Sunday, November 22, 2015

Injuries mount as Arsenal slip up

Hopefully, the 2-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion can be written off as one of those days where everything that could go wrong, seemingly does. At face value, losing a game in which you missed a penalty, scored an own goal, initially took the lead before going behind and had two holding midfielders go off injured looks rather careless.
The fear is that, with injuries building up, the defeat could spark a dip in form at the wrong time for the Gunners. Without anyone taking the league by the scruff of the neck and being a proper front runner, the opportunity really is there for Arsenal in the Premier League this season, so dropping cheap points in the manner they did on Saturday at the Hawthorns is concerning.
Everything seemed to be going well when Olivier Giroud glanced in another perfect set-piece delivery from Mesut Ozi to give the Gunners a 1-0 lead. With Jamie Vardy, rightly, dominating the headlines for his remarkable run of scoring in 10 games in a row, it went under the radar that Ozil bagged an assist for the seventh game in a row, leaving him alone out in front as the Premier League record holder for consecutive assists.
While Arsenal were restricted somewhat by having to play Kieran Gibbs as a left winger, and by West Brom sitting so deep when the Gunners had the ball, things still looked relatively comfortable. Ozil and Cazorla were still able to find a few small pockets of space, Alexis looked surprisingly lively considering how much he needs a rest and Kieran Gibbs didn’t look out of place on the flank.
However a crazy period of play before half time turned the match on its head and left Arsenal wondering how they were behind having been in control of the game. The answer was that West Brom punished a couple of slack moments from the Gunners, which was disappointing given how good the focus of the team has generally been during this season.
Mikel Arteta, who entered the fray early following a worrying injury picked up by Francis Coquelin, was wrongly penalised for a foul, despite Mark Clattenburg being right next to the incident. From the resulting free-kick, Arteta and Per Mertesacker didn’t stay with their runners and James Morrison was able to shin the ball in over Petr Cech.
Arsenal should have then looked to consolidate and make sure they didn’t concede again soon afterwards. The team were too casual having just conceded and were soon 2-1 down as some lazy tracking back allowed James McClean to play a ball across the six-yard box. Arteta had gone back into the penalty area but could only divert the ball into his own net as Cech didn’t intercept the ball in front of him.
Mikel Arteta hasn’t had much football this season, and can still do a job coming on later in a match to help close the game out, but his performance off the bench did highlight how important Francis Coquelin has become for Arsenal. Hopefully his knee injury isn’t too serious because, not long into the second half, Arteta was forced off with an injury himself, meaning Mathieu Flamini is now the only holding midfielder left. With Ramsey, Wilshere and Rosicky also out, the centre of Arsenal’s midfield is suddenly looking extremely thin.
Flamini did give Arsenal a bit more energy in the middle of the pitch as West Brom increasingly were forced further and further back in the second half. It wasn’t for a lack of effort from the Gunners, but they struggled to break down the organised Baggies. Mesut Ozil almost drew the Gunners level when he hit the post with a snap-shot from the edge of the box.
Joel Campbell was introduced for Kieran Gibbs, and the Costa Rican showed why he wasn’t given an opportunity in the team when others were fit earlier in the season. Santi Cazorla produced a fantastic chipped ball to the back post where Campbell had ghosted in to the edge of the six yard box, but he made a complete hash of the finish. It was on his stronger left foot, it wasn’t a hard chance, but Campbell completely mistimed his shot and screwed it horribly across goal. It’s not as if Joel Campbell was thrown into the game cold as he’s played in Arsenal’s last three matches and played in the international break for his country, so to produce such a woeful effort was terrible. When others return from injury, I can’t see Joel Campbell ever establishing himself as a regular in the Arsenal team.
Despite the Campbell miss, Arsenal had a chance to get back in the game late on as Mark Clattenburg awarded a penalty for Chris Brunt’s foul off the ball on Alexis Sanchez. It was good that Clattenburg gave the spot-kick, but it did make his decision to ignore Jonas Olsson’s rugby tackle on Olivier Giroud in the area earlier in the second half a bit stranger. Santi Cazorla stepped up and shot over the bar as his standing foot slipped as he went to strike the ball. It’s difficult to be angry at Santi for the miss because it’s hard to legislate for slipping over like that. It just added to the frustration of Arsenal losing a game they could, and should, have won and the feeling that it was a day when everything was going against the Gunners.
As Arsenal couldn’t salvage a late equaliser, it’s difficult to know how costly a slip that could be from Cazorla. Arsenal have responded well to set-backs this year, and they have no choice but to respond well against Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday given the perilous position the team have got themselves in to in the Champions League. If Cazorla, and the team, allow the feelings from the West Brom game to linger, it could be a challenging few weeks for Arsenal, despite a run of fixtures that initially looked favourable.