Why Does Arsenal Perform Poorly in Big Away Games?
Let me be brutally honest here. I wasn’t expecting anything less from Arsenal’s clash at Stamford Bridge, but a part of me had some little optimism that the Gunners might just do something to get some points from the tie. The lineup looked strong enough but I wondered why Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain didn’t start the game. That lad has been a bright spark in recent weeks and seeing him on the bench must have been gutting. Then again, Arsene Wenger needed his most experienced squad and he was left out.
It’s never nice singling out individuals in the wake of a loss but sometimes we need to tell ourselves the truth – Arsenal and playing well in big away games don’t just go hand in hand. I don’t know if it’s the team talk the manager gives his players before the encounter, or the intimidation from the away crowd, but the same players that would turn up the style in one game are always found wanting in big games.
The picture above shows two of the most talented attacking midfielders in the business. One was acquired for a fortune last season and he galvanized the squad at the start of his Arsenal career before injuries and a loss of form took its toll on him. This season, Mesut Ozil has been playing ‘out of position’ drifting from the wings and he hasn’t been able to influence games as much as he would have liked. When he played in his favored No. 10 role against Aston Villa, the fans saw a beast that bossed the midfield and he made his presence felt. In the next game against Tottenham, he was back to wing duties, just to accommodate Arsenal’s poster boy, Jack Wilshere.
Wilshere has been tipped for great things and his performances in the 2010/11 season rightly earned him the Young Player of the Year award that season. However, injuries have been a constant thorn in Wilshere’s flesh and it’s good to see him getting some consistent game time but bar the Manchester City game, Wilshere hasn’t really hit the heights expected of him. And when you think that a player like Ozil, and to some extent, Aaron Ramsey, have been ‘sidelined’ to allow Jackie Boy blossom, it becomes somewhat puzzling.
Just when we thought Wilshere was going to make his mark on the game, Santi Cazorla threaded an inch-perfect square ball to the English maestro but his first touch let him down, allowing Petr Cech to smother the ball. Besides that Wilshere opening, Arsenal’s next clear attempt on goal was a late Lukas Podolski shot that was parried by the Czech goalie.
Then the case of Cesc Fabregas, a player that wanted to join Arsenal following his fallout with the FC Barcelona but Arsene Wenger chose not to sign his prodigal son due to the wealth of talent at his disposal and in particular, Mesut Ozil. In fairness to Wenger, the team was to be built around Ozil, there was a Ramsey that was also indispensable and of course, there was Jack Wilshere. So Cesc opted for Jose Mourinho and his hordes and in seven games for the Blues, Fabregas has created seven assists for his teammates, with four of them going to Diego Costa. Ozil, Ramsey and Wilshere have created a combined tally of three assists, with each player creating just one.
So in another ‘big game’ where Arsenal expected its creator-in-chief to turn up, Mesut Ozil wilted away. He wasn’t alone in this. The Champions League hat-trick hero, Danny Welbeck, wasn’t given a sniff at goal by the Chelsea rearguard and he can consider himself lucky to have remained on the pitch following his two-footed lounge at Fabregas. Arsenal’s leading goalscorer, Alexis Sanchez, was peripheral on the flanks and his only noteworthy highlight was knocking Thibaut Courtois out cold.
At the back, the Gunners were let down by a usually reliable and dependable Laurent Koscielny. He stuck his foot out to impede Eden Hazard for the first goal and a lofted Cesc Fabregas pass evaded him and his defensive partner, Per Mertesacker, allowing Diego Costa to dink the ball over Wojciech Szczesny to seal the game.
Another big away game, another defeat. Arsenal will still play at Old Trafford, Etihad Stadium and Anfield. Sadly, we might know the outcomes. I just hope we improve this season, getting 10 points from a possible 21 isn’t a good start from the Gunners. If the Gunners want to challenge for the title this season, they’d get to get as much points from the folks at the bottom half, as well as their title rivals.
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