Monday, April 18, 2011

The Likes Of Spearing And Lucas Deserve Credit For Arsenal's Demise

Spearing: one of Liverpool's bright new talentsIt is fitting perhaps, that Liverpool's two best players during their high intensity 1-1 draw with Arsenal were the two players involved in the two stoppage time penalties.

First, Jay Spearing was guilty of upending Cesc Fabregas in the penalty area, presenting Robin Van Persie with the opportunity to send Arsenal within four points of leaders Manchester United, an opportunity the Dutchman took with aplomb.

Seconds later though, Liverpool's second star of the day was involved, winning a last minute penalty that gifted Liverpool a point.

While Lucas' and Spearing's contributions in the two penalty areas are the ones which will grab all the headlines, it was their play in the center of the park which frustrated Arsenal all night. After the substitution of Theo Walcott, Arsenal lacked any kind of width, with Andrei Arshavin and Samir Nasri doing nothing but cut inside, something that played into Spearing's and Lucas' hands.

LucasThe duo were able to bog up the narrow area in the middle of the park, not allowing Fabregas any room to pick out a pass. Part of the reason Arsenal have been more successful away than at home this season is the very Fabregas weapon that Liverpool negated so well. Last week, Blackpool afforded the Spaniard all kinds of space to pick out passes, and it was Fabregas' ball that set Walcott up to cross to Van Persie for the third goal. However, when teams visit the Emirates they tend to approach the game with more caution, and Liverpool's midfield play was a perfect example of that.

Anytime one of Arsenal's creative players picked up the ball in a dangerous position, either Lucas or Spearing would converge on him, forcing a poor pass or a square ball. Especially after Walcott's substitution, Arsenal struggled to find a way to react to Liverpool's tight closing down in the center of the park, a fact that contributed to their inability to break the Reds down during the course of the ninety.

In the past, Arsenal have been able to break down stodgy midfields with ease, tearing through teams with their incisive passing. However, this term, Arsenal have struggled to cope with the likes of Spearing and Lucas, something which has contributed to their struggles at home. It comes as no surprise that their last two disappointments at the Emirates (0-0 draws with Blackburn and Sunderland) were both against teams boasting strong defensive midfielders. Steven Nzonzi and Jermain Jones did the job for Steve Kean's Blackburn team, while Sunderland contained the Gunners mainly thanks to ex Inter Milan man Sulley Muntari.

Interestingly, it is Arsenal's wealth of attacking talent in central midfield, and lack thereof in the wide areas which has crippled their league bid, while United's dependency on wing men due to a shortage of midfield talent has slowed their progression. If Arsenal had invested heavily in old fashioned wingers like Antonio Valencia at United, they may well have found the going easier in the Premier League this year. With Fabregas' ability to pick out a pass, a player like Valencia would have served as a useful outlet for Arsenal this season, a way to break through a team via a less predictable route. Meanwhile, United have struggled to score goals through central midfield genius, and thus their progression to title number nineteen has been slowed.

Once again, Wenger's naivety in not participating in the transfer market has cost his side dear, what was once an energetic, vibrant side has been made predictable by a failure to invest in alternative modes of attack. While over the past few seasons United have picked up the likes of Nani, Berbatov, Valencia and Chicharito, Arsenal have refused to be drawn into the transfer merry-go-round, and now they are facing the inevitable results.

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