Despite a promising start and a decidedly average Arsenal performance, we slipped to yet another defeat – with a late header from Ciaran Clark being too little too late after goals from Xhaka and Ozil early in the second half.
What’s so frustrating is that we actually did well in the first half. We didn’t create many chances and our lack of quality meant we failed to make the most of our dominance, but considering many were underwhelmed by Rafa’s team selection (picking Joselu, Hayden and Murphy over Rondon, Shelvey and Kenedy) I was pretty happy with what I saw going into the break.
The second half was abysmal, however. We’d worked hard in the first half to keep ourselves in the game and were competing well, yet we let that slip immediately. We switched off, we stopped pressing, our intensity disappeared and some even started looking uninterested late on – even though a goal would’ve changed everything.
Benitez will get criticism for his team selection, but my biggest issue lies with his substitutions today. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but I was surprised and disappointed not to see either Rondon or Shelvey come on. Kenedy is so low on confidence and that showed and it didn’t feel like Muto knew where he was playing when he came on.
Arsenal looked pretty frail at the back, meaning Rondon could’ve had a field day, and we were crying out for Shelvey given our lack of creativity.
Here’s what Rafa’s had to say after the game:
“It’s very clear that the first half, we doing really well. It’s something I was expecting because we wanted to press & show this determination to win the game but everything changed with the early goal in the second half & when you want to react you concede another goal.”
“I am not concerned because I know my team really well. We have been close. Now we have to make the difference in the final third.”
On the plus side, I was very impressed by Federico Fernandez once again, but that’s now four games against the league’s ‘top six’ in our first five games and four 2-1 defeats. All marginal, but all defeats.
Ironically, our worst performance of the lot was probably away to Cardiff – a game we would’ve won if Kenedy put that last minute penalty away.
Next up is Palace away – a slightly more ‘winnable’ game perhaps (being a welcome break from the league’s ‘top six’), but one that won’t be easy at all.
It feels like it’s going to be a long, hard season but we need to stick together now – it will get easier, but we need to be much better than we were in the end today.