Those two games were six points Arsene Wenger’s side desperately needed in order to chase down Manchester United in the title race, as was yesterday’s game with Liverpool. However, Wenger’s side are struggling to break down a stubborn and dedicated defence on their home turf at the moment, as demonstrated by Kenny Dalglish’s committed Liverpool side. But this should be a scenario the Gunners are used to.
They were allowed to be the dominant force with the ball in non-threatening areas of pitch, but as soon as they ventured into attacking areas, they were squeezed out. Liverpool were adept at putting men behind the ball in yesterday’s match, dropping deep so Arsenal’s midfield couldn’t set any of their front three away over the top, which meant Arsenal would either have to play their way through them or put threatening deliveries from wide to cause problems. The problem with the latter is that Robin van Persie was the Gunners only aerial threat from crosses who started the game, and even he isn’t particularly prolific with his head. This led to Arsenal simply trying to work the ball into the box with quick incisive passes, which remained a very difficult task considering the sheer amount of bodies Liverpool surrounded them with. Also, as Samir Nasri likes to come inside off his left-wing position, he narrows the pitch, meaning Theo Walcott is the only one stretching the play, which the Gunners so desperately need.
It makes the job of breaking down a defensive unit all the more difficult as they only possess this one approach. Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner were options to throw on as a means of causing more problems through the crossing route, but Bendtner was left until late on and Chamakh is out-of-favour. What’s more, Arsenal’s chief creator Cesc Fabregas hasn’t been at his best recently, although the fact he is pushed higher up the pitch may in fact be to his disadvantage in this type of game. Wenger clearly wants his captain to work his magic in dangerous areas higher up the pitch but it also means he is harder to get on the ball. He was often crowded out yesterday and didn’t have anywhere near the effect Arsenal needed from their talisman.
Arsenal, who has now scored 30 goals at home this season, scored 48 last season to finish third. Teams are now happy to go there and sit deep against the Gunners, and simply ask the question – can you break us down? They obviously did yesterday, but it took a penalty in which to do so and they offered little in the game to suggest they deserved to beat a Liverpool side that didn’t enjoy their finest day.
If the Gunners are to win this title, they’ll do it the hard way. The more likely scenario is that their lapses in concentration and recent home form will cost them what has been their best shot at title glory in years.