Tired sentimentalism driving current Arsenal malaise

by & filed under News Review.

Funny how quickly the media are to declare the title over in December. Especially considering how inconsistent most teams have been this year / how open the league is to everyone beating each other. Have to say though, it looks bleak for Arsenal. Away days at most of the top half of the table clubs. Players looking heavy legged. A manager and our two star players not committing. In game management desperately missing. It’s a recipe for a finish that sits outside the top 4.

That would be a farewell to forget. But look, it’s no more than we deserve based on our timid approach to developing the club. You know it’s bad when we have to bring in an All Blacks sports psychologist to motivate players to win. I mean, I’m sure the guy is immense, but managing the psyche of a nation that are born to destroy seems an easy job compared to convincing Ozil to give a rats backside about chasing down players.

This season is all on the manager. He has the resource to win the league. Make no mistake, he has great players at his disposal. He hasn’t used it properly, but more importantly, it feels like he’s not running it with an aggressive winning mentality. Our players coast. No one is coasting under Conte. The difference a manager can make is so apparent at Chelsea, look at Costa and Hazard and how they’ve turned around. Look at Victor Moses, one of the most devastating players in the league this year. They’re motivated properly, they’re given very specific jobs and they’re held accountable. When players aren’t running for you, and there seems to be no vision, it’s one person who takes ownership of that.

Would Ozil be playing the next game after what he did against City under any other manager? Would he have lasted the half? No way. He’d not have been picked based on his nonsense performance against Everton. Supreme talent, but if it doesn’t show up when it’s called upon, it’s a luxury you can’t afford unless you’re Madrid.

Also, the talk that Sanchez and Ozil will only stay if Wenger stays actually makes me even more concerned, what sort of elite player would want to stay for more of the same also rans under Wenger? You’re not staying for the right reasons if that’s your schtick. Judging from the Sanchez comments, he’s leaning towards seeing if this season is a car crash. Ozil? Who’d take him based on this season? Especially if he’s asking for £290k pw. You can land a lot of hungry talent for that salary.

We’ll see though. I personally think our squad, though solid, is stale at its core. Any new manager coming in needs to rip out a chunk of he malaise and reinvision what Arsenal are all about. Sell a couple of big names and start again. A bit like Tuchel last summer. If you’re a good manager, and you have good support, you can hit some major surgery and make it work. My fear is, that despite reports he’s signed a new deal, is that he hasn’t and we won’t get an answer until the last minute. Then the new man won’t have time to build a squad. Still, at this point I’d take a year in the wilderness if it was driving towards something special.

Kind of hoping Wenger’s retrospective talk in recent weeks coupled with confirmed reports we’ve spoken to the Leipzig and Bournemouth coach mean it’s coming to an end. There are a lot of great coaches around at the moment. Tuchel, Sarri, Favre, Allegri and Sampiola all fit the Arsenal bill and would all bring much needed new thinking to the club.

Let’s hope we don’t let tired sentimentalism steer the decision. Fingers crossed Stan K sees greater riches in new blood… fingers crossed Ivan can persuade him of a brighter future… fingers crossed Wenger has tired of the rat race.

Arsene Pays For Negligent Squad Management

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Arsenal had the opportunity to show the soft underbelly they’re famous for had matured and grown some dragon skin. They predictably failed, losing their guts to a paper sword.

I have to put the excuses on the table right away. The refereeing decisions were unacceptable. Losing out to two offside decisions is pretty painful in a game of such importance, but until we start giving refs tech to work with we’re going to keep facing these issues in a game that pushes the boundaries of speed with players, but continues to hire old refs well into their late thirties and early forties. The solution is too simple and too available to work myself into a frenzy. I also believe we should rotate refs from Europe to remove the obvious localization bias that exists.

… but look, let’s not pretend we weren’t totally out maneuvered last night. Arsene Wenger, at the highest level, is dead. You know this, I know this, we all know this. Yesterday, we were out thought and fought by a team missing its core. Pep, and let’s be fair here, Arteta, saw us coming a million miles off. We offered nothing.

Firstly, the chickens came home to roost with our team selection. Arsene Wenger’s cut and paste team sheet ran out of steam hard. The manager firstly reverted to a Leicester City game plan, you sense not because of tactical reasons, but because the players didn’t have the energy to hit city with an aggressive press. We were embarrassingly dominated in the first half, but you sensed it might have been built that way with the hope of a fast counter. I mean, it looked good when Theo latched onto Sanchez’ reverse pass and slotted home after 4mins. However, as the City pass number racked up to absurd levels, you started to worry we were just not at the races.

We couldn’t pass our way out of their press, it looked planned, allow us to lose the ball in midfield, then release Sterling or Sane to beast our shapeless back line. The second half saw us pay the penalty, Sane picked up the remnants of a poor Petr Cech hoof, he ghosted through our defense and brushed his shot low into the corner. The second came from a KDB cross that Silva swiped at before Sterling rattled home near post. Completely interfering with play and very upsetting the officials missed it, but that’s football.

From there, we had nothing. The tank was empty. Our players were all dying. There was a visible lack of fight and leadership. We should have taken that early lead and pushed hard for a second and a third. Instead, we gave up and prayed we could hold on.

We have to admit that there’s a problem with Ozil, his level of interest in yesterday was low even for him. He is a half season player who at best has a fitness problem, at worse has an attitude problem. He’s been appalling two games in a row when we needed him to step up.

Coquelin once again showed that he’s totally not built for the highest level, he has no ability on the ball under pressure and he’s a real weakness in a midfield Wenger can’t leave him out of. Running about like a headless chicken doesn’t win you league titles these days. When the tactics of the opposition are geared around your players losing the ball under pressure, you have a serious issue.

Most of my irk goes the way of Wenger. For him to take a full side to Basel was negligent and stupid. For him not to rotate across Stoke or Everton was beyond the pale, but ever so predictable and we ran out of gas when it mattered. The Premier League requires a different level of fitness. Arsene Wenger can’t fathom it. The worst thing is he still doesn’t understand it when he has a squad to help. Why isn’t Perez playing games? Why isn’t Giroud being rotated in? Why is Rambo on the shitlist? These guys don’t get game time until Wenger destroys our star names or the team looks so heavy legged he has to. It’s not smart, and if I can call these problems, why can’t Wenger?

City were there for the taking. Wenger had a better squad of players. Pep out thought him and his team out fought Arsenal. We didn’t have a plan capable of taking down a weakened City. We lost major ground in the title race in the same way we always do. Underprepared and out strategized. It’s amazing to say that after berating Wenger for so many years for asking us to think big picture. But his biggest flaw is he doesn’t think strategically.

We don’t have a plan for fitness management. We don’t have a plan for managing players psychologically, and I don’t mean bringing in someone to talk about feelings, I mean managing player game time so they feel included. We also don’t have a plan for dealing with big teams. We don’t predict their style and counter it. We also don’t think about our squad. Ozil is good for half a season, we should have worked that out by now. Santi Cazorla was always going to get injured, we should have worked that out. Coquelin is no where near the level we need for that position in our system, why hasn’t Wenger solved for that? Why do Arsenal have a keeper who hoofs the ball? Only 20 out of his 43 passes found a man, that is unforgivable. How can a team built for style be out passed by over 200? The top 7 passers yesterday were City players! Coquelin only made 15 passes out 26 attempts. Absolute poverty.

No planning. This is the upshot. Bland on toast and a fight with Spurs for 4th. Very depressing. Pray to god Wenger hasn’t signed another deal because he needs to leave and let the club give a shot to a modern visionary who can reinvent the club, turf out the mercenary dross we’ve accumulated and bring back some pride.

Arsenal’s first major pressure test and why cards are stacked positively 

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Today is a tipping point and we’re only in December. Lose to Manchester City and we hand momentum to Pep and Chelsea in a title race that already feels heavily advantageous to the Blues. Win and Wenger will have a proper title challenge on his hands, we can look at the Everton game as a blip and we can start thinking about how many points we can rack up in the remainder of the festive period.
So what do we know about City? ‘All the minutes man’ Fernandinho is not playing because of a suspension he picked up against Cesc, they have no Gundogan to pull strings and they have no Kun Aguerro. That’s a gift right there, it’s not as if they don’t have great players to step in, but the core is interrupted, especially in midfield.

We also know that City have only kept two clean sheets in 15. One against Watford in their last game which was perfect timing for us. John Stones has looked anything but a £50m defender this season and we know he can be rattled by an agressive press, or just being asked to make a simple pass. We also know Claudio Bravo is super suspect. His positioning has been consistently poor this season, he’s poor from crosses and it seems to get worse by the week as he struggles for confidence.

The key for me today is aggressively attacking them where their moves start at the back. Spurs had a great time employing that tactic. I also think we can damage them on the counter, they are such a mess at the moment. This was a great summation of City under Pep from Paul Doyle of The Guardian.

‘City could not cope with Leicester’s energy and directness and at times seemed confused by their own highfalutin scheming, with Pablo Zabaleta’s wandering role a particular puzzle. It is not anti-intellectual to suggest they were trying to recite poetry before showing they had learned their ABC.’

I don’t think City will be confused forever this season, so this is a major opp to do damage while they’re licking their wounded brains. But, as is a familiar pattern, when we’re called upon to fight, we’re always found wanting. This is a pressure game, the sort that will define our season. We already collapsed at Everton, when we should have taken a draw. Can Wenger summon something special, or will we be talking handbrakes and fatigue post game?

Who knows… but it’s going to be exciting whatever happens.

Buckle in and we’ll talk tomorrow!

P.S ok, so I was wrong about Ibrahimovic. But not wrong that we didn’t need him. We have Sanchez and a far more mobile set up because of it.