Arsenal’s latest late escape against Preston can’t disguise their shortcomings
07:15 09 January 2017
Those Gooners dragged out of Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium feet first, with dazed smile and in the early stages of delirium after the late three-goal burst that scraped a draw, must have hoped for a much improved performance at Preston.
Those languid, complacent starts that have increasingly contaminated Arsenal displays since the blockbuster Chelsea home fixture in late September became a full-blown infection during the past week.
The team seem to roll up in tick-over mode. They take an eternity to settle into any productive pattern of play and the more savvy opponents, such as Bournemouth, take full advantage.
For 70 minutes they kept Arsenal locked down and the frustration of Alexis Sanchez with some of his team-mates was there for all to see. Ridiculous and pointless overplay has also crept in, which leads to even more fan frustration.
Despite the ‘glorious’ end to the game, the Arsenal fans present weren’t exactly in orbit about the performance during those first 70 minutes. Another raft of “In Arsene We Trust” candles had been blown out long before Arsenal finally hit the comeback trail.
It is completely missing the point to focus on the late rally; the result at Bournemouth was not befitting of who Arsenal are, or where Arsenal want to be. It throws up a whole other swathe of issues, mainly surrounding succession.
The perennial inability to build a team of strength and purpose in the mould of his early creations is now questioning the loyalty of even Arsene Wenger’s biggest fans.
The faithful are long overdue Premier League success and feel desperately short-changed when the cold March winds bring forth annual failure on all fronts.
The usual excuses for the continuing lethargy were trotted out after the Bournemouth match; jaded players under-performing after the three games in eight days, winter break needed – woe, woe and thrice woe.
To win the Premier League, a club has to play in all conditions non-stop from the first month to the last. The English festive traditions test the teams even further, as well as rewarding – for once – the fan who pays the players’ enormous wages.
We are regularly assured that the modern player is super fit compared to his predecessors. Please therefore, just get on with it!
Fate often throws up an immediate chance of redemption, and the FA Cup tie at Deepdale was the ideal platform for Wenger’s men.
The start was all too familiar. By the seventh minute, when Arsenal went behind, Preston had already replicated Bournemouth’s desire, set the pace and were repeatedly catching the visitors’ defence on the hop.
With the matchday squad bereft of Sanchez and his urgency, it was hard to see who would lift themselves above the distinctly below average performance line and take the fight to the Championship side.
By half-time we had an answer – nobody! Arsenal were extremely fortunate to be going into the dressing room just one goal down.
Forceful words were obviously delivered during the interval, and following Aaron Ramsey’s swift leveller after the resumption it was Olivier Giroud who finally laid Preston out in the final minute of normal time, following a neat by-line manoeuvre from Lucas Perez.
Asked later if harsh words had been spoken in the dressing room at half- time, Wenger simply looked straight ahead and said sternly, “Yes.” That single-word reply seemed to totally embody his dissatisfaction with Arsenal’s performance and attitude in that first half.
It must have disappointed him bitterly that his charges couldn’t see that they had possibly manoeuvred themselves into within 45 minutes of effectively ending their season.
Follow me on Twitter @nostalgicfootie