Welcome Back, Arsenal!
If AZ Alkmaar was a foreshadowing, the Gunners did their best to not heed the warning. Anyone who has watched this team over the past five years knew what was coming, both in the Netherlands and at Upton Park. It’s just too predictable. If you expect to lift the Premier League trophy at the end of the season, you simply must be able to keep a clean sheet.
In what must be Vito Mannone’s last two Premiership games as first choice goalkeeper, he has gifted the opposition a goal each–and this week, it cost his team two absolutely vital points. With both Manchester United and Tottenham losing this week, Arsenal had a chance to pass them both in the table and be only three points off top with a game in hand and a far superior goal difference.
But the familiar Arsenal foes, namely an inability to finish teams off, poor defending/goalkeeping at set plays, and overall lack of confidence in late-game situations with slender leads, have come once again to collect. This season, there is less margin for error, and these are problems that will keep the trophy case empty for yet another year if Arsene Wenger does not rectify them.
All credit to West Ham, and particularly Carlton Cole and Diamanti, the latter of whom singlehandedly changed the game. Robert Green made up for an early error with an exceptional reaction save late in the game from Robin van Persie, which certainly saved a point for the Hammers. West Ham certainly came back to earn their point.
But why does Wenger persist with a complacent team for 80 minutes? Why are Bendtner, Eduardo, and Nasri on the bench on a day where Emmanuel Eboue was typically wasteful with the final ball and Andrey Arshavin was less than his usual brilliant self? The nature of Arsenal’s two goals, the first of which was gifted to them, give credence to the notion that they still lack sufficient intensity on the road and, particularly, in London derbies. Arsenal still enjoy a great position in the league table but these mistakes not only hurt them in points, but they cause further strain on an already fragile team psyche. It is this fragility of mind that must be corrected, and soon, because while the title cannot be won in December, in the Premiership, it most certainly can be lost.