Why Arsenal’s 8 Minute collapse at Upton Park is NO Surprise
Posted by Aaron C-Reid | Published on April 10, 2016
Arsenal and West Ham shared the spoils in what was a pulsating game at the Boleyn Ground. However, from Arsenal’s point of view, it is another 2 points dropped. While West Ham clearly deserved, at least, the point, Arsenal’s 3-minute collapse highlighted the necessity for change. For any team a two-goal lead in the opening 44 minutes would all but seal three points but in Arsenal’s case, it was all too predictable. By the 52nd minute the Hammers were leading 3-2. Why is Arsenal’s failings to close out big games all too predictable?
How many times have you heard that age old phrase: “Arsenal have bottled it?” In my memory… far too many times. Letting leads slip at West Brom, Liverpool, Tottenham and Norwich have cost the Gunners dearly. The past few years some laughable performances have lead to humongous collapses: an obvious example that comes to mind would be the 4-4 draw at St James’ Park in 2011. Arsenal lead 4-0 in the 72nd minute but a 20-minute breakdown resulted in a comical draw. It isn’t just in previous seasons that Arsenal seems to falter from winning positions. Only Liverpool (17) and Crystal Palace (15) have dropped more points from winning positions than Arsenal (14) this campaign. From a fan’s perspective, it is heartbreaking to watch your team fail when the going gets tough.
Lack of Leaders
In Arsenal’s glory days, they had Sol Campbell, Tony Adams and Patrick Viera. These were players who played for the badge on the front of the shirt, not the name on the back. These are Arsenal legends. A reason that they were held in such high regard? They were vocal and spurred players on. Commanding their teammates and comrades, screaming at them and most importantly they all possessed desire. Can you name one player in Arsenal’s current side that spurs their teammates on and demands a certain amount of passion? I didn’t think so.
You can’t win a league like the Premier League without real vocal leaders in your side. Take a look at current leaders Leicester. Wes Morgan, Kasper Schmeichel and Robert Huth all order their teammates at set pieces, they drive their players on. Take a look at Chelsea’s title winning team last year. John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic did the same thing. Again reinforcing my point that you need a certain amount of desire and leadership that the current Arsenal team does not possess.
It seems like an obvious thing in football that good selection is imperative, it’s a necessity. But time after time Arsene Wenger seems to have a certain amount of naivety and stubbornness when he picks the lineup. When coming up against Andy Carroll you would think it would be self-evident to include height, especially in defence. However, Arsene Wenger went for a partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel Paulista in the heart of the Arsenal defence. Both of which stand at 6 feet tall, a whole 4 inches below the frame of Andy Carroll. These four inches can make a huge difference when jumping for the ball. The apparent solution would be to go with the giant, Per Mertesacker, who stands at a gigantic 6 feet 6 inches. This would be a way of nullifying Carroll’s aerial presence but Wenger stuck to his guns and it cost the Gunners dearly, with Carroll grabbing 3 for the Hammers.
It wasn’t just Mertesacker’s exclusion that was questioned. Arsenal’s sole signing from the Summer, Petr Cech, was bizarrely left on the bench, with Colombian David Ospina picked instead. Another questionable decision from the Arsenal boss. Saturday’s trip to East London wasn’t the first time that Wenger’s lineup has come under scrutiny. For weeks, Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini were played in the middle of Arsenal’s midfield. This was bizarre as Mohamed Elneny had just been acquired and was sitting on the bench watching the embarrassment of a midfield pivot of the Frenchman and Welshman. It seemed like this season form was not a factor when Arsene Wenger picked his starting XI. Every week Theo Walcott was picked ahead of Joel Campbell, even though the Costa Rican international was playing out of his skin. Another baffling decision from a manager who many Arsenal fans want to be gone.
Inability to Adapt
For any footballing fan that watched Saturday’s game it was clear to see West Ham’s main tactic. They were exposing the height, or in this case lack of, that the Arsenal defence possesses. Yet no changes were made. Nacho Monreal was exposed time after time at the back post. Becauseof Carroll’s aerial presence it would be nearly impossible for the Spaniard to win any aerial duels with the England international. Tactically at half-time Wenger should have demanded more from his other players. Not only was he too stubborn to bring on Cech or Mertesacker but he should have told Sanchez and Iwobi to track back more. The full backs needed cover and no one was providing that. Again it wasn’t the first time that one of Arsenal’s weaknesses has been exposed this season. Many of Arsenal’s failings have been against the so called “smaller teams.” One of the main reasons why Arsenal have been exposed against the teams further down the table is their philosophy and tactics. The Gunners’ failure to beat West Brom, Norwich and Swansea all stem from the way the team was set up. Arsenal employ a classic 4-2-3-1 formation. If set up properly the two centre backs should be covered by the two holding players and the full backs. However, Arsenal’s full backs like to push up, which is understandable. This exposes the defensive partnership and the midfield duo. This isn’t helped when Ramsey is played in midfield. Ramsey likes to push up the field, meaning that there is barely any cover for the centre-back pairing. This weakness in the heart of Arsenal’s team has been exposed on multiple occasions, allowing the oppostion to counter attack with ease. I propose a possible change in formation or a change in personnel. Arsenal seem to have played a 4-2-3-1 for so long but I think it could be time to switch to a 4-3-3 press or a 4-4-2 narrow diamond. These would facilitate Arsenal’s players as well as making the team much more balanced.
Mental Strength and Mentality
How many times have you heard Arsene Wenger talk about Arsenal’s fantastic mental strength? He seems to bark on about the Gunners’ togetherness and toughness all the time. But the term of Arsenal “Bottling it” is as good as any to describe the fragile nature of the players.
Arsenal appear to enjoy the Christmas period but the new year hangover brings poor results and poor commitment. Who remembers the infamous collapse in the 2007/08 season. Arsenal led Manchester United by 5 points in February and had a game in hand. The Gunners then played Birmingham where an all too familiar collapse culminated in a 2-2 draw. In the 6 games in the league that followed Arsenal picked up just 6 out of a possible 18 points, only winning 1 game. It has almost become a running joke that Arsenal will certainly falter in February to end all hopes of a possible title. For players that are supposed to want to win trophies it certainly seems like they are content with 4th place. Arsenal went into games against Swansea and Manchester United still clearly in the thick of the title race, with many bookmakers making them favourites for the title. But a classic Arsenal breakdown resulted in losses from both of those fixtures. Not only were those losses incredibly hard to take but it did not seem like any of the players even cared or understood what had just happened. They all seemed to do the rounds on social media with the classic “We were unlucky” or “We will keep fighting.” That is simply not good enough. If you look at the squads of Leicester and Spurs, Arsenal clearly have better players individually. But the difference is that Spurs and Leicester want it more, they have team spirit and hunger for success. Something Arsenal players don’t seem to possess.
Concerning away Form
While Arsenal have enjoyed home success against teams in the top half, their away record is very poor. Arsenal have played all of the other teams in the top half of the league away, except Manchester City. Out of those 8 away games, they have only collected all three points on one occasion, against league leader Leicester in September. For a side that is supposed to be challenging for titles, that is a dreadful record. Out of a possible 24 points the Gunners have only obtained 7 points. Arsenal have been known for their poor record against the top teams in previous campaigns and at the minute that doesn’t look like changing. It is mainly Arsenal’s defensive frailties that have been a cause for concern away. Conceding 3 to United and West Ham and 4 to Southampton. Again a pattern seems to be forming. In the 2013/14 season Arsenal sustained a title challenge until late February when it all came crashing down. The source of the problem was again due to failure away from home, losing 6-3, 6-0 and 5-1 to City, Chelsea and Liverpool respectively.
What is the Solution?
I think it clear to see that change is needed at Arsenal Football Club. Change in all departments. Personally, I feel that Arsene Wenger has taken Arsenal as far as he can and it is time for him to step aside. I also believe that Arsenal lack quality players in a certain number of areas and also lack leaders in the team. Something needs to be done and it needs to be done now.
What do you think is the main reason for another poor season from the North London side? Let me know via twitter – @ReidTheGame