterday) is irrelevant, because we drew eight of them. 7 points from our last 6 games (we currently sit 14th in the form table) is not the form of a team fighting for the title, but the form of a team that looks lackluster going forward and extremely weak at the back.
Wenger is now unable to defend our recent poor performances by saying “but we are on a 17 game unbeaten run.” Although, it must be said that the media focussed on his quote about our unbeaten run following recent draws against Spurs and Liverpool, when the manager was completely open about our inability to hold a lead. Unfortunately, a manager who should go down as one of the greatest managers to ever grace English football, could instead be remembered as the manager who lead Arsenal to 6 (maybe more?) seasons without silverware.
In his post-match press conference, Wenger finally conceded that the team is unable to cope with high levels of pressure and lacks the “mental strength” required to win the league.
“If anybody is to blame it is me. I pick the team, I choose the players.
“I feel the players have had an outstanding attitude for the whole season but they are not to blame.
“Yes, it is very unsatisfactory not to win anything. It was one of the easiest run-ins we have had for a long, long time.
“We still lack maturity, experience and calm in important situations.”
Maybe it’s a good thing that we are not going into next week’s game with such high expectations. In all honestly, the match against Manchester United is almost inconsequential. Although it is still mathematically possible for us to win the league, we just have to accept that, yet again, Arsenal have fallen at the final hurdle.
Szczesny 7.5 – A decent performance from our young Polish keeper. He saved a penalty and made some important saves in the first half.
Clichy 6 – Not his best performance. Clichy needs to work on his crossing, as most of the balls he pumped into the box were ineffective. It is probably a combination of his crossing and not enough players making strong runs into the box.
Djourou 5 – Djourou did not have a good game. Bad marking during set pieces and poor passing further illustrates the need for Wenger to go our and buy a top-class centre back.
Koscielny 6 – Marginally better than Djourou. Both had difficulties dealing with set pieces, but Koscielny dealt with the pressure better than his partner.
Sagna 6.5 – Good game defensively, but wasted opportunities going forward. Like Clichy, needs to work on his crosses.
Song 6 – Gave away the ball on too many occasions and did not have his usual strong influence on the game. Wenger was right to substitute him at half time.
Wilshere 7 – Made some good runs, and kept possession of the ball where others would have given it away. Jack was one of the only players who actively tried to win back the ball after he gave it away.
Fabregas 7.5 MOTM– Fabregas offered our best attacking threat. Forced into long-range shots because players were not making their usual runs into the box, he tested the keeper on several occasions.
Nasri 6 – Nowhere near the performances expected from out talented Frenchman this season. Although his runs were good, his first touch was poor and he wasted two decent opportunities.
Walcott 6.5 – Started the game brightly by making strong runs, and tested the keeper at the beginning of the game, but was not particularly effective as the game wore on.
Van Persie 7 – Scored yet another goal and improved on recent poor performances (despite still scoring against Liverpool and Spurs). However, he dropped deep far too often when we needed a player in the box, and rarely tested the keeper.
Chamakh 5.5 – Didn’t offer much during his half an hour on the pitch.
Arshavin 6 - Made some strong runs into the box and challenged defenders, but was unable to find anybody with his crosses.
Ramsey n/a – Didn’t have much time to influence the game.
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