It’s been a season of struggle and this weekend was no different, with another disappointing result, losing 2-1 at home to United. For me it was probably the most hurtful result of the season. Granted there have been poorer (and more embarrassing) performances and results, but the realisation, as the full-time whistle blew, that we had dominated an average United side for the majority of the game and yet still failed to beat them has left a deep feeling of sadness.
Twice as many shots, with four times as many on target. Twice as many corners. And over 60% possession. Yet we lost. To a United side with a back line consisting of Valencia, McNair, Smalling, Blackett, and Young. Extending our recent record against United to: P15 W1 D3 L11. How can you be anything but saddened?
It’s an ongoing frustration that we often concede with the opposition’s first shot on target. On this occasion we managed to concede the first goal without them even having to get a shot on target, before then conceding the second goal with their first shot on target. 85 minutes on the clock, only one shot on target against us, yet 2-0 down. It was Arsenal taking things to a whole new level.
And it didn’t have to be the case. We dominated possession and for once converted that into chances. The most gilt-edged of all was Jack Wilshere’s; to miss from there was preposterous. Two thirds of the goal gaping, just slot it into the bottom left corner. Or, if you’re not feeling confident of scoring yourself, square it to the open Alexis for a tap in. What you don’t want to do is shoot straight at De Gea. You can’t afford to be missing chances like that on a Sunday afternoon on Hackney Marshes, let alone at the highest level. It was a very poor attempt.
Many debated on twitter that Wilshere’s miss was our only real opportunity, and perhaps they’re correct in terms of clear-cut chances. But my argument would be that with the amount of possession and with 23 shots on goal other openings and chances were created, just not taken; only 9 of those 23 shots were placed on target, with 8 of them fired straight at De Gea. The exception of course being Giroud’s fabulous strike, albeit a consolation. It was great to see the Frenchman back in action; a small silver lining on an otherwise very black cloud.
The sooner our other Frenchmen return as well the better. Debuchy and more so Koscielny are significant holes in an area of the pitch we can least afford them. In terms of the latter, Laurent’s absence is proving costly on so many fronts. We lose a world-class defender, we have to play our second choice left back in his place, and possibly most importantly of all we lose a good portion of what makes Mertesacker tick; our gentle German giant just isn’t the same without his sidekick.
Sadly this defeat was yet another indication of just how much we’ve regressed since our FA Cup triumph in May. In the past it was excused with disappointment but understanding, due to resource constraints and our top talent being poached. But Arsene and the board can be excused no more. We have the resources to compete. We have the ability to sign world-class players and have proved we can do it with Özil and Alexis. But yet again we have left ourselves 2 or 3 players short in a single area of the field. Last season we were short upfront and it cost us, so we went and signed Alexis and Welbeck. But in the meantime we lost Sagna and Vermaelen and failed to replace them, meaning last season’s centre forward issue is now a defensive issue. So we muddle along, we hope to scrape fourth and we (hopefully) sign the defenders needed this summer. Except we’ll probably lose some midfielders and will be left short there. And so the cycle continues, as it has for years. Why are we always left two or three players short?!
However, in an attempt to not sound too gloomy I’ve been searching for some of the positives, not just from this weekend, but from the season as a whole. Starting with the weekend in particular, as already mentioned it was great to see Giroud back and instantly on the score-sheet. In addition, I thought at 0-0 the pressing and quick ball recovery was good, especially from Mikel Arteta. For the season as a whole, Alexis has been superb, Wilshere and Chamberlain appear to have kicked on, and Chambers looks a real prospect.
Furthermore, we have had injuries galore and been playing absolute garbage, yet we’re still in the mix. Yes, we’re not in the title race, but in reality I think we always knew Chelsea and City would finish above us. So it was always a fight for third with United, Liverpool, Everton, and Sp*rs. We’re level with three of them and only two behind United. As @gunnerpunner stated on twitter after Liverpool’s defeat to Crystal Palace it was a “reminder that the league’s shit and whoever wakes up first will walk into the top three”.
It’s a sentiment that’s hard to argue with. Hopefully we’ll be the first to wake up and that combined with our players returning from injuries we see us kick on in the second half of the season. But make no mistake; this season should have been about so much more. Instead we’re not even in December and it already feels like season over and that’s why my hope is doused in sadness.