Five reasons why Arsenal's season has stalled
Published 25/11/2010 | 05:00
The 2-0 Champions League defeat to Braga highlighted problems that threaten to wreck a promising season
1. Their style is vulnerable
The passing game that Arsene Wenger has built up is both a strength and a weakness.
It is lovely to watch when the team are on song, but it can also lead to over-elaboration and vulnerability against teams who either close down quickly or simply pull men back behind the ball.
Then, as Arsenal push forward more and more, they can be susceptible to counter-attacks. Cesc Fabregas, particularly important to their quick, first-time passing, has not been at his best recently, partly because of hamstring problems, and is now out again.
2. Complacency can set in
Winning the first three Champions League games by margins of 6-0, 3-1 and 5-1 gave Arsenal the impression that they were effectively through to the next stage.
Now they have lost return games against the two teams they beat most easily, Shakhtar Donetsk and Braga, and qualification has come down to the final match, which fortunately is at home to Partizan Belgrade, who have lost all five group matches.
Similarly easy victories at home to teams like Blackpool (6-0) and Bolton (4-1) may have led to the complacency that Wenger admitted to when he said this week: "We are so at ease in some games that subconsciously maybe we feel we just need to go through the motions."
3. The central defence is weak
Thomas Vermaelen, signed before the start of last season, settled in quickly, but since he was injured in September, Wenger has failed to find a reliable central defender, let alone a pair who are comfortable together.
Laurent Koscielny had a poor game in the 3-2 loss to Spurs and was replaced in Braga by Johan Djourou, who, like Sebastien Squillaci, was unable to prevent the Brazilian midfielder Matheus running through the middle to score the two late goals.
Clean sheets in European away games have become a collector's item.
4. Injuries are taking their toll
While the squad overall has been strengthened, Wenger has been unable to utilise all his options because of a run of injuries.
Frustratingly, several of them have occurred when players were representing their country. Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Vermaelen all missed several weeks that way. And now they face the prospect of being without Cesc Fabregas for the next three weeks because of a hamstring injury, while Emmanuel Eboue will be sidelined for at leas t a week with medial knee ligament damage.
5. Luck has turned against them
Misfortune is supposed to even itself out over the course of a season, but right now Arsenal simply aren't getting the rub of the green.
Injuries are part of it; refereeing decisions are another. On Tuesday, Carlos Vela was clearly fouled in the box only to receive a yellow card for diving instead of a penalty.
In the next few minutes, Arsenal lost Eboue to a dubious tackle and conceded the two goals. It's all set up for Robert Pires to score Aston Villa's winning goal on Saturday.