Sunday, 18 September 2011

Is this really the time for Arsene Wenger to quit?

Morning Gooners.

Well that didn't go as planned, did it? I don't believe that Blackburn deserved to win the game. However we didn't do enough to take all three points ourselves and that wasn't helped because of our poor defensive display.

The manager decided to hand Andre Santos his full debut at left back alongside Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Bacary Sagna. Wojciech Szczesny continued in goal.

In the deep lying midfield roles were Alex Song and Mikel Arteta. Ahead of them in the attacking three were Gervinho on the right, Arshavin on the left and Aaron Ramsey, returning from injury, playing behind Robin van Persie at the top of our attack.

We all know that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I wonder whether the manager would have preferred to have started with Kieran Gibbs? Personally I feel, and this has nothing to do with Santos who I though had an adequate games apart from his error which we'll get to later, sticking with Gibbs in the first real Premier League test of our new zonal marking system would have been a better option.

We know Blackburn are a big physical team and would test us with high balls from corners and free kicks. So why not bed in this defence? Play Gibbs along with Koscielny, Mertesacker and Sagna and let them get used to the system and playing it together? Santos didn't need to come in for his debut yesterday.

Anyway, we started the game well. Taking the lead in the tenth minute from Gervinho who was played in by  Song. The ball took a deflection off Chris Samba and beat Paul Robinson into the bottom left hand corner.

We were playing some good football. Moving it around quickly and with pace which hasn't been a feature of our game yet this season. It seemed like the team had found some confidence. Arshavin looked bright. It seemed like he had found the hunger and desire which had been missing from his game and was putting the effort in going forward.

Blackburn looked dangerous and for me they had two sources which would do us damage. Junior Hoilett was proving to be a tricky customer for Sanga and looked like he would create plenty of chances from the left. Whilst any opportunity to lift the ball long and high into our box was taken. Robinson coming to the half way line to pump balls into our box from free kicks.

The home side had the opportunity to take advantaged of our zonal marking system first when Robinson pumped in a long ball from a free kick on the half way line. Samba had a free header in the left back area and should have done better with his effort which went wide. The warning bells were ringing but that wasn't the source of the home team's equaliser.

Song got a block in on a Rovers move but the ball fell to danger man Hoilett who provided the assist for Rover's equaliser. Yakubu peeled off the back of Mertesacker and with the slightest of touches diverted the ball past Szczesny into the goal. Unfortunately for Arsenal the Rovers debutant (Yakubu) was played on side by our own debutant (Santos). Is a week long enough to learn how to play offside the Arsenal way?

However it was the Gunners who tried their best to add to their goal. Arshavin and Gervinho with good chances. The Ivorian was linking well with Sagna and their partnership was producing a lot of end product. It was easily the most dangerous outlet for the Arsenal.

Arsenal's second goal was a thing of beauty. Ramsey lost his man in midfield and was found by Song. The Welshman raced into the box and pulled  back an inch perfect pass to find Arteta arriving to support the attack and the Spaniard fired home to put Arsenal ahead for the second time.

Wenger's team had total domination of the ball. Gervinho and Koscielny with opportunities to add to our lead but their efforts were off target. And then there was the chance to at least attempt to kill the game off. Gervinho danced his way into the box and van Persie was free and with the clear opportunity to strike on goal but the Ivorian didn't pass and his shot was blocked by Dann. The captain was angry with his team mate for not passing and the chance was gone.

It was an opportunity just before half time which would have knocked the confidence of the home team and their support but the selfishness of the Ivorian took the chance away. Sometimes strikers need to decide to take the ball on themselves and be single minded. This was not the time with van Persie obviously in a far better position to score.

The teams came out for the second half and it was clear Rovers had been fired up. And within four minutes of the restart the home side had their tails up after Song turned the ball into his own net.

Arshavin gives away a free kick on the left. Rochina takes and plays the ball into the near post area where Santos and van Persie are defendinig. The captain jumps with Givet and neither make contact with the ball. It falls onto Song's knee and is diverted into Szczesny's left hand bottom corner. What didn't help Song is that Sagna was in front of him and didn't make contact with the ball to clear it. There was little the Cameroon international could do about it.

Sagna didn't last much longer on the pitch after the second equaliser. He'd taken a bad knock in the first half and was replaced by Johan Djourou. And the first thing the substitute  has to do is to clear a super save from Szczesny from Formica's shot as he gets behind Koscielny.

It is from a corner that Rovers take the lead. Hoilett takes the corner long to Nzonzi who is in plenty of space at the far post. He fires the ball in low and it's Yakubu who is the fastest to react and slots the ball home. The replays showed the Rovers front man was offside.

Wenger reacts to the goal by sending on Theo Walcott in place of Arshavin. But it's the home team who add to their scoreline. Rovers break quickly after clearing an Arteta corner. The ball is played to Olsson who runs at our defence. Djourou comes charging in with a sliding tackle which takes neither the ball or the man and Olsson has the chance to run at our defence who are trying to get back from the corner.

Song is the closest man to Olsson and he jockies the Rovers man before a feeble attempt to win the ball back by sticking out his leg. Olsson fires the ball across goal and it's turned in by Koscielny who should have done better.

At 4-2 Wenger throws Marouane Chamakh into the mix in place of Song. And ten minutes after his introduction the Moroccan international scores his first Arsenal goal since last November. Van Persie stationed on the left swung in the cross and Chamakh got his head to the ball, powering it past Robinson.

In injury time Mertesacker should have equaised. Santos putting a dangerous ball into the box which the German can't put on target.  It finished 4-3.

Afterwards Arsene Wenger said:
"It's just not good enough and, of course, we are very frustrated. The spirit in the team is quite willing but if you look at the number of goals we have conceded it is just not good enough.  
"You cannot come here and concede four goals the way we did today. On the other hand I believe that the group will take off but it is important that we can get results."  
I thought we were unlucky with all the goals we conceded in different ways. The first goal Santos played Yakubu onside. Song was unfortunate to divert the ball into his own net after it hit him for the second. Yakubu was offside for their third and Koscielny should have done better for their fourth.

The unfortunate thing for Arsene Wenger isn't that this was an isolated incident. We've seen poor defensive showings from this team many times before and there doesn't seem to be a plan in place to stop it. I don't think playing Santos today was the best decision. Personally I would have stuck with Gibbs, just to give the defence time to play with one another.

People will call for a defensive coach. Wenger, Rice and Primorac were all defenders in their day. Perhaps Martin Keown or Lee Dixon could offer us something different? Keown was at the club doing his coaching badges when the 2006 team reached the Champions League final. He wasn't working with the first team but spend a long time talking to Kolo Toure about defending. But would they be allowed to take the coaching sessions when Wenger is so hands on in every aspect of the training.

The apparent reason Steve Bould didn't want to step up and play a bigger part in first team affairs this season was because he feared he wouldn't be allowed to do the day to day coaching he currently does with the Under 18s.

There is something which is not right at the club. No team can be so prone to the defensive frailties we've shown this season and last. Is this something that Wenger can turn round? Will he ask for help if it's needed?

I don't know the answers to those questions but I feel the manager should be afforded the time to put things right. He's brought the club so far in the last 15 years that he has earned the right to do the best he can to make the necessary changes.

We all thought that the club had the right fixtures in front of us to bed down the defence and start moving in a positive and upward direction. However no team in the Premier League can be look at as an easy game as the rest of yesterday's  result proved.

Wenger has got a job to do. It's certainly not an easy one and could be the toughest challenge of his career. Let's hope for his sake and that of the club he can put things right.

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