Monday, 10 August 2015

Disappointing start for Arsenal

Arsenal 0-2 West Ham

Arsenal supporters arrived at the Emirates stadium on Sunday full of optimism at the start of a new season that promised so much. This was supposed to be the start of a campaign in which the Gunners would mount a genuine title challenge. The players had all spoken about the strength, belief and spirit within the squad, while the manger continually spoke about the need to right the wrongs of last season and get off to a good start.

It was therefore extremely disappointing to witness a performance from the home side that lacked any hunger, desire or conviction.
The Community Shield win the previous weekend was supposed to have instilled greater confidence amongst the players, but maybe it only served to make them over confident. The Gunners play was extremely lethargic and the lack of movement in attack simply played into West Ham’s hands. The away side were extremely well organised and set up in a defensive shape which should be familiar to Arsenal seeing as the majority of opposition teams employ the exact same tactics when visiting the Emirates. However it appeared as though the Gunners had no idea how to open up the West Ham defence and all too quickly ran out of ideas.

On paper Wenger can boast of having one of the best creative midfield departments in the country, but on Sunday there was no sign of it, as they allowed a 16 year old boy making his Premier League debut to boss the midfield. There were numerous misplaced passes, no width and no one willing to run in beyond Giroud. The Frenchman tended to drift out wide to receive the ball, but none of the midfielders would make a run into the box and therefore Giroud had no one to pick out with a cross. The striker’s performance on Sunday only served to highlight the need for a forward of superior quality if Arsenal really want to challenge for the title. When he is not at his best Giroud is just woeful, offering very little to the team. A look to the bench also served to highlight the lack of squad depth in attacking areas. With Welbeck and Wilshere injured, only Walcott and the not yet match fit Alexis Sanchez could be called upon in an attempt to change the game, with neither able to do so.

There were problems all over the pitch for Arsenal. At the back the composure and belief shown against Chelsea the previous weekend was gone. So much had been made about the arrival of Cech over the summer that it was rather ironic the goalkeeper gifted West Ham both their goals. Ultimately though, not one player in a red and white shirt could be proud of their performance on Sunday. Each and every one of them let themselves, the club and their supporters down. Cech may have been at fault for both goals, but so were those in front of him. For the first, a decent free kick delivery saw Sakho get free from his marker and get to the ball before Cech, who had come out for a ball he was never going to get. The second saw Arsenal trying to play their way out from the back, lose possession on the edge of the box, before Mauro Zarate’s weak effort rolled into the net, with Cech hopelessly wrong footed.  

Arsenal supporters can only hope that this result will serve as a wakeup call for the players. Confidence and belief are essential components of a title challenging side, but they have to earn the right to play their game. The Premier League has now become the toughest league to win, with every side having improved greatly over the summer. There are no easy games and at times the players will have to dig deep, grit their teeth and even abandon their natural instincts, in order to grind out a result. Far too often the Gunners start a game in a particular mind set and then seem unable to change and adapt once things do not go their way. On Sunday for example, there was a clear lack of sharpness amongst the attacking players yet they continued to pass the ball to death around the West Ham penalty area. Not one of them took it upon themselves to grab the ball and have a shot on goal from distance. Instead it was a frustrating case of pass, pass, pass, before the attack inevitably fizzled out.

Arsenal now need to react to this result as quickly as possible. Their next two games are a difficult away trip to Crystal Palace, full of confidence from their opening day win, and then a tough home game against a Liverpool side buoyed by their own impressive start to the season. If the Gunners play as they did against West Ham, they will quickly find themselves in a very similar position to that of last season, drifting away from the top teams, playing catch up for the rest of the campaign. Hopefully West Ham, forever linked with blowing bubbles, have done Arsenal a huge favour in bursting their bubble. Over the summer it had become so easy to get wrapped up in the belief that this would be the Gunners year, but with only one game played, they have come crashing back down to Earth. That performance on Sunday was simply unacceptable and we can only hope that the players react to it in the best possible manner.

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