November 1, 2013

After a frustrating loss, the best thing to do is just to get back on the horse. And if you are really lucky, the horse you get on is broken and easy to control.

After suffering our first loss since the season opener, against Dortmund, Arsenal faced off against struggling, rudderless Crystal Palace.  

You might expect that the team at the top of the Premier League table would have had no problem taming a team in Palace's position, but with the help of a harsh red card, it wasn't until an 87th minute goal by Olivier Giroud that Arsenal sealed the three points.

The victim of the sending off was Mikel Arteta – who put Arsenal ahead from the penalty spot just after the second half kickoff. The skipper insists that it the call was wrong, saying it was never a tackle. "I tried to block him with my hand but then he came with his left foot into my right calf and then we were both on the floor." He also pointed out that this all happened about 40 yards from goal.

Arsène Wenger agreed that referee Chris Foy made the wrong call. And he was happy to list the reasons why: "It has to be good goalscoring opportunity, he was far from goal, it was an accidental foul, he was not the last man." Despite that, the manager said he would not appeal a one-game suspension as that one game would be in a midweek League Cup match – a game he was unlikely to play Arteta in anyway.

As the boss said after the match, "It was not a game of brilliance, but it was a game of efficiency and patience. For us it was about being patient and not making a mistake and we did that well."

The key to hanging on to the lead was some stellar play by Wojciech Szczesny. The Pole wasn't terribly busy for most of the game – except for a string of spectacular saves late in the second half. According to Per Mertesacker, Szczesny played his role well. "We do not need the goalkeeper that much, but in those situations we do need him desperately. He did a good job, but the whole team did - and that is his job, to save us sometimes."

The win kept Arsenal at the top of the Premier League table – and extended the unbeaten away run to 14 games. Wenger called his squad's away form an "advantage" over their rivals, but conceded that "some teams have had heavier fixtures than we have had until now. That's what is facing us now."

The first of our own "heavy fixtures" was the aforementioned league cup match against Chelsea – the clear glamour fixture of the competition's fourth round.  As you might expect, Wenger significantly rotated his squad for the match – although not to the extent we have seen in recent years. Players like Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Laurent Koscielny and Santi Cazorla were named to the starting XI with names like Giroud, Ozil and Sagna taking a seat on the bench.

The end result was a 2-0 loss that saw Arsenal get knocked out of the competition earlier than we have been in quite some time. The loss did prompt some questions about his squad's depth, but Wenger quickly dismissed them saying, "At the moment we have Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski who are out. It's three players who have a big impact offensively. If you put them in I believe that it's a completely different position in the team."

Still, Wenger said he did not regret his line-up. "I think it was a very tight game that was decided on one or two mistakes but overall we cannot play all the games with the same players, at some stage you have to rotate."

Of those mistakes, Thomas Vermaelen said "It is a bit disappointing of course. I don't think they had a lot of chances to be honest, especially in the second half when we dominated the game."

To that Wenger added, "There are positives and negatives, the negatives are we give the goals away, the positives are that we don't give many chances away. So we have to keep doing that and focus on the next game."

That next game of course is Liverpool at home, which will be a huge test for the squad on more than one level. Liverpool are playing some excellent football right now. They feature a genuine strike partnership in Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge - who have 14 goals between them – and they sit just two points behind us in the table.

Interestingly, like Arsenal, most of Liverpool's games have not been against the cream of the crop. So this game is just as big of a test for them

Meanwhile, Arsenal need to turn things around at home after losing two straight at Emirates Stadium.

Now, before anyone gets too excited about a losing streak, Wenger noted that there are two sides to the story. "There are positives and negatives," he said. "The negatives are we give the goals away, the positives are that we don't give many chances away."

He later added, "In the kind of games that we play [against Liverpool], you always find out a lot about your squad. I don't need to find out too much because we are a very stable team who, since January 1, has taken more points than anybody else."

Going against Arsenal is the fact that is November. Whether it's down fatigue and fixture congestion or just some unfortunate facial hair, November has been a bit of a bogey-month for Arsenal over the years. Fortunately, the team news isn't too dire. Arteta will be back from suspension, and no other new injuries have popped up. On the downside, Arsenal will still be without the services of Mathieu Flamini, but he could be available for Manchester United on November 10.

Needless to say, this should be one heckuva a game. The match-up to watch will be Luis Suarez v. Laurent Koscielny, but how Arsenal's attackers fare against Liverpool's three-man backline could be just as significant. The fact of the matter is, Liverpool have been somewhat vulnerable at the back and have not kept a clean sheet all season. The big question is if Arsenal can stop the Merseysiders' two-headed strike monster that is Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

For supporters in North America, the game is on NBC in the United States and Sportsnet in Canada. Be sure to note the somewhat odd kick-off time – the time change in the UK is a week before our own. The benefit of course, is that the game starts an hour later than it normally would over here. That means that you really have no excuse not to go to join fellow supporters at the pub!

Come on you Gunners!

Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source
Kevin Mooney 1 Nov 2013