Match report: A costly dip in form

Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland

How many chances to gain ground will Man Utd afford Arsenal over the next few months? As many as Arsenal will afford them?

Make no mistake, yesterday was another opportunity missed by Arsenal. For my money, we really needed two things against Sunderland. A win, obviously, but also a performance – a statement of intent that would lay our title marker down. The door was left ajar in midweek with Utd losing and I wanted us to blow it open yesterday.

What we got instead was a subdued performance which burst into life, but not until late in the day. In the end, we can justifiably rail against two poor decisions from officials, but it should never have come to that. Had we started with the vigour we ended the game with, we’d have shrugged the penalty-that-was and the offside-that-wasn’t off. They wouldn’t have mattered. But we took too long to get going and they became pivotal.

Of course, that doesn’t alter the fact that we ought to have won, but instead ended up dropping points on two subjective calls. On such things, as a “disgusted” Wenger said, can titles be won and lost. When you are not playing your best football, you need the rub of the green and we didn’t get that yesterday.

But it’s down to us to make, and crucially take chances. Having to rely on a referee or a linesman to get tight calls right is a risky strategy indeed for winning a game. As well as those two, other chances came and went. Arshavin wasted one good one, Chamakh rattled the bar from a Wilshere cross and Bendtner had a rasper tipped away.

So as we head into perhaps the biggest week of the campaign to date, I do worry about our form. Since the high of Barcelona at home, we’ve lost players and we’ve lost momentum. We looked nothing like our best against against Stoke, we were average against Birmingham, average at Orient and until the last 30 mins we were average yesterday. We need to be firing on all cylinders to stand a chance but we’re not.

So why is this? Lots of games – perhaps, injuries – sure. Without Cesc, van Persie, Song & Walcott we are missing two fifths of our ‘best’ XI. Without Cesc in particular, we lose guile, craft and forward momentum. Walcott’s final pass may be a rough diamond but his pace can transform us.

Denilson and Diaby are simply no substitute at all. Not individually and especially not when they play together. Neither made the faintest impact yesterday and it wasn’t until they both departed the field and Nasri came into the middle that we looked as menacing as we should be. You can see why Wenger was so keen to bring Ramsey back.

So overall: a game we should have won ourselves, before and after the intervention of the match officials. In the end though, a familiar sense of frustration.

Underhill on horizon, and one final rant

14 July – quick poll

12 July – old post

How nice is it to be able to crane the old neck away from the World Cup, and back in the other direction, towards the league, and towards Arsenal. I was getting a crick.

Looking back, it’s very clear that I’ve barely troubled my laptop for blog updates. It’s really not had much of a workout at all since the end of the season – since the blind shock of the Wigan debacle – and has gained a little girth around the space bar as a result. That’ll have to come off.

That’s not to say I’ve not enjoyed the World Cup – I absolutely have. What’s not to enjoy, other than, as an Englishman, watching my team floundering around miserably? Even that enabled the country to let off a bit of steam with a good old moan and a navel gaze. There’ll be a post mortem, and much huffing and puffing, but will anything really change? Don’t Gordon Banks on it.

Respeck? What respeck?

The final was pretty dismal, if eventful.

[rant: begin]

There are plenty of disheartening things in football, many of which are not easy to address on a global level. Money tends to be at the heart of them – at owner, player and fan level (making money, making money and paying money respectively) – but there are some things that could be done to clean the game up on the pitch, but which never, ever get properly addressed.

One such is the total lack of respect shown to match officials – especially when you compare it to other sports. Watching the World Cup final on Sunday, it struck me how impossible it must be to referee. Sure, our very own Mr Webb did not help himself by failing to correctly punish several atrocious early tackles, but players haranguing referees, trying to con them and pressure them is far too common a sight in football the world over. And not just players – managers do it too. Without proper rule changes – zero tolerance – refereeing will remain the impossible job.

How hard would it be to tell players that they simply cannot dispute a referee’s decision? Or to look back, after a game, at any incidences where players have tried to deceive, persuade or cajole a referee and punish them retrospectively? And to do it fairly?

Of course, the referees need to improve too, but making their job a little easier would be a good start, and it’s totally achievable.

The simple fact is that footballers will try something if they are confident they will get away with it. And in football, it’s too easy to get away with it.

[rant: over]

Underhill, around the corner

The best and most important thing of all is we can now concentrate on Arsenal. We’ve got Barnet on Saturday, squad movement still to come – plenty of sticky rumours on that front but little by way of certainty – and we’re only a month or so from the big kick off.

Really, it’s only a month. If I tell Mrs Lower that, she will throw plates at me.

Take cover!