The overriding factor that remains at Arsenal?


It’s ok to win ugly, unless you’re Arsenal.

Let’s be honest: Arsenal were horrific for most of the ninety against Crystal Palace. Nevertheless they came through unscathed. If that had been Manchester United, it would have been classed as the form of champions.

I’m not lost on the concept of winning ugly or even being off form; good teams do generally find the means to get through those poor spells that crop up from time to time.

The game at Crystal Palace, however, forced questions about the team. Firstly, was there yet again an issue over pre-match preparation? Was the manager doing enough to properly motivate a group of players who may have been led to believe that the game was just a formality?

I can’t really see that. That may have been an excuse in the past, but Arsene Wenger understands the pressure on the team to deliver as much as anyone else. He may not be as animated or fiery as his managerial counterparts, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of preparing his team.

So what’s the problem?

It’s the problem that crept in at West Brom. The matter of fatigue and tiredness can be rubbished by the majority for the simple fact that these are professional athletes who should know how to condition themselves for the congested schedule of English and European football. But that only stretches so far.

The team who started against Palace were largely unchanged from the one that lost at home to Borussia Dortmund. I’ve already dismissed the idea that the loss to Dortmund would have a negative effect on the team and its forthcoming fixtures. The mentality is quite clearly different from what it was in the past.

Instead, it’s a case that the centre-back pairing haven’t received much in the way of rest, featuring regularly for club and country. Olivier Giroud is being forced to fight on two different fronts at present, and likely three if Arsenal don’t add another forward in January when the FA Cup rolls around.

The point is that Arsenal play a high intensity game. It’s about possession and movement. You could argue that the team were lacking in ideas against Palace on the weekend, but I fail to see how an XI consisting of Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta, and Aaron Ramsey couldn’t find or even conjure a clear path to goal prior to the penalty claim.

There’s little rotation because there’s little in the way of options. Wenger was right to field his strongest team against Palace because the Premier League is the priority. Honestly, I don’t see the point in the League Cup, at least for those teams who compete in Europe. So what if Arsenal loss to Chelsea? The squad isn’t big enough to juggle two top competitions and then one that should be deemed more of a nuisance than the Europa League. Based on the resources of both clubs, there should be more questions asked of Chelsea if they fail to win at Arsenal than if Arsenal fail to advance.

Such is the state of the Arsenal squad at present – and by that, I mean due to the high volume of injuries – competitions simply must be sacrificed. Importance lies in the league fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester United. Even a failure to qualify from the group in the Champions League shouldn’t be considered a horrendous mess because Arsenal are paying the price for a lack of depth – and obviously because of the quality of the group – but in turn are topping the Premier League table.

Teams with the depth of Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid can afford to field strong teams in every competition. But as Wenger sees priority in the league and Champions League, fans should accept that those two competitions are the limits of this team’s ability. Failure in one doesn’t mean failure in others, quite the opposite. But success – and a win against Chelsea, for example, would be deemed a success – would come at a price.

If the maximum points are being achieved, winning ugly can be forgiven and generally forgotten. But with the opportunity Arsenal have this season, Wenger can’t continue to push and strain this team, even in league competition. Further depth is needed, quite simply because Arsenal are incapable of keeping all their players fully fit. And worryingly it’s not an impossible task.

Does Arsenal’s lack of depth mean competitions have to be sacrificed? 

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