Arsenal have just one defeat in the league this season – shoddy solace for a third-place finish.
The Gunners have played four Premier League matches since Feb 11. Though maintaining their ever crucial unbeaten streak, they have dropped eight points to Manchester United, who are now level on points, ahead on goal difference and have the integral game in hand.
In that four match span, Arsenal lead for just 35 min out of a possible 360 (all against Birmingham on Feb. 23) and have saved themselves twice with late equalizers. Once is heroic. Multiple times turns into disturbing deja vu.
Arsenal were unlucky against the Boro. Adebayor had a legitimate goal ruled offside in the first half. They missed out on a penalty with Pogatetz hooking Eboue’s arm and pulling him down in the area – acceptable because he waved his arms like a buffoon afterward. Fabregas had a close shaves with a shot and a header. Eboue and Clichy also had excellent matches, muted by their inability to capitalize.
The Gunners may have squeaked a win on a different day, but the result stands. If they were ruthless previously against lesser opposition, this result might have been meaningless. But, with the profligacy of recent weeks, it may cost Arsenal the title.
The squad is still thin, with a lack of depth and natural width. Their only consistent scoring threat of late has been Fabregas, which is not ideal. Robin Van Persie has not returned to an adequate level of fitness. Adebayor has looked disinterested and off-kilt at best, lazy and languid at worst. The others lack the conviction to shoot consistently.
The same tactical problems persist. Walcott has proved far more effective as a center forward, yet continues to be thrust out on the right. Bendtner cannot play up front with Adebayor because it is pointless having two tall link-up target men who like to drift to the left – not because of their two-man tiff. Problems which Wenger has failed to solve.
In the words of Tim Gunn, Wenger has “spent too much time in the Monkey House.” He has an incredible eye for talent, but is sometimes prone to endowing too much faith and responsibility in his coveted harem of young studs.
That was also the easy stretch for Arsenal. They still must travel to Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford. They also have three grinding fixtures in one week with Liverpool. United, conversely, play five of their eight remaining fixtures at home, with no tough away matches. Chelsea as well, three points behind and a game in hand, have a relatively easy schedule and face both Arsenal and United at home.
Four weeks ago Arsenal controlled their fate. Now they face the prospect of must-win matches away at Manchester United and away at Chelsea. Even with those victories, they still need a perfect record and a gift from Manchester United to snag the title. The best chance they have is a long overdue metatarsal injury.
The English media has portrayed the recent run as a display of Arsenal’s mettle, when, in fact, it is mere window-dressing for a drowsy decline. The fight is far from over, but Arsenal’s slow leak today became a breach – one that may prove fatal.