Last night was not quite the carnage I predicted. I thought we'd have a weaker side on show in Greece. That's what made defeat slightly worse in my eyes. We didn't field a Carling Cup team of children eager to impress the first team coaches, we fielded a team of 8 internationals who helped contribute to a game of alarmingly poor quality. Sure, it was slightly more entertaining than watching us choke against teams like Swansea and Norwich, but it was still average on a technical level. It was still tactically naive. The result was still the same.
Defeat against a team who I'd place well and truly in the garbage category.
Arsene Wenger stated as he arrived in Athens that the only thing he was sure of is that 'he knew nothing'. He's become quite unbearable over the last few weeks, the whole focus seems to be around him and his feelings, not what's actually happening on the pitch. What was apparent from the team is that the quality of the squad is an absolute shambles. Thomas Rosicky was by far out best performer and his return to the starting line up can't come at a better time. His energy and aggression in the middle of the park is something we've lacked of late. He opened the scoring after Gervinho managed to stay on his feet in the box and cut a pass back for the Czech to curl into the bottom corner.
Holding onto a lead isn't something the first team relish, so hanging onto the hope a B team could do any better was churlish. 18 odd minutes into the second half, a ball was looped into our box, the 5ft4 new boy Meade was left to challenge, he was barged out the way with absolute ease, the Greeks won the header, Aaron Ramsey chested it down into the path of the Giannis Maniatis who didn't need a second invite to slip the ball past Chezzer. Another error by a Aaron Ramsey who just can't break out of the 'below average' rut he's found himself in for the most of the past few seasons.
Things went from bad to worse ten minutes later when Mitroglu made some space for himself on the edge of the box, curled a low shot at our goal and watched it slip under Chezzer with ease. An absolute joke of a goal to concede. Another long distance shot any keeper worth his salt would save. I'm fast coming to the conclusion he's not good enough. The superb performances of a few years ago have been lost in a sea of arrogance. I can only put it down to this, because generally your ability only degrades if you don't work hard as a youngster. We need a great keeper last season.
The game coughed and spluttered to an unsatisfactory end, we didn't top our group and now we face the prospect of playing a form team in the next round of the competition. That's not good when you're this Arsenal squad.
On a reality level. We can't complain. The state of the squad and the fatigue Wenger has placed on it dictated we needed to rest first team players. Our season starts on Saturday against West Brom. Wenger has a big December ahead. He needs to buy himself time with the fans. A last roll of the dice in January as it were. Make no mistake, Wenger's loyalty to his contract is not a gift to the fans, it's loyalty to a massive amount of money and power he would unlikely get elsewhere.
The debacle of the Champions League needs perspective in one sense. We did qualify, even if it was in second. That's more than can be said of Chelsea and Manchester City. However, you don't gauge your own bad performance by talking about others who also did badly. One manager lost his job off the back of his early exit, the other, well, you never know. It's not looking good. We should have topped our group to give ourselves a better chance of qualification. The joke of our situation is that we don't even have a squad that can manage the first half of the season in the Champions League.
We're disrespecting the Champions League!
There was quite a lot of noise around the Stewart Robson interview yesterday through Talksport. Now, I know many are brushing it aside because he was sacked by Arsenal for not towing the company line. He's bitter apparently. Well, I'm not sure I buy into that. If you listen to the interview, how can you disagree with most of it? Over-training players. I've told you that for years. Wenger doesn't listen to the experts Arsenal employ. Tactics... Cesc knew nothing about them until he went to Barcelona. Steve Bould not having a say in matters. Not too dissimilar to what I heard. How much has the defence been worked on since the start of the season? Not much I've been told. Is that apparent? Pretty much so. Arsene Wenger was pretty spiteful about Steve Bould and his impact on the back four in the build up to Chelsea, then he inexplicably dropped his best defender, we were a shambles at the back and things haven't improved since.
Wenger wont' be told. As you can see by the attitude of superiority he takes when talking to the press. Thinking you know best all the time is an ugly counter productive trait. Well, unless of course you do know best. I know I've referenced Steve Jobs on a number of occasions but his self awareness with regards to greatness was quite refreshing in his book. He knew most great men didn't continue to innovate and stay great the whole way through their careers. People become stuck in a rut and struggle to reinvent themselves (business leaders, artists, song writers, inventers). One of his mantras was to only employ A players...
'It’s too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players. The Microsoft experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can’t indulge B players.'
Arsene had a team of A players, but failed to recognise when they became B players. I'm talking staff here. He didn't want to challenge himself. Which in the end, has given him a squad of B players. The A players don't want to play with the B players, which is exactly why they leave for pastures new. If you fail to recognise your greatness in sport (and business) is generally supported by the people below you, you're on a one track road to failure.
That's where Wenger is now... and this attitude to the modern game might splutter us into 4th, but it won't ever bring us back to the glory days. That's a fact people.