With just four points to show for their first three games of the 2015-16 Premier League season, it’s quite clear that Arsenal are not firing on al cylinders at the moment, that they have not reached their optimal level of performance and much improvement is needed if they are to mount a real title challenge this season.
For you or me to say such a thing of the Gunners is plainly obvious. However, for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to speak the same sentiment would be something of a revelation. On Thursday, though, speaking in his weekly press conference (above video) ahead of his side’s trip to Newcastle United on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 am ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), Wenger placed the blame for the slow start squarely on the shoulders of his players — kind of:
“Maybe we do not fire on all cylinders at the moment, not everybody is ready physically. By definition, finishing is [cyclical], it goes in cycles, finishing qualities come and go, and you do not always know why, but certainly at the moment we want it so much at home that we want to force it. It doesn’t look natural enough.”
“Our results away from home and goalscoring opportunities and finishing percentage has been higher recently. … Teams come and defend very deep at home (Emirates Stadium). As long as we have not scored the first goal, it’s maybe more difficult to open the defenses. In recent games, that’s what happened to us.
OK, so Wenger didn’t exactly tell his players, “Start performing or you’re gone,” but he maybe, kind of, sort of, almost started to say something that vaguely resembled as much?
Sure, he ended up by blaming other teams for playing in fear of his side, but it’s still incredibly rare to hear the manager of one of the Premier League’s top teams say anything other than, “I thought we played well.” For instance, Monday’s 0-0 draw between Arsenal and Liverpool seemed to fall completely on the deaf ears of both Wenger and Brendan Rodgers.
If Arsenal are to mount a real title challenge this season, that “cycle” had better come full circle in a hurry, because with that defense they’re not going to win many games on the back of a clean sheet.