Even now, after two weeks and two games, Arsenal go into tonight’s Premier League match trying to make up for something.
This evening’s visit of Liverpool will be Arsenal’s first home game since West Ham United showed up at the Emirates on opening weekend, smashing and grabbing their way to a 2-0 victory that seemed to sap away so much of Arsenal’s pre-season enthusiasm.
This season, with Arsenal having already bought Chelsea’s goalkeeper and beaten them to the Community Shield, was meant to be different. No more fragility. No more waste. This was meant to be a serious, mature, focused, driven Arsenal team who had shown they knew how to compete and fight again.
Arsène Wenger knows as well as anyone that titles are won on dominance of your home ground and that West Ham must be a freak aberration. Only with a big victory tonight can they make it look absurd. “You need to be strong at home if you want to win the championship,” Wenger admitted. “It can happen that you lose the odd game but overall you need home strength.”
Arsenal must now build that home strength but the problem is that the West Ham defeat was not entirely random or unpredictable. Arsenal failed to score in three of their last four home league games last season, including against Sunderland and Swansea in which they were unable to unpick a massed defence.
Wenger insisted that these home frustrations were not unique to Arsenal and were common to any side trying to beat a parked bus. “Against teams who came only to defend, we did not find the goal,” Wenger conceded. “But it happens to all the other teams. We lost against Swansea – a game we should have won. Normally you would think over 19 games you can sometimes be unlucky once or twice. Most of the time, if you really dominate the games you will win.”
Arsenal did dominate possession against West Ham, but they still lost and while Wenger described it as bad luck, it is worth wondering if this happens too often to be that. “Against West Ham, we concede one set-piece and then another goal just before half-time,” Wenger said. “After that, it was difficult. But if you look well, and you have to analyse it, against West Ham we didn’t give chances away. You play this game 20 times, you win it 19. Because they had very, very, very few chances. Their goals came from our mistakes. That’s why we had to look at ourselves.”
One problem which often plagues Arsenal’s home form is what Wenger once termed – not talking about his own team – “sterile domination”. They have more than enough good midfielders, who keep the ball well, but sometimes fail to break teams down. This is in part due to the issue of trying to fit Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey – as well as Francis Coquelin – in the same midfield.
So far this season, Wenger has played Ramsey centrally and Cazorla wide as well as the opposite and it was the Spaniard’s central role which was so important to the win at Selhurst Park, nine days ago. That means upsetting Ramsey but Wenger is likely to keep the same system tonight. “It is tricky, because Santi is an important player in our build-up,” Wenger said. “He brings fluidity and gets you out of tight situations.”
Wenger may even be tempted to bring Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain back in on the right, in place of Ramsey, providing some width. This dilemma is why Wenger laughs at suggestions he must now buy a new midfielder. “I always get asked two questions,” he said. “Why don’t you buy more players, and how do you keep them all happy now?”
For Liverpool, their manager Brendan Rodgers admits this might be a game where they let Arsenal have more of the ball. “Like Arsenal, we do like to dominate the ball, but there are certain games where tactically you look at the approach of what is going to get you the result. That’s something we’ve been working on this week.”Reuse content