Arsenal fans witnessed a familiar story unfold after their team lost 2-1 to Manchester United. The result leaves Arsenal eighth in the table and they have never found themselves in this position in their Premier League history. Arsenal had more than 60% possession and had the better of chances that could have easily put them out of sight even before the half-time break. Yet, their inability to convert chances coupled with naive defending left them with an uphill battle for the top four. They still remain only two points away from United in the fourth place, but the latest Premier League top four betting odds from Betfair gives odds of 8/13 for Arsenal’s chances of a top four finish.
The gunners made an extremely promising start and some great chances fell to the likes of Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere in the opening 20 minutes. Arsenal have been heavily criticised in the last decade for their inability to put to the ball in the back of the net and their unwillingness to shoot. Despite having 23 chances and nine shots on target, they found themselves chasing the game with 10 minutes remaining. Most of the matches involving Arsenal and a top team have witnessed a counter-attack goal against the gunners; Saturday’s match was no different as Wayne Rooney once again hurt Arsenal in a similar fashion.
Arsenal have now conceded EIGHT goals through counter-attacks this season. Surely, Wenger must realise now that his team needs a world class defensive midfielder more than anything. Arsenal are expected to spend in January, but fans will be disappointed if it is just another average buy. The club needs world class players, and fast. Wenger also has to look at his tactics, which were recently branded as clueless by former Arsenal man, Paul Merson.
Several pundits had come in defence of Danny Welbeck prior to the match. Louis Van Gaal openly criticised the England international for his goal scoring record at United. He made no attempt to hide the fact that this played a significant role in deciding to sell him for £16 million. The Dutchman may have left the game feeling a little pleased, as once again Welbeck drew a blank. He has now scored two goals in 786 minutes of action for the gunners. Olivier Giroud showed Arsenal what they are missing within 20 minutes after coming on to the field.
Welbeck has failed to cement his place in the time Giroud had been on the sidelines. It would be difficult to see Wenger continuing with Welbeck, as a central striker, now that Giroud is back. The return of the Frenchman is one of the few positives on the night, but Jack Wilshere became the latest addition the injured list. Aaron Ramsey was also largely anonymous in the match, as he struggles to hit the heights of last season.
The opening exchanges in the match appeared to show that Arsenal were keen on taking advantage of United’s injury problems. Van Gaal went back to a 3-4-1-2 formation with Chris Smalling being the most experienced defender of the three at 25. McNair and Blackett, playing either side of him, were not aware enough to prevent Arsenal from repeatedly opening them up by running into the channels. Arsenal’s injury situation has been well-documented, but they clearly had an upper hand with experienced players throughout the pitch.
Three consecutive victories in all competitions towards the end of October signalled a return to form, but it has proven to be nothing more than a false dawn. Those victories against Sunderland, Burnley, and Anderlecht may have appeared comfortable, but Arsenal remain a long way away from becoming Premier League elite once again.
Questions about Wenger’s future at the club are once again likely to come up over the course of the week. The FA Cup win last summer suddenly looks to have occurred in the distant past. Upcoming matches against Borussia Dortmund and Southampton are likely to test the gunners even more.
Arsenal may have qualified for the Champions League in 17 consecutive seasons, but they have come perilously close to dropping out of the top four in recent years. This season, though, they could be saved by the poor form of the competitors like Liverpool. It is astonishing to see that Arsenal still remain only two points away from the top four despite having only four league victories so far. Statistically, this could end up as Arsenal’s worst Premier League campaign in the last decade, but it may not be surprising to see them in the top four once again.
Swansea, West Ham, Newcastle United, and Everton have a great chance to take advantage of Arsenal and Liverpool’s poor form, but they are unlikely to maintain a consistent run over the course of the 38 game season.
Betfair pushed Arsenal to 11/8 for a win against Borussia Dortmund in the upcoming Champions League midweek action. The gunners are second in the group and can qualify for the last 16 with only a point. It will be interesting to see if the defeat against United may have any repercussions against Dortmund.