Over the course of last few years, Arsenal have gained notoriety for crumbling in February in a rather fatal manner and to an extent this year has been no different.
The FA Cup holders did grind out a comeback win against league leaders Leicester but back-to-back defeats against big names in Europe and England respectively have resulted in a familiar situation for the club.
It is difficult to figure where it has all gone wrong for Arsenal. If anything, the team’s performances should have picked up since Francis Coquelin returned from injury to replace Mathieu Flamini.
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However, contrary to expectations, they were completely dominated in midfield by both Barcelona and Manchester United, suggesting that the Aaron Ramsey-Coquelin partnership isn’t quite working at the moment; whether that is down to a lack of playing time together or simply being an ineffective combination remains to be examined.
Nevertheless, midfield issues are only part of the problem. The team as a whole has underperformed, both individually and collectively.
Alexis Sanchez is far from regaining top form since returning from injury, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott can’t seem to score - albeit they’ve been hampered by a lack of service - and nobody seems to be able to share the burden of defending with Laurent Koscielny at the centre-back position.
The link up play and transition between defence and attack has also been an issue which has diminished the threat Arsenal pose from counter-attacks and contributed to various defensive lapses.
It is worth noting that the Gunners have been playing under-par for a long time now, having failed to score in five of their previous eight matches going into the game against United, but, they’ve somehow been able to get the results to paper over the cracks. Had they got a third goal against Man Utd to salvage a draw, the result would have been hailed as a great comeback and the disappointing performance would have been overlooked again.
In recent times, Wenger’s charges have been unable to create chances with the same flair they boasted while at the peak of their powers midway through the season. They have been lacking in quality and imagination in the final third which is extremely worrying for a team that often relies on outscoring opponents. In a way, a couple of bad results in big games have handed them a reality check, albeit a costly one.
For whatever reasons, Arsenal are apparently destined to collapse in February. Thankfully however, the season ends in May and there is still time to recover and get their title bid back on track.
While many believe that they’ve exposed their oft-discussed mental frailties again by crumbling under pressure against the big teams, there is an opposite view.
They’ve also beaten Manchester City and Leicester City in the last month and so arguably played under more pressure in those clashes considering those sides are stronger title contenders than Manchester United. While they need to address the dip in performance, the mental strength should not be the biggest concern the moment.
After all, despite playing distinctly average football for large parts of the game against a Man United team that has improved of late, Arsenal scored twice and were only one short of a draw, which seems to suggest that the spirit and self-belief are still there - but more worryingly - the form isn’t.
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