There is little more miserable than losing a game that is winnable as I suppose all home games against newly promoted sides must be. We didn`t play well enough by our standards to triumph irrespective of the pattern of the game yesterday. It`s a sign of a championship winning team that can win when it is playing poorly goes the football cliché. There is an element of truth in that of course. One player capable of a moment`s brilliance can turn a game but as much it`s a stroke of fortune at the right time that has that effect.
Arsenal didn`t play well enough against Newcastle yesterday. We didn`t create enough of the quality of chances we needed to ensure we won the game. Unless Cesc is firing on all cylinders we lack the creativity we need to always open teams up as often as we need for our level of finishing to reap its rewards. Based on minutes played Cesc is by some distance the one player, guaranteed to start, likely to create assists or goal attempts with any frequency. Arshavin has the higher number of assists in PL and CL games but has half as much more playing time to his name. But rather like Nasri and Wilshere he doesn`t create goal attempts often enough. Rosicky does though. Although he has only one assist in the PL and CL games he has played this season he creates goal attempts at a similar rate to Cesc. In games like yesterdays we need as much creative influence as can get on the pitch. Songs industry won`t often be enough to compensate as it did in the West Ham game. Replacing Nasri with Arshavin was at best a like for like swap in terms of adding creative options. Maybe Rosicky isn`t fit enough, or deemed too fragile to play as many games as Arshavin or Nasri but we need to get him on the pitch in games like these. You create your own luck goes another football cliché, also with more than an element of truth in it.
ManU didn`t play any better on Saturday against Wolves than we did against Newcastle. There`s no comfort in that and it`s only relevant in pointing out that there is a fine line between the result that we suffered and that which ManU, as one of our peers, enjoyed which has nothing to do with the quality of performance or the spirit of the players. They may have had a couple more attempts on target than we had but didn`t hit the woodwork as often as we did. They also allowed their opponents more opportunities to score and enjoyed less possession than we did. In themselves those stats don`t tell the whole story any more than stats ever do but they do show that our failings have as much to do with the run of the ball as any lack of quality compared to at least one of the teams currently above us. Of course there are times when the ball does run our way as over a full season it invariably must but in order for us to triumph often enough we need to play at a level that minimises the dependency on such factors though it`s never possible to eliminate them. That level is some way above what we achieved yesterday.
No-one is finding the league easy so far this season. Chelsea are having the best of it so far but have lost only one game less than us. ManU remain the one side that could match our unbeaten season without really convincing anyone that they`ll be able to do so on current form. The quality of the PL is high and pretty well any team is capable of making a decent fist of it as we`ve seen already. Whether the squads are strong enough to sustain that level with what is still almost three quarters of the season left to play is something we`ll discover only when we get to the end of it.
Yesterdays result will have been doubly disappointing for those that felt our form and the form of those above us had increased our title chances beyond the third favourites at best as we were at the beginning of the season. Truth is we aren`t any better than that at present but the ‘lack of bottle’ analysis which is the most favoured default criticism when trying to explain something which isn`t easy to explain is nothing more than a convenient box to shove frustration into.
Chris Hughton got closer to it yesterday when, while rightly enjoying the reward that his sides industry, quality and professionalism unexpectedly brought them, he admitted in passing that “We rode our luck at times”. Find the Di Matteo post match interview from the earlier defeat to West Brom and you`ll hear the same sentiment. I realise that pointing out the role that fortune plays in these games will irritate some determined to believe there is some definite psychological fault line running through the club. It seems almost a sacrilege to appear to question those that are determined to believe that the wheels are wobbling if not coming off but, at times, it really is that simple. There was no lack of effort or mental strength in either of the home games we have lost this season – we were the better team on both occasions though still not nearly as good enough as we need to be. Of course there`ve been and will be other games where we triumph despite being 2nd best.
To challenge to be champions we have to be able to rise above that dependency more often than our peers are able to do and we clearly aren`t doing that at present. We need to create clearer goal attempts and to finish those that we do create a little more clinically. It`s a fine line we tread at this level but we can still compete. We`ll learn through the rest of the season whether it`s enough to assuage our present frustrated expectations.
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