Sunday, August 9, 2015

So much for pre-season optimism

It is no good in having a great run of pre-season results if the team turns up looking complacent and plays so badly on the first day of the season.
The 2-0 defeat to West Ham United was incredibly annoying because of how needless it felt. It was as if the Arsenal team suddenly believed their own hype about being genuine title contenders. A bit more intensity and urgency would have brought a different result, but Arsenal strolled around the pitch like they only had to turn up to win the game. They should know that the Premier League, and London derbies, don’t work like that. The focus and intentisty had been excellent last week at Wembley, but was almost non-existent on the first day of Premier League season.
One the main strengths of Arsenal in the last few years has been how the team has recovered from bad defeats to go on a good run of form, so that does make me confident that this defeat was just a blip, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was saying only this week how the team needs to stop having these bad defeats to recover from. The opening day has done nothing to eradicate doubts of Arsenal’s ability to self-destruct.
It was reminiscent of the defeat to Aston Villa on the first day two years ago when Arsenal lost 3-1, but that game felt more toxic in the stands due to the lack of signings and lack of optimism among fans going into the season. The defeat to West Ham was almost worse than that Villa game because there can’t be any blame attached to the referee this time around, and at least Arsenal looked to have some attacking potency two years ago. After scoring plenty in pre-season, Arsenal looked toothless against the Hammers.
Some will point to Theo Walcott not starting and Santi Cazorla starting the game wide with Ramsey in the centre, but I don’t think there was anything wrong with the team Arsene Wenger selected. It should have been good enough to not be embarrassed by West Ham. The whole team just looked lethargic and complacent, which is not good enough on the opening day.
One of the most disappointing things about the defeat was the manner of the goals conceded. Over the summer, it felt like one signing had been enough to make it feel like Arsenal were ready to properly challenge following the arrival of Petr Cech. Here was a world class goalkeeper who wouldn’t make stupid mistakes. That was, until he made a stupid mistakes. Arsenal’s marking from the West Ham set piece wasn’t great, but Cech came flying out of goal to give Kouyate a simple header into the empty net as the keeper dived behind the goal scorer when failing to punch the ball clear. Cech was also badly wrong-footed for the second goal as it somehow went in at his near post without needing a deflection.
The game has put a major dampner on the genuine hopes that were building for the new season, but hopefully it is the kick up the backside the team needed to avoid being so complacent again later in the season. That’s about the only positive from that performance because overall, no-one who appeared for Arsenal deserves any credit for the way they played. Football’s back, and I hate it already.