Monday, October 6, 2008

1-1 to the Arsenal

"Sunderland, I believe, did adopt a defensive attitude. Does it disappoint me? It’s not for me to judge, we just have to find the solutions to the problems they cause."

- Arsene Wenger, after the Sunderland game

We're not ready for a title challenge. 

If we were, we would be winning games against teams like Sunderland. We need to win games against teams like Sunderland. This was the kind of game that champions encounter all the time, and it's the kind of games a champion wins. 

Sunderland set up a 4-5-1 because they were afraid of Arsenal's creativity. They packed the midfield, put nine men behind the ball, and tried to use the pace of Djibril Cisse to pinch a goal. 

Arsenal set up a 4-5-1 because we were afraid that Denilson couldn't cope with a physical Sunderland team. This led to a rather unfortunate series of events:

  1. Song played instead of Nasri
  2. van Persie dropped deep to get the ball 
  3. Adebayor was isolated and didn't have anyone to feed off
  4. Walcott drifted too far inside to support Adebayor 
  5. Walcott didn't use his pace on the flanks 
  6. We didn't have enough width to stretch Sunderland
  7. We didn't have enough space to make those cute passes
  8. We didn't create enough chances
  9. We didn't win 

Yes, we (maybe) had a goal disallowed. And yes, Sunderland's goal was against the run of play (and very well taken by Leadbitter, by the way). And yes, Fabregas' goal in the 91st minute showed great mental fortitude. 

But that's missing the point. 

The point is that we altered the way we played to accommodate a weakness. Last season, we would've played a 4-4-2 because Flamini was mature enough to boss the midfield without that extra body. van Persie would've been higher up the field. Adebayor would've had more of the ball, and troubled the defenders more. And we would've won.

This is a seriously depressing result. It's depressing because it could've been easily sorted out, if only Wenger had bought an experienced defensive midfielder. It didn't have be an super, super player - just someone tactically disciplined, physically strong and old enough to have seen it all before. He didn't even have to be first choice for the Arsenal - just someone who's available for these tough matches in the north of England. 

We can talk about the potential of our kids all we want - and believe me, I love talking about the potential of our kids - but the truth is plain, unlovely and painfully hard to ignore. It's a truth that stems from the problem that Wenger acknowledges but refuses to address, and it's turning my hair white (literally - I found another one yesterday). 

The truth is that we're not ready for a title challenge. 

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