The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Hull 1-3 Arsenal

What a strange game this was, with the best and worst of Arsenal on display. The first 20 minutes or so was relatively even play; from that point until around the 55th Arsenal were rampant, dominating possession and chances against a Hull who were locked in their shell and unable or unwilling to come forward; then, for about 20 minutes or so following Djourou’s headbutt on Manucho which might well have been a penalty the Bad Arsenal showed up and frustration was obvious in Clichy’s yellow for dissent and a few silly fouls; and then for the last 8-10 minutes Arsenal went back to shredding Hull’s defense and took full points with a pair of wonderful goals. How to make sense of this?

During the periods when Arsenal were dominant I must say I thought the defense was the root of it. Djourou and Clichy had their problems later, but for the first 55 or so they were fine. Toure had a very good game indeed as did Sagna, and Manuel Almunia had another of those performances with nothing to criticize in it which people who hate him on principle will forget ever happened. When you watch a game like this with such wild swings of momentum, I think it underlines how essential it is for an aggressive attacking team like Arsenal to have a defense they feel they can rely on to control pace and hold solid at the back. I don’t believe it was by accident that the shoulda-been penalty giveaway by Djourou was the spark for Hull to step up their performance and eventually equalize- the speed of the game increased at that point and Arsenal got a lot more ragged, sprinting forward but without numbers and desperately chasing the ball at times, trying to be too precise with passes at others. This Arsenal team isn’t a fast-paced outfit at the moment by inclination and ability, and when they’re playing quickly it usually means they’re panicking about the defense- keeping the midfield back to protect them and trying to use pace to get forward quickly to compensate for not having the numbers to play their usual possession game and often adding in the excessive precision in the passing as they try to get a goal back immediately to quell the panic. It’s not their best form of attack especially with quick players like Theo out, and it usually results in sloppy play, bad positioning, a lot of giveaways, loss of possession and, frankly, a lot of Arsenal players getting beaten in 50/50 situations. The loss of confidence disrupts the attack, and the disruption of the attack exposes the defense, increasing the panic. Probably 7 or 8 times in 10 when Arsenal enter this zone they don’t come back, so the scoreline today is perhaps a bigger victory than it seems; hopefully it will help to bolster their confidence the next time this happens.

It should probably be noted here that for my money at least, one of the things a new defensive midfielder would bring to the table as Flamini did last year would be the ability to do the defensive protection job in panic times which currently is occuping both Diaby and Denilson (often to no great effect). That in turn would allow the attack to not totally break down, which allows possession to be retained, etc. The whole negative spiral this team gets into at times can be stopped before it starts with the right player in that slot.

Individually, a bit of a mixed bag for the Arsenal players today. As noted above, Kolo was very good, looking lighter on his feet and getting forward intelligently at times especially early to trap Hull attackers and force giveaways. Sagna as well was excellent, in the way where you almost take for granted how much effort he puts in. Adebayor had a mixed-positive game with a great goal and some quizzical crosses and such, Nasri about the same; both finished for their goals wonderfully. Diaby and Denilson may or may not have played. Clichy had his issues, seemingly confused about how to deal with Mendy, allowing him too much space for the cross on Hull’s goal and seeming to be bothered by pace and strength in general. He’s usually better than this, so no need to harp on it. Djourou was mostly solid for the first 55, but his near penalty giveaway was really bad. His non-marking of Cousin on the goal was another one of those goals you see scored against Arsenal all the time (see, for example, Keane in the Liverpool game this year) in which an opposing striker runs hard into the box between the two centerbacks, both of them run alongside him about three feet away, and the ball drops to him and he scores without either defender challenging the man or the ball. I suspect this is a communication issue in some measure (Arsenal’s defensive coaching is its own topic), but that really is Djourou’s man in this instance. Eboue was…hauled off. I tend not to dislike his performances (as opposed to his “performances”) as much as some do, but this was largely heinous. At this point I honestly feel a bit bad for him- the effort is there.

A special word for Robin Van Persie. I loved his game today- loved it. What’s always driving me nuts about him is his inconsistency and tendency to singlehandedly win a game with a couple of goals one week and disappear for the next month. This was the sort of game he doesn’t have all that often in that it didn’t fall into either category, but for my money he was the best player out there: nearly scored early on a free kick, took wonderful corners including the one which Adebayor headed home, assisted on Nasi’s goal and played a wonderful ball for Bendtner’s goal on the give and go, and was almost always a threat with crosses and positioning. I don’t think there’s any more that can be asked of him than to have games like this in which he used the full range of his skills, interlinked better than usually with his fellow players, manufactured chances, and played hard the whole way.

So where does this game leave us? Same place, basically- 3 points back of Villa who beat Sunderland today, even with them on goal differential. That the team pulled out of theĀ  death spiral of panic and loss of confidence where in previous games like, say, Tottenham, they never did is a positive; that they still get into that mode is not. The need for a defensive midfielder to control that tendency is still there, but on the bright side Toure appears to be rounding back into form which can only be a good thing given the other options (or lack of such) at his position- he may yet survive this whole Gallas experiment. All in all a nervy performance which ended up good enough, while still highlighting the issues in the team which everyone watching it knows need to be addressed.

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January 17, 2009 - Posted by | The Arsenal | , ,

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