Saturday 24 March 2018

Wenger's misfiring troops are running out of targets

West Brom 2
Arsenal 2

Sandy Macaskill

It is worse than we thought. Clearly, the hangover Arsenal have been crippled by since defeat to Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final suggested some psychological issues.

But it is another thing entirely when Arsene Wenger admits it, as he did after his team nearly came unstuck against West Brom on Saturday.

No offence to Roy Hodgson's side, but West Brom are hardly Barcelona or Manchester United.

Arsenal hoped to get over their recent blues by beating their relegation-threatened opponents.

Instead, they fell two goals behind and only managed to scramble an equaliser when Abdoulaye Meite got the ball stuck under his feet a yard from his own goal and Robin van Persie profited. Hardly convincing.

As is the way with these things, there were some positives to take. Arsenal still have a game in hand over United, who are five points clear. But Wenger admitted having their target narrowed from four titles to one has increased pressure.

Asked if the result was connected with the events of the last two weeks, whether his players have begun to doubt themselves, the Frenchman replied in the affirmative.

"You cannot go out of the Champions League like we did and have no doubt," he said. "It's a massive blow, more disappointment than doubt, but we had four targets and suddenly we have only one. So the pressure increases on that one. The players are highly focused to do it and it was important not to lose here. But of course we were a bit nervous at the start of the game.

"This team wants to do well and I'm so desperate to help them get what they deserve, because their attitude from the first day of the season has been absolutely spot on. They deserve to be rewarded and I'm confident they will be.

"This team has character. When what happened to us recently happens to you and you're 2-0 down with 20 minutes to go and you have no character then you don't come back here on a pitch like that, that's for sure. The team has a unique solidarity and a desire to do well. I don't question that at all."

On the other hand, Arsenal's character is not what we should question. They dominated possession as if they owned the place. Van Persie hit the crossbar and Aaron Ramsey should have put the rebound away (credit to Scott Carson for putting the midfielder off his stride) in the first half. No, the problem is nothing new.

Arsenal are like soldiers on parade, delighting in manoeuvre and making a great show of their weapons without actually using them. And when they do, it is to shoot themselves in the foot.

Take West Brom's first goal, scored by Steven Reid when Chris Brunt's corner found him -- outjumping Ramsey after just two minutes. "Our marking was not good," Wenger admitted. "We're dealing with that. If you play teams who fight not to go down, they make it difficult. Our game in the first half was too slow to go from one side to the other because the flanks were open, but we didn't change (play) quickly enough."

Another blunder between goalkeeper and centre-back facilitated West Brom's second, Peter Odemwingie able to round Manuel Almunia with ease after the Spaniard had run straight into Sebastien Squillaci, who would have been quite able to deal with a regulation clearance without his team-mate's interference.

Andrei Arshavin's goal came when West Brom were dead on their feet. And Van Persie's was opportunism, not the product of iron will. (© Daily Telegraph).

Irish Independent

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