Manager blames player fatigue as Arsenal held to goalless draw

In the second to last game of the season, Arsenal were held to a goalless draw at home by a determined Sunderland side. With the Black Cats needing a point to secure their Premier League status, it was obvious that they were going to defend deep; so the result was not really a surprise.

What was a disappointment was the lack of drive shown by the players at times. We dominated possession, as always, but for several games in a row now we have been unable to convert it into goals. Ever since Giroud hit a dry spell, the team as a whole seems to be struggling to score and yesterday marked our third straight home game without scoring a goal.

Luckily the table has been decided already, so these games are not so important; but with the FA Cup final coming up it would be good to see the players sharp and determined in front of goal. Our opponents in that game, Aston Villa, are themselves a strong defensive outfit and perfectly comfortable playing on the counter with the likes of Benteke to finish their attacks. They will surely be taking notes from the tactics that Chelsea, Swansea and now Sunderland have successfully employed against us.

The manager, speaking at the post match press conference, admitted that there were flaws in the team’s play, but blamed those on the fatigue they were feeling after playing two games in such a short span:

You can say that we dominated possession and we lacked a bit of sharpness in our movement, in the way we prepared our chances and in our finishing as well. Physically it was an intense game on Sunday from what we have analysed and we were a bit jaded tonight. We haven’t scored in the last three games at home and the fact that we couldn’t score played a big part in our spontaneous attitude when finishing.

It is like that. You have to expect your opponent to play well and you to be good enough to beat them despite that. Overall it is what it is. We are in a strong position now to finish in the top three. Let’s do it and finish the season well in the cup final. We have to recover. It’s important to win on Sunday and give a good final game to our fans. After that we need to prepare for the FA Cup final. It is a little bit of a concern [the fatigue of the players] but there’s nearly two weeks to go [to the FA Cup final].

Have I got any nerves about finishing third? No. We want to win our game on Sunday, that’s all. We want to prepare to win the game on Sunday. You could see that some players are a bit [tired]. We played our 56th game of the season tonight and some players have given a lot. We still have time to recover for Sunday and prepare well for the FA Cup final. What is important now is that we win on Sunday.

The final game of the season becomes all the more important now; it is a home game against West Brom. Their manager, Tony Pulis, is another proponent of solid defending. If we beat the Baggies in front of the home crowd it will provide a massive confidence boost to both the players and the fans and dispel the air of lethargy that seems to have built up over the past couple of weeks.

The manager took the time to complement the English contingent of Gibbs, Wilshere and Walcott, all of whom played decently yesterday. He was also appreciative of the Sunderland defence and claimed that the Gunners never had a chance of scoring:

Jack Wilshere did alright. He had a good change of pace, he gave a good chance to Mesut Ozil in the first half and he worked very hard for a guy who has not started since November. He was good. Theo Walcott came on and played well, Kieran Gibbs has done well. That’s positive.

We played with three strikers. Two wingers and one centre forward. We had the full backs going forward. Sebastian Coates especially and John O’Shea defended our crosses very well. We didn’t look like scoring, even if we had 28 shots on goal. There was something missing always and you could see that they would throw their body in every time. We needed something special to score tonight because they defended very well.

The manager rounded off the conference by providing a bit of good news on the injury front, where a couple of players are recovering well:

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is coming back into full training. He’s not completely ready yet. I can’t tell you if he will be available to go with England.

Welbeck has a test on Saturday or Sunday. We’ll know more about it then.

While not quite the result we were hoping for, the point against Sunderland means that we have secured third place, already an improvement over last season. Also, the Black Cats remain without a victory at the Emirates. With just two games to go, one of them the FA Cup final, we just need the players to be focussed for another week or so; and hopefully we will celebrate the end of the season with a record 12th FA Cup triumph.