After Arsenal lost 5-1 to Liverpool a few weeks ago, a Scottish co-worker of mine said, "Arsenal doesn't lose by 1 or 2 goals. It loses proper --- by 4 or 5 goals, at least." I laughed because I knew he was right. Many weeks before that, after Arsenal could only manage a draw against Man United, one of the pundits on BBC's Match of the Day 2 said Arsenal wasn't a title contender because it "couldn't beat the big teams". I didn't want to believe it then, but after this weekend's embarrassment at Stamford bridge --- which dropped the Gunners to fourth and out of title contention --- I'm afraid I have to.
I will admit that I missed the first 30 minutes of the match because I overslept (the match aired at 8:45 am here in Ontario). Once I realised I was missing it, I tore myself out of my comfy bed, rushed to the living room, and turned the TV on, anticipating only the best. What I got was the worst: 33 minutes of the first half gone, and it was already Chelsea 3-0 Arsenal. Somehow, I knew it was over, but I stuck it out...until Oscar scored Chelsea's 4th goal. After that, I sighed and searched the guide for something to fill the time until the Cardiff City-Liverpool match at 11 am.
I switched back a few times because I was curious about how much more embarrassing it could get. It was almost cruel the way Chelsea was toying with the 10-man Gunners. I felt dejected watching it. I can't imagine how Arsenal fans at Stamford Bridge felt.
During one of my brief checks I heard one of the commentators mention that Arsenal can't beat the big teams because it tries to play a stylish possession-based game. One in which the players bide their time probing the opposition's defense until a scoring opportunity presents itself. He also pointed out that Arsenal continued to play a high defensive line even when it became evident that doing so was not working. This just cannot be done against the likes of Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool, and Man United
Each of these four teams possesses four qualities that Arsenal lacks: Speed, Strength, Aggression, and Solid Defending. They are constantly pushing forward, using their speed and physical strength to roll over opponents' defenses, create chances, and score goals. Arsenal doesn't do this, and it is frustrating to watch. It gets even more frustrating when Arsenal takes the lead, and decides to protect that lead by running down the clock with pass after pass after pass. More often than not, this just ends up in a great deal of desperation- defending during the last 15 minutes of the match. Have you ever seen City, Liverpool, or Chelsea do this? No, because they aren't content to win by just one or two goals. They want to put the game away. So, they continue to push forward until they have put the match out of reach of their opponents.
Then there is Arsenal's high defensive line --- which is always defeated by the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and Juan Mata with their long precision passes to players like Eden Hazard, Luis Suarez, and Robin Van Persie. And their possession style is always undone by aggressive defenders who are constantly closing down the spaces, forcing the Gunners to pass too soon and, frequently, without precision. I've also noticed that these teams are able to draw Koscielny, Mertesaker, and Vermaelen away from the middle by pushing out wide; thus creating space in the middle for Suarez, Oscar, Van Persie, Sturridge, etc.
After the match, Arsene Wenger said what he always says after a massive defeat, What is important now is we show we have the capacity to respond. Same old same old. What Arsenal needs are massive changes. Wenger has a long, successful history with the Gunners, but he hasn't won anything since 2005, and he will continue not to win if he pursues style over substance and persists in sitting on the Arsenal war chest; he needs to buy better, stronger, faster players and he needs to change Arsenal's style. If he can't do this, maybe the organisation should find someone who can.
Premier League table