Blackburn 4 (Yakubu 25, 59, Song og 50, Koscielny og 68) Arsenal 3 (Gervinho 10, Arteta 34, Chamakh 85)
I actually thought we had run out of inventive, hilarious for the rest of the league, ways of losing football matches. Call this Arsenal team what you want – they are a creative bunch.
The irony is that the day started well. Blackburn were busy holding a fan protest, something that rings a bell with many of our own, and we knew it would not take much to make them lose their belief. An early goal should have done the trick, and it duly arrived when Gervinho applied a neat finish to Song’s delightful through ball. The Ivorian had come under undue fire for a lack of end product (I say undue because he had played just four games before this, and in those set up a critical goal in Italy, amongst other chances), so it was good to see him open his account and seemingly set us on the path to another victory, against one of the few sides playing with less confidence than us.
Then came the first warning. After battering Blackburn in the early stages, they scored, Hoilett (their best player by a country mile) slipping in Yakubu, whose absurdly early effort caught Szczesny off guard. A wake up call, perhaps, and after a shaky five minutes we re-established control and regained the lead, with a fine move involving Song (again) and Ramsey, and ending with Arteta calmly sweeping into the roof of the net. That was it until half time, although the lead should have been doubled shortly before the break when Gervinho unwisely chose to shoot with Van Persie placed for a tap in. It was to be a costly mistake.
Blackburn went up a gear in the second half, although you could hardly call their performance testing. I tried to make the point on Twitter that they actually didn’t earn their way back into the game, rather we handed them goals on a silver platter, and the second equaliser illustrated the point perfectly. Arshavin was harshly judged to have committed a foul, presenting them with the sort of free kick from which they usually thrive. But rather than whipping in a dangerous ball, a pathetic chip came into the box, the likes of which rarely threaten pub footballers. But no-one cut it out, and the ball bounced off Song’s shins and dribbled into the net. It was abject in every way, and while Blackburn were fortunate to get the goal, we cannot claim to have been unlucky, so easy should it have been to clear the damn thing.
It soon got worse. Szczesny pulled off a superb save to keep the game level, but it only delayed the inevitable. When the goal came, Yakubu was clearly offside from Nzonzi’s shot, and that the linesman couldn’t see it given that the Nigerian had been standing stock still beyond the last defender for a few seconds is baffling, but although it was poor officiating, to blame to goal solely on the lack of a flag would be missing the point somewhat. The reality is that half of the defence had stepped up, two had stayed back, and both were behind Yakubu, unable to influence proceedings in any way. Had he been onside, the goal would have been as simple. It was exceptionally poor.
The fourth, when it came, was the sprout flavoured icing on the rotten cake, Olsson running half the length of the pitch before crossing to no-one. No-one, that is, except for Koscielny, who conspired to turn in our second own goal of the day and prompt language not heard in roughly three weeks. Self-destruction is an art form we have perfected in style, and for nineteen clubs in the league, it is terrific viewing.
The minutes ticked away, and on came Chamakh, hardly the most inspirational of potential rescuers, but the Moroccan proved us wrong, getting between two defenders to power home a superb header from Van Persie’s cross, and with five minutes to go we sensed another of our famed 4-4 draws. We should have got the point too, but first Mertesacker and then Chamakh missed glorious headed chances and the points were gone.
Despite the carnage, there were bright points, although they were heavily outweighed by the frailties that have derailed the start to what could be a very long season. Song was superb in the first half, Gervinho bright, Ramsey clever, and Arshavin showed flashes of the form that enthralled us in his first few months at the club. Chamakh also showed power and presence after coming on, traits long missed. And of course, we scored three good goals, which should have been enough to take all three points.
That it wasn’t was due to the embarrassment of the other end. Koscielny, so strong against Dortmund, continued his inconsistent tendencies with a shaky display, and Sagna had one of his worst games in an Arsenal shirt before coming off injured (which may be mitigation, in fairness). Santos was decent enough on an individual level, but his unfamiliarity with the rest of the defence was clear, with his positioning often being well away from the back line, while Mertesacker similarly struggled for position. We can only hope that with time and organisation, they will merge into a cohesive unit, but while time will be afforded, where will the organisation come from? Without Vermaelen, we lack that leadership at the back, and while the big German should add something in that regard, he can hardly give positioning instructions while still trying to find his own feet.
In front of them, Song’s second half was as poor as his first was superb, but the most distressing was the sight of poor Djourou, stuck at full back after Sagna’s withdrawal. Booked minutes after coming on after being easily turned, he looked like a novice for the rest of the match, and his one attempt at a cross (which went out for a goal kick less than half the distance between him and the post) was nothing short of humiliating. It is hard to believe that this is the same character who excelled for the first half of last season, so abject has he been since. At 24, he should be stepping up, but his career is drifting aimlessly, and no-one better symbolises our current malaise.
There is no doubt that there are serious problems with this Arsenal team. Personnel come and go, but we defend in the same disorganised, haphazard way. When you look at the individuals, their credentials all stack up, but as a unit something is seriously lacking, and while people can talk all they like about who should have been signed, it isn’t a matter of changing the names, but a case of changing the unity. Whenever you hit a brick wall in any walk of life, you should alter something, and perhaps calls for a new defensive coach are well founded. Shearer, Hansen and co can talk all they like about the need for Cahill and Samba, but the latter was shite today, frankly, and Cahill’s Bolton look every bit as defensively abject as us. We have the talent, but defend as individuals, and that never stands up in the long run.
That said, kindly stop the nonsense about us being in a relegation battle. I don’t take those suggestions any more seriously than I took similar assertions that Liverpool were locked in a battle to avoid the drop this time last year. Overreactionary dribble that should be left to the worst of the tabloids and the annoying pissed bloke in the pub who shouts above all others.
However, some sort of reassessment is in order. Make no mistake about it, we are in a battle for fourth, and we should be looking at the results of Liverpool and Spurs before caring about those of Chelsea, City and United. The most relevant match of Sunday’s programme will not be the big clash at Old Trafford, but the collision of our two major rivals for fourth at White Hart Lane. Sad but true.
The bare facts of the season so far are painful. Our goal difference is already 23 behind United, after a combined nine games, while having the worst defensive record in the division. But despite all of that, the fact remains that we have dropped 11 points, with 99 still to play for. You cannot throw in the towel after five games, and while a title challenge is surely out of the question, fourth is still perfectly attainable. That is now the aim, whether you like it or not.
Personally, I hate making that admission so early in the season. But we are where we are, and there is only one way to go from here. If you didn’t get that song reference from the title then congratulations. It was a crap song anyway.
Onward. Plenty of games in the next few weeks. They can’t all be this crap.