There is zero room for keeper error.
Keeping with tradition, it is clear that every Arsenal goalkeeper error this year will be followed by a string of articles about Arsenal’s need for a first-class keeper. As a matter of fact, I’m quite confident that these articles are already written with blanks to fill in the opponent, the keeper responsible for the error, and the target supposedly coming to Arsenal at the end of the season. After this weekend’s home loss, the blanks are filled by Newcastle, Lucasz Fabianski, and Pepe Reina.
Subjecting fans to this horribly tiresome pattern is, well, horribly tiresome, but columns need to be filled and fans need things to complain about. Perhaps lost in this week’s tragedy is that perhaps Andy Carroll is a large man who can win a header.
Arsenal is not invincible.
This is isn’t exactly a revelation, but dropping three points at home to both West Brom and Newcastle, two newly promoted teams, suggests one of two things: Arsenal is either criminally inconsistent at home against much weaker sides, a trait not becoming of a team that plans on winning the league, or West Brom and Newcastle are actually decent teams. Looking at the league table, after 11 games played, Newcastle is 5th on 17 points, and West Brom is 10th on 15 points. From the looks of things thus far, perhaps these teams simply deserve credit rather than assuming that Arsenal should be crushing every team in their path.
Depth is no longer an excuse.
Djourou, Eboue, Rosicky, Arshavin, Van Persie, Bendtner. That was the bench Arsene Wenger had available against Newcastle. Most teams would do horrible things for the opportunity to have most of these players in their starting eleven, let alone leisurely sitting on the bench. Compare Arsenal’s six field substitutes to Newcastle’s options: Campbell, Taylor, Routledge, Smith, Lovenkrands, Ranger. No one, that is, no one sane would prefer Newcastle’s bench.
We often hear, “Well Chelsea would struggle too if they were missing Lampard, Essien and Drogba.” True. But usually not against newly promoted teams. If you are deep enough to win the league, then you presumably should be deep enough to beat Newcastle at home. Again, looking at Arsenal’s bench, depth is clearly no longer an issue.
Neither is age.
Perhaps Arsenal is becoming too predictable.
Joey Barton alluded to Newcastle’s plan to target Fabianski, saying, “We were looking to suck the keeper out. A few times it didn’t work but we knew that if it did come off, we would score.” Considering Carroll’s aerial ability and Fabianski’s history, Newcastle’s approach made sense. Actually, not only did it make sense, it worked.
But that may not be where Arsenal was most predictable. Arsenal is a team fully capable of conceding one goal at home and winning. On Sunday, however, Arsenal fell victim to predictability in the attacking third, which may have been just as fatal as their vulnerability in the defensive third.
When Arsenal are not decisive going forward, they allow opposing defenders to get numbers behind the ball. And on certain days, all the pretty passing in the world won’t break down a stubborn and/or lucky defensive unit. On multiple occassions against Newcastle, we saw Arsenal’s forward movement slow to a grinding halt, leaving players to rely on precision passing, which, as we saw, does not always come off.
While it is easy to get seduced by Arsenal’s attacking style, thinking back to the Invincibles side is often helpful to see where this team is lacking. While people tend to focus on the technical ability of that Arsenal side, this team shouldn’t forget that the Invincibles’ movement and speed of play were equally as important in creating such a scintillating, effective and consistent style.
All is not lost.
As much as I want to say that all is lost every time Arsenal drop points, it isn’t. For every negative point above, there is a positive.
First, keepers let in goals every week. In spite of Fabianski’s questionable decision to come out, worse decisions have been made. This one goal does not erase his string of very positive performances, which shouldn’t be forgotten. A few more of these moments in successive games, however, will make this an issue worth revisiting.
Second, Newcastle look like a team more than capable of taking points from most teams in the league on any given day. The fact that Joey Barton and Andy Carroll are now being spoken about as candidates for the England squad (in addition to their other extracurricular activities) shows that Newcastle has a few weapons that will worry others. Arsenal can take heart from that.
Third, the fact that Arsenal’s deep bench wasn’t decisive against Newcastle doesn’t render them forever impotent. With the assembled talent available to Wenger, I’ll take my chances in 9 out of 10 games that they’ll come good. It’s also a good thing to have Robin Van Persie back in the rotation. How long he lasts is another issue. But for now, the wealth of options is a positive and not necessarily an area to question the team’s adequacy just because things didn’t work out this time.
Lastly, Arsenal have the ability to move and be more decisive. We’ve seen this team expertly adopt this approach before. It would be more troubling if Arsenal lacked the personnel. Thankfully, they don’t. Ultimately, fixing a recognition problem is much easier than fixing a personnel problem. For that, Arsenal fans should be less depressed.