Arsenal self-destruct again

Posted by Andrew Mangan

I wrote before Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Tottenham that their chances of getting a good result depended on their defence not making silly and avoidable mistakes.

- Martin: Dark times for Arsenal after loss to Spurs

Both of Tottenham's goals showed Arsenal at their defensive worst. Having been on top of the game, they found that well-worn self-destruct button and conceded two goals in as many minutes, and despite getting one back early in the second half, those mistakes cost them the game.

That such a simple ball down the middle created the chance for Gareth Bale to open the scoring is bad enough, but the fact that Gylfi Sigurdsson was allowed that much time and space to make the pass in the first place was the real issue. Arsenal's midfield, which had up to that juncture made a point of pressing Tottenham players quickly whenever they had possession, stood off, and it was all too easy for Spurs to expose a defence which then tried, foolishly, to play offside.

Bale's run from deep was well-timed, but this is football basics; Arsenal shouldn't have been caught out like this. And it was a similar story for the second goal. Nacho Monreal initially tracked Aaron Lennon's run before stopping and trying to play him offside, Thomas Vermaelen stood watching, nobody went to the ball and a simple pass cut the Gunners open again.

These are issues of communication and organisation, and there's no excuse for repeating almost the same mistake so shortly after the first one. It's no great insight to say that Arsenal have defensive issues, but they also have problems up front.

When a defence is suspect, it can be bailed out by those at the other end of the pitch. Arsenal's goal came from a set piece, Per Mertesacker's header that glanced in off the head of Bale, but it was the home side that had the best chances from open play. Truth be told, they should have scored more goals, but for a combination of bad finishing and poor decision making.

But Arsenal have players who, at the business end of the season, are hitting a dry patch at the worst possible time. Neither Olivier Giroud nor Theo Walcott has scored in six games; Lukas Podolski didn't come on until very late in the second half, and Arsenal, in their desperation, were forced to throw Mertesacker up front as a target man.

It's understandable that you would do that, but it means Arsenal play in a way that is unfamiliar to them. They're at their best making passes, trying to create space, not lumping it long to a big man. In the end, they had just two attempts on target and were unable to build on the early second-half goal.

It now makes a top-four finish even more of a challenge, and unless Arsenal can sort out their defence, the gap may grow. It's also worth asking if the captaincy is a problem when it comes to Vermaelen. The Belgian has been poor this season and while Laurent Koscielny has had some difficulties, too, it would be an easier decision for the manager to bring him into the team if he didn't have to drop his skipper.

This was a bad day for Arsenal; they're wounded but with 30 points still to play for not quite dead yet. But things have to improve, and quickly.

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