Feb 022012

Bolton 0 Arsenal 0

Last night’s clash at the Reebok was a classic example of a football match not being an isolated occasion, and not judged as such, but rather an act in a bigger play, with interpretations not purely taken from the ninety minutes of action, but from the wider context of both clubs.

Taken in isolation, this was a creditable draw away to a Bolton side we have struggled with in the past, at a ground Liverpool got comfortably beaten at recently. We created plenty of chances, hit the frame of the goal twice, saw the opposing goalkeeper have an impressive match, and defensively kept our own clean sheet.

Viewed from that angle, nothing too bad – a match we would usually win, let down by poor finishing and poor luck. One of those days, if you will.

The trouble is, we have a lot of those days, and this wasn’t an isolated occasion. It came off the back of three consecutive defeats, and with Liverpool and Newcastle both winning we found ourselves sitting seventh, being cut further adrift from the Champions League places we so crave. Moreover, the slew of chances missed is a commonplace feature – we are yet to win a Premiership match this season where Van Persie hasn’t scored. He needs help, and when he fails to find the target, the others are not chipping in. Seeing gilt-edged chances go begging is every bit as regular as a defensive mishap. As for the clean sheet, that was partly down to luck too – Ngog missed a sitter and they probably should have had a penalty at the end. We could have lost.

It is extremely frustrating to watch. We have long bemoaned the lack of alternative striking options for Van Persie to rotate with and play off, but not only do we have a serious shortage, it is clear that Wenger himself retains no confidence in those we do have. With Chamakh still absent, Park sat on the bench, and despite our chase for a winning goal, stayed firmly put. Here is a striker in the peak of his career, but unable to get minutes in a team painfully short of numbers in his position. Imagine how painful this is for him.

The race for fourth is an open one – Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle are our rivals for the spot, and all of them are dropping points on a regular basis. If we could string any sort of run together, we’d snap the position out of their hands, and generally be a lot happier for it. But we can’t string any sort of run together, certainly not a winning one. Every step forward is followed by a stumble. Can we turn that around and get the five or six wins on the spin that would lift us back above them all? In theory, yes. In practice? It doesn’t look likely.

The weird thing is – I don’t blame the players. The team is pretty solid, all told, but the squad is thin. Our 25 man squad contains seven or eight players that, for one reason or another, Wenger doesn’t trust enough to rotate in and out. The result is that the first team players feature more often than they should, they get tired, and they get injured. Ramsey is the classic example – he is copping a lot of flak this season, but for me, his poorer performances have come when he has been visibly weary. If he were asked to play less often, I really think he would be shining more regularly.

So once again, we are looking forward, hoping that the next match will be the one in which we can gain ground on our rivals. And it should be – with Chelsea, United, Liverpool and Spurs all playing each this weekend, points will be dropped. Meanwhile, we have Blackburn at home. A confident Arsenal side would brush them away, but this is not a confident Arsenal side. Would it really surprise anyone if we struggled?

All season I have been absolutely convinced that we would recover, and go on the run we needed to claim fourth, overtaking sides who, frankly, aren’t that good. But now, I am finally beginning to waver.

Roll on Saturday.

  10 Responses to “Bolton 0-0 Arsenal: All about the wider context”

  1. I think the blame is more with players than the manager. Our shooting is atrocious and has been all season and you cannot blame Wenger for that. If it had been up to standard I guess we would have a dozen more points in the bag than we currently have. It’s just not good enough for a top premiership side. I bet they are banging them in from all angles in training but during matches we seem (RVP apart) to suffer from collective panic in front of goal. The last few games we have set up enough chances in the first 20 minutes to have won all of them easily but the players legs turn to jelly when they get a sight of goal. We spurn all the chances, the other team gains confidence and we start to panic. Result, we lose or draw games we should have won. That suggests a serious lack of character and a mental weakness within the squad, something that has afflicted us for several seasons now and if anything is getting worse. What do we do to correct it? I don’t know. More worrying is the fact that no-one at the club seems to know either.

    • Profligacy in front of goal has been a feature of Wenger’s recent reign, so I think you can blame him. It’s just got worse this season. Perhaps there is an over-focus on ‘pass and move’ and looking for a man in a better position in training and not enough focus on finishing. That’s what it looks like on the pitch anyway.

      • Maybe you have a point, however the fact remains that it was Walcott who was one on one with the keeper against Bolton, not Wenger. And it is Arshavin who is blazing virtually all his shots way over the bar, not Wenger. Repeat for Ramsey, Gervhino etc etc. Strangely the one player (obviously apart from RVP) who does seem to be able to get a decent strike in is a defender, namely Vermaelen. We can hold Wenger to account for various things that are wrong but not the lousy finishing of his players.

      • Agreed with Mick. That Gervinho, Walcott and Ramsey miss so many chances is due to the fact that neither of them is in top shape, either physical, or mental. When you can’t shoot straight when you’re supposed to, you get tenst, and when you’re tense, you can’t shoot straight. Hence Walcott’s huge fail. With Ramsey it’s perhaps less pronounced, but still, the problem is there. Even if it’s a question of mentality, then kudos to Wenger for making such players even take those chances.

  2. In recent seasons it seems as though we’ve always needed 10 chances to score 1 goal. The problem this season is that due to a lack of a truely creative player in midfield the chances we do get are not as good. Last season we had Fabregas & Wilshere…this season, I’m afraid there’s no one of that cailbre. It was a crazy gamble to assume that Ramsey would fill Cesc’s boots or that Jack would be fit for all the season. Arsene has always gambled that the ‘best’ will happen rather than accepting that season after season the gamble hasn’t payed off.

    • Agreed. And it was all really simple: we lose Cesc and Nasri. Nasri, I thought, played very well in the centre, better than out wide, albeit with variable form. Anyway, we lose them both, and to lose your two most creative midfielders for any football team is a disaster — especially a team like ours that depends on creative attacking play. In one sense this season has been living out the fact that we didn’t replace them by great quality. We needed to keep them, or at least lose only one of them, and add an excellent DM to help Song, someone like De Jong or M’Vila, an absolute fighter, and a first class striker.

  3. Arsene wenger should be sacked with immediate effect

  4. Arsene wenger should not rely on some these players again. He should get another player to replace them.i.e arshavin, ramsey and djouru

  5. wenger should be held accountable for all actions because if any of them made mistakes instead of blaming them if prefer sitting on the bench or complaining to 4th official.

  6. is Wenger not the man that chose not to replace Cesc, Nasri? is he not the same manager that has relied on players like Gibbs and Diaby who are ever injured? Is he not the man that has increased our wage commitments without bettering the squad?

    I love him as a manager, but this off season, he will have to decide where his allegiance lies, whether he wants the team to win or whether he wants to develop young players at the risk of competing. Whether he will have the ambition showed by some players and the fans or whether top 4 and profits are more important. whether to have better quality players or rely on the same players that have under-delivered. whether to return the trust shown and extended to him by fans, or erode it to a point of no return. if he doesnt address the issues in the squad, we will lose RvP (might still lose him regardless of whether me make top 4 or not), and the fans that have always trusted him will eventually show they no longer hold him in the same regard. it has started, and will continue unless things change

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