Arsenal face yet another team within the bottom half of the table with the upcoming game against Sunderland on Saturday. The Gunners are without a win in three in the Premier League, with two of those games being against opposition in the bottom half of the table.
This poses a very serious question about Arsenal’s form and performances against the bottom half of the table, and whether the teams lower down the table pose more problems for Arsenal than those at the top?
Black Cats' changing fortunes
Sunderland have recently performed considerably better than they did at the beginning of the season. After a rocky start Sunderland were without a win under Dick Advocaat and only picked up three points in the first eight games of the season. Advocaat then left the club with Sam Allardyce replacing the Dutchman and subsequently Sunderland have picked up nine points from five games, lifting them out of the relegation zone.
Part of Allardyce’s recent success seems to come from his latest tactical tinkering; by loading the back with five defenders and then attacking with full backs, they simultaneously provided little space in which opposing attackers could create, and when on the ball the full backs provided width and more options to go and attack with. Loading the back with defenders could prove a stalling point for Arsenal, as all the defenders will restrict the intricate, passing, flowing football. This is not just the case with Sunderland, but has been a feature in many of the games against lower table opposition.
Lacking the final touch
Comparing the points tallies from playing teams in the top half to those in the bottom half of the table, tells a rather worrying story for the Arsenal. Arsenal have taken less points from lower half opposition than they have from top half opposition. Against the teams in the bottom half of the table Arsenal have taken a possible 13 points from 21 compared to the top half, where they have taken 14 from a possible 21.
Only taking one less point may not be considered a crisis however and it is true that Arsenal have had some of their best results against teams in the bottom half. The two consecutive 3-0 victories against Watford and Swansea showcased Arsenal’s attacking ability and the team’s ability to wear down stubborn opponents and let the class shine through, to produce convincing and deserved wins.
The first two performances of the season against bottom half opponents however, were equal parts encouraging and worrying simultaneously showing Arsenal's greatest strength, creating chances, and weakness, not putting them away. Stoke were helped out massively by goalkeeper Jack Butland, but the Newcastle game really showed an inability to perform in front of goal, with an own goal seperating the two sides, providing an unconvincing victory. It is these same problems which have lead to the recent dip in form against the lower half teams.
The past two Premier League games have been against teams in the bottom half of the table, and Arsenal have only taken 1 point from these games, with the performance against West Brom possibly being the Gunner's worst performance in the Premier League this season. Despite taking the lead early on in the match, Arsenal quickly conceded two very soft goals before half time and from then on it was always going to be an uphill struggle to win the match.
West Brom, adamant to hold on to their lead, set up to shut down Arsenal's attack and did so effectively, with Arsenal's attacks being very limited and coming to no fruition. West Brom sat with mostly 10 men behind the ball, loading the defence, stopping Arsenal from playing and creating. This was a case of Arsenal's tactics playing against them, and West Brom setting up to stop them, and not for the first time this season has this happened.
Teams within the bottom half of the table try to stop Arsenal playing the way they want to, by minimising the space players have off the ball, and prohibiting the intricate passing Arsenal loves to play. Due to Arsenal's recent injuries to key players, Arsenal have not been able to provide enough class to break down unshakable teams, with Norwich at the weekend proving to be a simliar example.
When teams set up defensively Arsenal have to play to their best to break them down and were doing so earler in the season, but with the injury crisis taking out some key players for Arsenal, the cutting edge has been missing of late.
If Sunderland set up defensively, as they have done in their past two results, Arsenal may well find them difficult to break down, but the quality Arsenal have should shine through, we shall see come Saturday.