Arsenal fell to a damaging 2-0 Premier League loss against Tottenham on Sunday.
A result that leaves Arsenal in the same place as they started the game at, 15th, and also sees Spurs move 11 points ahead of Mikel Arteta’s side…somewhere else in the table.
As has become tradition, normal service resumed on Sunday. After the most enjoyable performance of the season in the 4-1 victory over a desperately poor Rapid Vienna side, the return to Premier League action brought with it the same old story. Same old Arsenal.
Set up to soak and strike, Tottenham allowed Arsenal to see plenty of the ball – with which there was no penetration – and the stunning, yet poorly defended, strike from Son Heung-min ensured they could ramp up their approach to newfound levels.
No two ways about it, it worked. Even when Arteta’s side were building up a head of steam at the end of the half, utter calamity struck with Thomas Partey inexcusably walking off the pitch through injury – stand still or go to ground, don’t hamstring your teammates like that – and poor structure leaving the hosts with a four-on-one scenario. One they duly accepted.
Dominating the ball in the second half meant absolutely nothing as it was handed to Arsenal on a silver platter, as half-chances were made but never looked like being converted.
One win in seven Premier League matches. Six defeats in nine matches.
Here’s what we learned, if we did indeed learn anything at all.
Crossing Cures Nothing
Arteta banged on about the need for his side to produce more crosses in matches, a statistic that left supporters scratching their heads in disbelief. Of course, the benefit of the doubt had to be given to him regarding what kind of crosses he meant. Furthermore, when you have someone in the team as brilliant at whipping crosses in as Kieran Tierney, that makes sense.
The Tierney element is where the logic ends.
Deliveries were flung in throughout the game, with just seven of the 44 attempted finding their man. Some of the crosses weren’t even that bad, especially the Scotsman’s, but who they’re supposed to find with a meaningful chance of scoring begs belief.
Aerial prowess is one thing. But who has it?
There are a set of forwards at this club who are best suited to certain traits. Lacazette is aggressive in and out of the box, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang thrives on attacking space and running at goal. On the occasion the crosses miss either of them, they’ll find Bukayo Saka or Willian on the opposite flank.
It doesn’t make sense.
Thomas Partey Experiment Failed Catastrophically
While the Ghanaian pushed to be fit for this match, hounding the staff that he’s ready and insisting to the doctors that he’s capable, he clearly wasn’t.
Arteta will have heeded his calls more reluctantly for the obvious reason that he’s well and by far the best midfielder at the club. To a degree, for a game of this calibre, that’s understandable. And while there were moments in the first half that showed how important his presence is with protection of the back four and drives with possession, you can’t say it was worth it.
Clear rustiness in his touches, passes and speed of thought put Arsenal in danger on a few occasions, and then when injury struck the decision to walk off the pitch just as a break was happening is unacceptable.
It doesn’t matter if he’s injured. Standing still and not moving would have at least cut off a passing lane or provided fewer options for Son to attack. Even lying down to force the ball out of play would have been a wiser move.
Senior Players Must be Dropped
It is getting silly at this point. Unfathomable, in fact.
The decisions to field both Granit Xhaka and Willian today must be seen as watershed moments. There is no way now that an excuse can be made for either being deserving of starting football matches in the Premier League.
Lethargic application on and off the ball from Xhaka offered Arsenal nothing in any third of the pitch. Unhurried to get back and cover and too slow to move the ball fluidly into attacking positions, it’s little wonder Arteta wants more crosses since he’s got no chance of making inroads centrally. Well, actually he does, with the other options in the squad. They won’t solve the issue, but they can’t be worse.
Reiss Nelson wasn’t even in the squad today. How disheartened must you feel to see Willian offer no signs of progression or incision, yet still be picked week in, week out? It was known prior to his joining what he could give to this team, but the chance of that coming to light fades by the minute. Hector Bellerin was also frightfully poor, yet he’s had a good season up until recently. We can only hope his form returns.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang does not got off free, either.
From the beginning of the match he looked well up for it. Chasing every ball, pointing to where the space was, he was a man fired up. Then they scored, and his head dropped ever deeper as the match wore on to the point it was already in the dressing room.
It is unquestionable how he is being starved in this team, but it’s got the point where he seems content going hungry. He is the captain. He isn’t showing it. Not on the pitch, at least.
Is it Damage Limitation Already?
After full-time, Arsenal sat 15th in the Premier League table. Precisely where they were before kick-off. The worst start to a league season since the 1981/32 campaign. Only the bottom three sides have scored less goals this season.
They’re now 11 points off top spot which, honestly, means absolutely nothing anyway.
Instead it’s time to look at Leicester in fourth, who are eight points ahead of Arsenal. Is that a lot? Absolutely not. That is, without doubt, an achievable margin to close. With 27 matches left to play, and Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham away from home all played, it’s madness to suggest otherwise.
Logically, however, doubts crept in long ago. Numerically it’s more than manageable, theoretically it’s insurmountable.
The Europa League looks the ‘best’ bet, and there must be at least five (maybe more) sides left in the competition who are better footballing outfits than Arsenal. That number is much more enticing than the 14 better than Arsenal in the Premier League.