Arsenal’s horrific 2017 took yet another turn for the worse as their top-four ambitions were damaged by a 3-0 humiliation at the hands of relegation-threatened Crystal Palace on Monday.
Goals from Andros Townsend, Yohan Cabaye and January signing Luka Milivojevic stunned Arsene Wenger’s side and now leaves them seven points adrift of fourth place with eight games left to play.
It wasn’t perhaps the result itself that was so shocking – after all, leaders Chelsea were beaten by an in-form Palace side in their own backyard just a few weeks ago – but the manner in which the defeat came highlighted just how devoid of confidence this Arsenal side is, running out of ideas on the field.
After a much-needed victory over West Ham during the week the Gunners could have started building some momentum ahead of a tough run-in but instead they capitulated at the first hurdle.
The worrying thing from an Arsenal perspective is that there’s not just one position where they seemed to be lacking in; from the goalkeeper down to the other end of the field, there’s too many players that simply haven’t given enough this Premier League season and it showed again last night.
Arsenal’s two key men – Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil – were completely woeful throughout the 90 minutes; between them they only created a single chance and a single shot all match, as Arsenal failed to muster a single shot on target during the second half despite having over 70% possession.
With so much of Arsenal’s season resting on the shoulders of Chilean Sanchez, last night showed just how poor this current side is when he has an off day. The 28-year-old, who has been involved in just less than half of the Gunners’ goals this season (18 goals, nine assists), had 20 failed passes against Sam Allardyce’s side on Monday and didn’t complete a single cross or tackle during the entire game.
Arsenal’s main problems this season stem from their defence, however, and without captain Laurent Koscielny at the helm there’s no sign of leadership in the back four and it showed at Selhurst Park.
Shkodran Mustafi, one of Wenger’s ‘marquee’ signings over the summer, lost all six tackles that he attempted throughout the game and was generally bullied by the physicality of Christian Benteke.
Between Mustafi and Gabriel in the centre of defence, they allowed Palace to find acres of space inside the box on numerous occasions, lacking a sense of communication which eventually proved costly; for Townsend’s goal he was afforded way too much space to run into in the penalty area.
Nacho Monreal didn’t fare much better on the left-hand side of defence either, torn apart by the trickery and pace of Wilfried Zaha all evening – he would have been grateful to see the back of him at full-time.
Zaha completed 8 take ons – including five against Monreal – and was the catalyst for all of Palace’s attacking play, creating four chances, putting in three crosses and ultimately claiming two assists.
The fact of the matter is that Arsenal’s defence don’t look up to the task – with only Koscielny and Hector Bellerin able to come out of this season with their reputation in tact – and Monday signalled the fourth consecutive away match where the Gunners have conceded three times.
Not only does it mean that it’s the first time Wenger has ever lost four away matches in a row, with Arsenal now losing five times in their last eight Premier League matches, but the North London outfit have conceded 39 times this season – already three more than last year with eight games still to go.
If Arsenal have any hope of achieving Champions League football then they need to stem the tide quickly, otherwise they’ll miss out on Europe’s top competition for the first time since it became it’s current format.
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