Timing is a tricky thing. As most of you will remember, after the Arsenal vs QPR game on Saturday, I wrote a piece voicing my concern at Arsenal’s recent struggle to find goals. In the piece, which you can read below, I not only berate the team’s failure to score, but also commend them for their solid defensive form so far this season. The day after writing the blog, which has since also been posted on the4thofficial.co.uk, Arsenal took on Reading in the fourth round of the League Cup.
In this game, Arsenal conceded five goals.
And scored seven.
Anyone reading my blog after this game probably thought I was being sarcastic. However, I believed and still believe that my argument was and is still valid and concerning. Therefore I decided that in order to settle any doubts, I should take a minute to explain why the points I made remain plausible.
First off, my entire argument is wholly concerned only with Arsenal’s league form. At no point did I make any mention of the team’s performance in the Champions’ League or League Cup. The League Cup in particular is a unique anomaly in English football. For several years now, the top teams have used it primarily as an opportunity to give youngsters and reserve players a taste of first-team football. This has filtered down to the lower Premier League clubs so that even Southampton made eleven changes to the team that played their last league match before their cup game on Tuesday.
The point being made here is that when the Arsenal contingent at the Reading match sang ‘we want our Arsenal back’ at half-time, they were right: the Arsenal team playing was literally, not just figuratively, a different team. Not a single player who started the QPR match began for Arsenal against Reading, the most sorely missed clearly being defensive-organiser Thomas Vermaelen who is apparently more crucial to our back four than we knew.
On top of this, smaller teams with nothing to lose are bound to attack a lot more in League Cup ties. Reading were always going to come out firing on all cylinders, something our less-experienced players were clearly unprepared for. Manchester City also conceded four goals to Aston Villa in the third round of the cup this year. Liverpool and Tottenham were this week knocked out by Swansea and Norwich respectively. This is what is different about League Cup matches. More goals, more upsets. There has never been a game with twelve or more goals in Premier League history. The Reading game was (perhaps sadly) an exception to our season so far. Five of the goals Arsenal scored were after the eighty-eighth minute against an understandably exhausted team.
That said, no matter which of our defenders were playing, if you’re wearing the shirt, you are an Arsenal player and shipping four first half goals to any team in any competition is unacceptable. However, while there are clearly still defensive areas that need serious work, I do not believe that our performance in this one unbelievable game is indicative of how our Premier League campaign has gone so far.
While I still believe in the strength of our defence and that our goal-scoring must improve, I now look ahead to our next fixture. Manchester United are the top-scorers in the league so far and they also have the second-worst defensive record in the top half of the table. There is therefore the likelihood that my hypothesis will be put to the test once more this weekend. I only hope that it is just our attack who will prove me wrong this time, not our defence.