Avoiding Those Big Embarrassing (Away) Losses

Arsenal’s losses in the premier league for 2013/14 season:

Arsenal 1 – 3 Aston Villa
Manchster City 6 – 3 Arsenal
Liverpool 5 – 1 Arsenal
Chelsea 6 – 0 Arsenal
Everton 3 – 0 Arsenal
Manchester United 1 – 0 Arsenal
Stoke City 1 – 0 Arsenal

The relevance of each of the aforementioned defeats to our failure to win the league last season has been discussed exhaustively here on Untold and elsewhere in the Goonershpere so I won’t go there. Our first loss of the season is also not going to be discussed as it isn’t a heavy loss to a rival and the circumstances that led to it are very clear to us all.

The infamous trio of losses were against our direct title rivals but I am adding the Everton loss to make it 4 as the margin is exactly the same as Man City’s and Everton finished 5th.

Why did we lose those matches by big margins? Were these teams that better than us? How come none of the other top teams lost these many away games by big margins? How come few (if any) of the smaller teams lost these fixtures by those kind of margins? As the popular saying goes, you cannot find answers to a problem that you have not been able to diagnose. So, why did we lose 4 out of 4 away matches against the other teams in the top 5 by big margins? Knowing the cause(s) might help us to find solutions to avoid repetition.

We were flying high before the Man City game. We had just got a valuable and absolutely key victory on our trip to Dortmund. We were cruising in the league sitting comfortably on top. We were buzzing and our spirits were high. The talk was about beating Man City rather than getting a draw. But the team was not well rested from their travel. After playing till 10pm on Wednesday they had the 12.45pm kick-off Saturday. I think that when we look at the circumstances surrounding the game, including the referee’s ineptitude, we can let the 6-3 loss slide. It is the one of the 4 big losses that we suffered that is least troubling, the margin notwithstanding.

If the Man City loss can be understood, the Liverpool one is the most troubling. The 1st half is one of the worst that I have ever seen of 2 teams in the same league. I have seen lower league teams avail themselves better against top premiership oppositions in the cup competitions. It looked like Liverpool were going to score every time they attacked us. They even missed 2 to 3 good chances in those horrible 30 minutes.

We suffered a similar fate at Stamford Bridge but even though the margin was higher, the performance was not as scary as that at Anfield considering the circumstances. Our 3-0 loss to Everton was in the same pack.

No one can seriously say that our defence was poor last season. No way! We conceded 18 goals in 33 games and then conceded 20 in 4! What the hell is going on?

I have a theory and it goes thus: Disrespect of our opponents. It sounds harsh; I know but please hear me out. (No monster defensive midfielder nonsense though).

Apart from the result that got us the FA cup in May, my most satisfying result of the 2013/14 season was our 1-0 victory at Dormund. It was a game that I was praying for a draw in based on how the Germans played us at the Emirates a couple of weeks earlier. We went into that game with respect for our opponents. We kept things tight at the back. We let them have the ball but we were resolute at the back. Because we weren’t venturing forward too much, we had enough men to help at the back. We were basically playing for a draw but we nicked it with a few minutes to go and the table turned with us nearly getting a second goal.

A similar template has been used twice against Bayern Munich, making Arsenal undefeated at the Allianz Arena in 2 visits. We treated our German opponents with respect and played cautiously, no going gung-ho looking for a win. In the end we got 2 wins and 1 draw in 3 visits to 2 of the most difficult away grounds in Europe.

Despicable as he is, Jose Mourhino gets this. I was discussing with my Gooner cousin after last season and he mentioned that had it been Chelsea who only needed a DRAW at home against Liverpool that Mourhino would have set up a wall at the back and get his draw. I couldn’t agree more and I hate to give that cretin any credit. Much as we love to hate what he stands for in football and humanity, we must admit that Mourhino is a pragmatist.

The key to Arsenal avoiding heavy away losses is pragmatism. Heavy is emphasised as I don’t believe that there is anything we can do about losing away to our rivals. I worry more about our inability to beat our rivals at the Emirates than about losing to them in their own stadium. Man City got only 1 point out of 9 away to their title rivals. Second placed Liverpool got 0 point in 9 just like Arsenal did. No one is talking about these 2 teams’ away performances the way they do about Arsenal because they both lost respectably.

Mourhino went to Old Trafford and didn’t bother to field any striker. He left with a point. Although I think that he must be kicking himself later when teams like West Brom and Newcastle started winning there but the key point here is that he got what he wanted.

We won 11 of our 19 away games last season, more than any other team in the league. Against lower oppositions away, our expansive style of play works as they must come out and play us. Their firepower is beneath ours so we don’t get punished for going forward and we get rewarded for our audacity. No team got more away points (35) than Arsenal last season. Our away form was outstanding!

Our audacity away from home is also the reason why, instead of losing 0-1 or 1-2 or 2-3 away to our rivals (as they all did against each other), we lost by at least 3 goal margins. The solution to avoiding big away losses is pragmatism and respect for our rivals at their home grounds. I hate bus parking as a football strategy but in those 4 away matches to our top 5 rivals, it is what we need to do. Contrast our 1st half at Anfield with Chelsea’s and weep. They kept it tight and didn’t give an inch whereas we left huge spaces for Liverpool to attack us from as we rushed forward in search of goals. Yeah, the football played by Chelsea at Anfield was ugly but they left with 3 points and +2 goals while we left with 0 point and -4 while giving BT Sport the material for the worst pre-season promo by any sport broadcaster that I have ever seen.

I am not advocating that Arsenal start playing negative football but as our results from Germany show, when you are playing at the home of a good opponent, show them respect and keep things tight at your end. We have 33 or 34 games to play our beautiful expansive game so I think we can be easily forgiven for going negative against 4 or 5 opponents out of necessity. I am certain though, that we’ll be praised to high heavens if we pull off wins no matter how dire the football might be.

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