This is our best chance of winning the league since 2016. But if our top stars do not wake up, we could throw away the opportunity to be champions.
Let’s start with the incompotent refereeing in the 1-1 draw v Brentford.
There equaliser should not have stood, with the PGMOL coming out and admitting their officials messed up.
There were actually mutiple reasons the goal should have been disallowed, starting before either of the two offside calls. The first was the foul on Zinchenko as the original free kick was swung in.
Zinchenko was clearly tasked with marking Ivan Toney. But as the ball was put into the box, he was clearly being held by a Brentford player which stopped him challenging for the ball.
This foul gave led to Toney being on his own in the box, able to put the cross in without any pressure.
In the fianl frame, Zinchenko has finally be released by the Brentford player and is back close to Toney, but not close enough.
Had Zinchenko not been fouled in the build up, he would have been on Toney, challenging him in the air in the box. Instead Toney was able to play the ball back across goal with his right foot.
VAR should have picked up on the foul and disallowed the goal.
At the same time, you also have Gabriel being blocked. The player blocking him was comitting two infringements.
The first, he was fouling Gabriel. That foul stopped the Brazilian getting closer to Toney. And secondly he Ethan Pinnock was clearly offside.
By blocking Gabriel, regardless of whether or not it was a foul, he was interfering with play.
VAR should have picked up on either the foul or offside and disallowed the goal.
Then finally, we have the offside prior to Toney putting the ball into the back of the net that was not even checked.
VAR should have picked up on the offside and disallowed the goal.
4 infringements, VAR missed them all, and Arsenal dropped two points.
A draw was probably the right result, and had we have won 1-0 it would have gone in the “champions win when playing poorly” box.
Brentford are a decent outfit. They play to a game plan which is to slow the game down and focus on set pieces.
The blocking at corners and free kicks were by design, not accident. They knew exactly what they were doing in fouling Zinchenko to get Toney free. It is the sort of infringement VAR was bought in to stop.
They have now gone 10 unbeaten. In 7 games against top 6 sides, they have lost just once – to The Arsenal. We got away with a draw but it could have ended worse had Brentford taken their two clear cut first half chances.
We are still top of the league going into the Manchester City game, but to win the league we need to see our stars wake up.
In 2015/16, we were top after 22 games. 5 wins in 15 saw us drop to 4th before we eventually finished 2nd.
Dropping points against the likes of Stoke, Southampton, Swansea, West Ham, Crystal Palace and Sunderland in the second half of the season cost us. Those 5 games were 13 points dropped. We ended up 10 behind Leicester.
We had Everton last weekend and Brentford this. With Manchester City up next before away trips to Aston Villa and Leicester City, we could easily enter a downward spiral similar to what derailed us in 2016.
The last few games, Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli, Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka have all looked off the pace. Not at the races.
You can accomodate one or two of them having a drop off in form, a bar run. But to have all 5 struggling at the same time is costing us points.
For us to win the league, they need to wake themselves back up and get back to the high performance level that they have played at for much of the season.
Leandro Trossard looked a livewire when he came on for Martinelli, scoring the goal that should have seen us win the game. It was the substitution that was the game changer I predicted.
Trossard has to start against Manchester City, with Martinelli on the bench
Also, Gabriel Jesus can not come back soon enough.
Eddie Nketiah has been fantastic since coming in for him, but we need to re-energise the front line. And Jesus has the infections energy that just brings the best out of those around him.
Jesus would also be an option in the wider positions. We could easily play him wide right, Trossard wide left and Nketiah through the middle. That would give a break to Saka and Martinelli who both look like they are running out of steam.
After the back to back Midlands away day, we face Everton, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Leeds at home – with a trip to Fulham sandwiched between.
This is when I expect Arteta to rotate his front line. Mix and match. Give Saka and Martinelli a break.
In terms of Xhaka, he has been phenomenal this season but has just come off the boil.
We could opt to play Zinchenko further forward, and Kieran Tierney or Takehiro Tomiyasu at left back. That might freshen things up. The option to play Zinchenko instead of Partey is also present.
The Man City game is not one where we should be making wholesale changes. Perhaps just Martinelli for Trossard.
We might blame the officials for the draw against Brentford, but we also did not help ourselves.
Newcastle, Everton and Brentford all played a similar way.
Slow the game down, men behind the ball, look to maximise set pieces. We struggled to break down all 3. The fast, snappy passing was not there.
As we enter the second half of the season, more teams will now sit deep, pack the midfield and deny us space. We need our superstars to re-find their form so that we can break down these teams.
Failure to do so will result in too many dropped points and a repeat of the 2015/16 fall-away.
We are still top of the league. We have won 4 from 7 since coming back from the World Cup. 14 points from a posisible 21.
If we maintain that form between now and the end of the season, we will end up with 85 points. I am not sure that will be enough!
Keep backing the boys and we go again Wednesday.
Let’s not forget that the freekick that led to the goal could easily have been an Arsenal freekick, Toney started and did most of the holding, then waved his arms around with that irritating look on his face like “look what they’re doing to me again, tch tch tch”. It’s pure and simple cheating.