Arsenal lost more ground in the title race on Tuesday night, falling to fourth place while all rivals picked up comfortable wins.
Largely to blame for Arsenal’s third game without a goal in the Premier League is the shambolic performances of the Arsenal midfield.
Since picking up an injury last year away to Norwich, Santi Cazorla has been severely missed in the centre of the midfield. Replaced by Aaron Ramsey, who has been playing alongside Flamini, has resulted in chaotic defending, and indecisive attacking.
Arsenal lead the league at Christmas, and picked up a reasonable 27 points from the 14 games prior to Santi’s injury. In the 10 games so far without, only 18 points have been won.
However it is the form of the team that is the most worrying issue with a lot of those points having been picked up throughout December against relegation battling sides (bar Man City). Arsenal’s run is now 4 games without a win, and 3 games without a goal. Excluding the Burnley FA Cup win.
Cazorla is a magician on the ball. The ball seems to stick to his foot as he wriggles out of every incoming tackle, and more often than not continues by finding a teammate with an incisive ball up the field.
And there you have the difference. Perhaps it goes unnoticed, and often without praise, but Santi picks the ball up deep off the defenders, and moves it on quickly to the ‘flare’ players enabling our quick flowing, counter-attacking football, sometimes chipping in with his own direct assists and goals.
But more often than not, he assists the assists. He has the mind to find Ozil quickly, who in turn can find Walcott, Sanchez, Giroud, and the back of net before the opposition can get back and stop it.
With Ramsey playing in that role, especially against Southampton, we struggled to pick the ball up and move it forward quickly. Too often Sanchez or Ozil would come deep to get that ball, and then they are out of position and the momentum has gone.
Although we still created chances against Southampton, they were not as clear cut as we usually create. And a majority of them came down to crosses, because we simply allowed Southampton’s defenders to get back behind the ball and sit deep.
Flamini is not the best defensive midfielder in the world, but he gives his all to the team, and deserves respect for what he has given the club over the years. I don’t put him at fault for the lack of what I believe Aaron should have provided going forward. However it is clear that Coquelin has the passion for that role and this team, as well as the ability to match.
We must hope and wait for a fully fit Cazorla to return to the fold as soon as possible, he should only be a few weeks away as long as he is on still on schedule.