Like most Arsenal fans, I’ve been wracking my brains for the last 48 hours trying to working out why the team seems to have lost its consistency.
Ever since the Middlesbrough game something has been decidedly off. The team just doesn’t seem to be able to find any rhythm, or fluidity of performance, for any more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time.
They reverted to playing well in patches of games, normally reactive, and typically in response to falling a goal behind or because of a slice of good fortune. Outside of those small windows, they seem to be stuck in some sort of constipated state.
Frankly, it’s concerning.
Quite why they have been gripped by this paralysis is baffling – there doesn’t seem to be a reason for it. This style of performance is typified by Aaron Ramsey, whose first instinct of late has been to hold the ball, and look to play square or backwards.
It’s just not the sort of football we play and, most bizarre of all, the players recognise this.
In the aftermath of the stifled performance against PSG, Laurent Koscielney gave his thoughts on the performance of the team.
The Frenchman told Arsenal Player: “We tried to win but we conceded the second goal and I think that killed us. We pressed hard in the last 10 minutes of the first half and first 15 or 20 minutes of the second half, and they were in trouble because they lost so many balls in their own half.
“We were able to create danger in their own half so it was better for us to press high, but after the second goal we stopped pressing and dropped a little bit. We gave them lots of opportunities which is why we conceded the corner and then conceded the goal.”
There is no better way to summarise what happened.
What’s most frustrating about his pithy analysis is that, clearly, Laurent can see this is happening in the game, he recognises that the team has stopped pressing and is conceding possession and space to the opposition, and yet he, seemingly, allows it to happen.
As captain and senior figure in the squad, it must surely fall to him to scream and shout and organise his team if he senses that this is happening.
In a game in which Arsenal were, by general consensus, pretty average, they played their best football in the periods just before and shortly after half-time. In both phases of play, they were pressing as a unit and both phases yielded them a goal.
What was stopping them doing this for 90 minutes? Or at least until the match was at such a stage as to allow them to change shape or game plan.
There must have been endless discussions in the aftermath of the Manchester United game about what went wrong and what they needed to do to put things right.
Clearly, they needed to get their intensity back as a team, they needed to press, to hassle, and to feed the ball into the front three as often as possible. For whatever reason, it simply didn’t happen.
In part, that will be because of the quality of the opposition. PSG are no mugs, and will have worked hard on pressing and positioning to nullify Arsenal. But it would be unfair in the extreme to say they simply parked the bus as Burnley did.
If anything, PSG were the more attacking and open of the two sides, they were prepared to leave gaps in defence in order to go for the killer third goal.
Some will also point to the absence of Santi Cazorla in midfield as a reason for our current constipation. While the statistics show there is merit in that theory, we can’t seriously consider ourselves title contenders if our entire system breaks down in the absence of one player, supremely talented though he is.
The most likely explanation is that the players have just lost a little confidence. Crazy though that is, it seems that they aren’t playing with the sort of freedom of expression that Arsene Wenger covets so much.
The things we are used to seeing as a matter of course; the ambitious passing, the movement, the pressing, are all inhibited and lacking in conviction.
Though they have been getting away with it of late, they now have to find a solution.
If they continue as they have been, eventually the luck will simply run out and they will slip to defeat, which will only worsen their fragile confidence.
Whatever fear has taken hold must be shaken off, the senior players in the side must get a grip on the pitch and demand from the team that they get back to doing what they know works.
They will get back to winning ways but they must learn from the mistakes of this barren run, because they won’t be this lucky forever.