It is exceptionally difficult what to make of this Arsenal team at the moment.
Prior to kick-off at West Brom I spoke of my rising doubts as to whether we would be able to banish our apparent psychological demons, take the final step and win the league this season. Ninety minutes, an awful defensive performance and an almighty Manuel Almunia cock-up later, those doubts have only grown.
It was an almighty relief to steal a point from two goals down with twenty minutes, but that relief could not mask the frustration of how we got into that position in the first place. We’ve lost a host of games this season and performed extremely poorly at times but this was the worst of the lot.
I don’t care which players are available or unavailable, there is no excuse for lethargy at this stage of the season and with a full week’s rest under our belts, and the sluggish nature of the performance had me yelling at our players on more than one occasion. As for the goalkeeper’s contribution, it was so bad it was unbelievable. He looked so shot of confidence at the moment that it seems feasible that Jens Lehmann will replace him in a fortnight’s time.
If there was one positive to take out of this game it was the overall performance of our attacking players and the Manchester United-esque way we pulled back the deficit with sheer force. Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner assisted a goal each from the bench, Andrey Arshavin provided two moments of magic and Robin van Persie kept his good run going.
Arsene Wenger’s second-half performance was uncharacteristically brave too. Removing Denilson at half time time took balls, as did playing three out-and-out strikers and a trying to win the game with a midfield duo of Samir Nasri and Jack Wilshere. That it worked was no surprise really and we can only hope the positive outcome of the manager’s changes encourages him to be more proactive in the final games of the season.
Speaking of the rest of the season, there are just so many things to consider at the moment.
We go into a well-timed international break five points behind Manchester United with a game extra to play. The current leaders still have to play us at The Emirates and taking all of that into account the ability to win the league remains in our hands. It seems ridiculous after the last weekend and indeed, the last month of frankly dreadful results, but that is the state of play.
However, fact that we fell just short of completing a miraculous comeback and Manchester United stole the points at Bolton from an equally improbable, if completely different, situation seems to represent the difference in mentality between the two sides at present. I may be looking into things too deeply — after all it was only a terrible Jussi Jääskeläinen error that allowed United to score their winning goal — but at the end of the day they won and we didn’t.
Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song, Theo Walcott and perhaps even Johan Djourou (rather freakishly) may yet return at Blackburn in a fortnight’s time but with twelve of the current squad called up for International Duty it would be churlish to think it will go to plan. Our season may yet be defined by who manages to stay fit over the next fortnight and which starting eleven steps out to play at Blackburn on the 2nd of April.
To hold our nerve over the final stretch we need mentally strong, reliable players and that is exactly what the likes of Song and Fabregas provide. Our midfield against West Brom contained a young player starting his first game for the club in over a year, another young player woefully out of form and the youngest of the lot carrying them. It is not good enough and it will not win us the title.
But put Song and Fabregas in there, maintain van Persie and perhaps get a lucky break with Djourou’s fitness and we all of a sudden look formidable, even despite our nightmare goalkeeper situation.
There’s still a long way to go and even after a shocker of a weekend we’re still in with a good chance of winning the league title. However, with all the variables at play it is almost impossible to figure out just how good of a chance we have.
I fear it is going to be a very long couple of weeks.
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