Thursday 21 April 2011

The happy squanderers

Spurs 3 Arsenal 3
Words: 552. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes.
A certain amount of pride was restored with a full-blooded performance at Spurs last night but for the third time this season, and the fifth time in the past two campaigns, we’ve let a two-goal advantage slip away.

In his post-match interview Arsene Wenger argued that we hadn’t lost any more points from winning positions than other teams at the top. Being kind, this is a selective interpretation of the facts by our dear leader – being unkind, he’s deliberately fooling himself.

It is true that Man U have dropped 14 points from winning positions, which is one more than us. Chelsea, though, have lost only four points, Man City nine and even Spurs have a better record than us, missing out on just 10 points.

But the really disturbing thing is thinking not just that we’ve let advantages of a single goal slip away but that this was another example of us squandering a ‘comfortable’ lead. It’s not just fluke strikes that are costing us the odd point (such as at Sunderland) but multiple errors leading to clear two-goal winning margins being thrown away.

The following table shows the number of times we’ve scored at least two goals in a game this season. Things are slightly skewed as it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve had a two goal lead (so the WBA home and away games, for example) but it at least illustrates that the balance between defence and attack is letting us down.

Throw in the fact that we’ve only taken all three points in 12 of 17 games when we’ve been winning at half-time (losing one and drawing four) and our lack of resilience becomes obvious.

The problems have been long-standing too - as well as last night’s draw to Spurs and the painful home defeat to them in November, plus the loss of a four-goal lead against Newcastle this season, we gave up a two-goal advantage against West Ham and Wigan last year.

Incidentally, Wenger’s defence of the defence 10 days ago - that it had actually conceded fewer goals overall than Man U - has been quietly forgotten since we shipped four goals in two games.

Keeping goals out has always been, and will continue to be, the weakest aspect of Wenger’s teams – we have to accept that as pay-off for the attacking instincts of the team. But that doesn’t excuse them for throwing away such vital, and seemingly secure, points. Anyone who actually thought the title race was still on after Man U’s draw against Newcastle on Monday was deluded, for the precise reasons demonstrated last night. This team does not have the nous or resilience required to fight its way to a title.

It’s worth noting that Wenger told the club website that Denilson and Almunia were fit for the Spurs match but had, essentially, been dropped. Explaining the decision he said: “It is more a question of decisions, of choice.” It is the closest Wenger will ever come to admitting members of his squad aren’t up to the job. Let’s hope the dose of reality isn’t a one-off.

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