Can Arsenal stop the free fall? The Gunners blew again the lead in a 1-1 draw with lowly Crystal Palace on Sunday to drop to fourth place in the Premier League. They fell out of contention last month after dropping too many points against the weak teams this season. Now, they are in danger of missing out on a Champions League spot.
Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com
There will probably be no St Totteringham’s Day for the first time during Wenger’s tenure as the Gunners trail Tottenham by five points with just five games left. Arsenal’s form is so poor that you can’t even take for granted a Top 4 finish. At the end of February, the Gunners were four points clear of Manchester City and 10 clear of Manchester United. The Citizens are now level on points with Arsenal, but with a better goal difference, while the Red Devils are only four points behind us.
Here’s a quick look at our league results this year. January: W, D, D, L. February: D, W, W, L. March: L, D, W. April: W, D, D. We’ve racked up only 5 wins in the last 14 games. That’s basically one victory every three games, the kind of pace set by an average side. In fact, that’s exactly what we are. Seven clubs in the Premier League have collected more points than Arsenal this year: Leicester (34), Tottenham (30), Southampton (27), Manchester United (26), Manchester City (24), Chelsea (24) and West Ham (24). With 21 points, the Gunners are performing at the same level as Liverpool, Swansea and Bournemouth. That sounds gross but it’s the cruel reality.
Arsenal struggled to create clear-cut chances against Crystal Palace despite enjoying 72% of ball possession. The Gunners wasted good situations because of a poor final ball and lacked efficiency in the final third with just 6 of 21 shots on target. The Eagles made Arsenal’s job difficult by defending deep to deny space, but I thought the Gunners played at a too average tempo in the first half and lacked urgency in the second. At times, it almost felt like a friendly.
Iwobi’s average game
The match showed Elneny’s limitations against teams parking the bus. In those situations, we need an organizer like Cazorla to dictate the tempo and make some key passes. Iwobi, who made the difference against Watford and Everton, could have been the answer in the final third. Unfortunately, he’s still a teenager and can’t perform consistently like a seasoned player yet. Iwobi mustered only one shot, that was off target, and was dispossessed four times according to http://www.whoscored.com. The Nigeria international headed wide a cross from Coquelin in the 51st minute and fed Welbeck with a backheel flick in the 53rd. Welbeck attempted a curling shot from a tight angle instead of crossing the ball for Sanchez at the far post.
Sanchez and Ozil were arguably Arsenal’s two best players on Sunday. Sanchez opened the scoring on the stroke of halftime by meeting a cross from Welbeck to beat an advanced Hennessey with a looping header. Welbeck made the assist but you would expect more from a centerforward. Played clean through on goal by Ozil in the sixth minute, Welbeck wasted a good opportunity with a poor first touch. Welbeck then took a pass from Sanchez in the 47th but had his shot blocked by Delaney. Following a goalmouth scramble, Welbeck finally tested Hennessey in the 65th with a point-blank effort that bounced off the goalkeeper’s chest. Centerforward is a relatively new position for Welbeck, but he must find a way to become more efficient in the final third.
Ozil finished the game with 8 shot assists, five more than any other player. Taking set pieces obviously helped. Sanchez connected with an Ozil free kick for a diving header that sailed wide in the 68th while Paulista could only head another offering from Ozil straight into the goalkeeper’s arms in the 87th. At times, Ozil reverted back to the player who vividly shone in the first half of the season. The Germany playmaker played a one-two with Sanchez in the 43rd but had his left-footed toe-poke parried by Hennessey. With Dann closing down Ozil, I thought a right-footed effort would have been a better option to shoot with a wider angle and with more power. Ozil also made a cross for Sanchez, who missed the target with a header in the 67th, and picked out Giroud, who sent his flick straight at Hennessey in the 77th.
Cech not sharp yet
The Gunners couldn’t put the game to bed mostly because of a poor final ball. Monreal made a poor cross in the 7th, Coquelin overhit his pass for Ozil in the 8th, Sanchez delivered a poor final ball for Elneny in the 21st, Iwobi’s through ball for Sanchez lacked accuracy in the 27th, Monreal’s cross went beyond Welbeck in the 33rd and Sanchez squared the ball back for nobody a few seconds later. Bellerin, Ozil and Coquelin also had their share of poor passes in the second half.
The manager tried to get a second goal by sending on Giroud and Ramsey for Welbeck and Iwobi in the 75th. I wouldn’t blame those substitutions for Crystal Palace’s equalizer. It was a goal the Gunners should have never conceded. The Eagles capitalized on a poor cross from Monreal to hit Arsenal on the fast break in the 82nd. Paulista cornered Adebayor against the touchline. Heavily booed by Arsenal fans, Adebayor turned around and found Bolasie, who cut inside Coquelin and fired a 25-yard low drive inside the near post.
Cech was well positioned but couldn’t go down quickly enough to make the save. Wenger gave Cech one more week to get sharper but apparently that wasn’t enough. I thought Paulista could have made a better effort to block Bolasie’s goal attempt, but maybe deflecting home two shots from Carroll the previous weekend played on Paulista’s mind.
Paulista and Coquelin looked bad on the equalizer but both had a decent game. Coquelin won 3 of 3 tackles, more than any other midfielder, and 67% of his duels, while Paulista won 4 of 4 tackles, more than any other defender, and 73% of his duels. By contrast, Koscielny lost the 2 tackles he made and 47% of his duels.
A 10-year investment going nowhere
Crystal Palace created as very little as Watford and Everton, relying mostly on set pieces, counterattacks and long-range efforts. Bolasie’s curling shot did not trouble Cech in the 28th. Sako got ahead of Giroud to meet a corner in the 76th and force a routine save from Cech, who tipped the header over the bar. The Eagles nearly pulled Arsenal out of position on two counterattacks. Paulista failed to win a 50-50 duel with Bolasie in the 16th but Coquelin cut out Bolasie’s cross for Wickham. In stoppage time, Zaha intercepted Koscielny’s risky pass for Coquelin to bear down on goal but Paulista made a last-ditch tackle inside the area to end the threat.
The most painful moment of the game was when Wenger replaced Elneny with Walcott in the 84th in the hope of scoring a late winner. Two minutes later, Walcott wasted a counterattacking opportunity by running into two defenders and losing possession. Somehow, Walcott has become the symbol of the manager’s failure to rebuild a squad good enough for a title bid. Wenger has shown more patience than any other manager in his attempt to turn Walcott into a decent forward. The return on investment has been poor after 10 years at the club. Any Arsenal fan can see Walcott’s limitations. If the club doesn’t sell Walcott this summer, it will just show that the Gunners love mediocrity and don’t intend to contend for the title next season. Walcott had 10 years to prove himself. Now it’s time to give other players a chance.