Today’s match report won’t be penned by me, I’m handing over to James Willson, friend of the blog. I’ll be back tomorrow with something really balanced.
If ever there was a performance that served as a microcosm for the post-Highbury years under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, yesterday was it.
Early spells of complete comfort and domination, a flurry of missed chances followed by the inevitable sucker-punch from our opponents.
Pre-game, the feeling appeared to be that this was one we could – and should – win; a feeling that was enhanced by the United line-up, with a midfield containing Fellaini and Carrick holding in midfield and a defence that on paper at least appeared as water-tight as a sieve. From their line-up it was clear their intention was to cede possession and soak up pressure from Arsenal, with the hope to hit us on the break at pace.
United’s set-up handed the impetus to Arsenal, with the game entering a familiar pattern of intricate passing from the home-team and complete dominance of territory and possession. One of the accusations often levelled at Arsenal is their inability to create chances in spite of their domination, however the early signs were promising as a flurry of good chances were made and subsequently spurned.
The most gilt-edged of these fell to Jack Wilshire who found himself with the freedom of the United box but dallied for what seemed an eternity before tamely hitting the ball straight at De Gea. At this level that kind of miss is frankly unacceptable and is indicative of a talented player who really should produce more end product. Yesterday was his 110th game in the Premier League for the club. Despite playing a large chunk of those games in an advanced position, his return reads 6 goals and 12 assists, equating to a goal every 18 games – a paltry figure for a player of his ability.
Speaking of Wilshere, he was involved in an altercation with Marouane Fellaini, where he clearly drove his head into the Screech from Saved by the Bell’s chest. I love that Jack has a real fire in his belly and many top players have an edge to their game. However, those players often have an intelligence and controlled aggression that has so far evaded our Jack. It was a moment of madness that a better referee than Mike Dean would have likely given him his marching orders for. The incident killed our momentum and signalled an end to the period of domination and threat we had enjoyed in the opening exchanges.
Manchester United’s threat was minimal, with Chesney having as quieter a first half as he’ll have had in his Arsenal career; exemplified by van Persie having a grand total of 12 touches during the whole game, 3 of which were corners. Despite the lack of bite from United, I never felt comfortable, with painful memories of wasted opportunities still fresh in the mind. The talk at halftime was centred on whether we would once again be punished for our profligacy in front of goal?
Was it ever in doubt? That all-too familiar sinking feeling came early in the second half as a result of pure keystone cops stuff from our defence and goalkeeper. It was such an ‘Arsenal’ goal to concede as well – a decent delivery from Ashley Young into our box caused mayhem, with no communication between our keeper and Gibbs as they collided. The ball fell out to Valencia who hopefully whacked the ball across the box and with the shot going well wide and the grounded Gibbs flicked a leg at the ball, guiding it passed the hapless Szczesny. Whilst Gibbs will be credited with the own-goal, much of the blame should be apportioned to our keeper, who needs to raise his game. He failed to communicate with his defender to claim the cross and was too weak in his attempts to hold onto the ball. The difference between Szczesny and De Gea was depressingly marked, with De Gea giving a goalkeeping master class. A few seasons ago you could separate the two with cigarette paper, but sadly one has made great leaps whilst our man has worryingly regressed.
Their second goal was as predictable as it was irritating. We took off Ramsey, who was poor again, for Giroud to try and salvage a goal, but we barely threatened aside from a decent Alexis header that De Gea held onto comfortably. With 5 minutes remaining we lost the ball outside the United box and the end-result was never in doubt. United countered at speed with Di Maria and Rooney faced by the lone figure of Monreal in our defence. Di Maria slipped Shrek through who dinked it over Emi Martinez.
Whilst the goal will bring back recent memories of the Anderlecht game, we have seen this goal countless times at the Emirates. The naivety of an experienced player like Mertesaker, to be caught so far up the pitch is mind-boggling and the players should take a portion of the responsibility for it. However the same thing happens over and over again, yet our £8million a year manager’s only repost is “I don’t know why we had nobody at the back at all, you could see straight away we would be punished.” What a damning indictment of our manager’s inability to remedy ongoing failings on the pitch. Wenger’s attempts to palm the blame over to the players just isn’t good enough – he needs to accept that these players lack the in-game management of our former stars and need a greater level of instruction.
Just to prolong the agony, Giroud scored a belter with a few minutes to go, but we never looked like getting the equalizer. Most of the home fans missed Giroud’s goal as there was a mass-exodus upon United’s second. There was no vociferous cries of protest, no booing, no anger – just apathy.
And that’s where we are with this side. It’s all become so painfully predictable with the same old problems rearing their ugly head over and over again and the saddest thing is, nothing will change. Pete has written at length on this blog about the lack of accountability at the club and the culture of indifference towards mediocrity.
Whilst this is conjecture, a logical process of deduction gives a clear message that Wenger does not get pulled up by anyone at the club for his failings. Each season there are systemic problems, which have become endemic – the gargantuan injury list, a porous defence, the failure to address our weaknesses in the transfer market and our appalling record against the top sides. Sadly, change will only be catalyzed by a change of manager.
Personally, I find it depressing that the most hotly debated subject at the club is the future of the manager. The fact that Wenger has polarized the fan-base to such an extent is telling in itself. Equally depressing is that those who dare criticize Wenger are often labeled as “bad fans” amongst other more unsavory things. Clearly this is anecdotal, but I haven’t met an Arsenal fan who wants a change of manager that has any agenda, other than wanting what they think is best for Arsenal. Furthermore, a desire to see a new manager isn’t necessarily a slur on Wenger, nor is it a personal slight on him.
Frankly, I want what’s best for Arsenal. If that’s with Wenger, I’d be delighted, but I do not believe we can’t do better. Simply put, Wenger isn’t getting anything like as much from this squad as he should be and the evidence is there for all to see. Arsenal have won only 33% of their premier league games this season, which is below the average of 35%. To be below the mean average in the league for wins with a squad as talented as ours is embarrassing. People harp on about other clubs having difficult seasons as if that somehow mitigates our poor start. I couldn’t care less about the travails of Liverpool or Manchester City. Arsenal could, and should, be doing so much better than they are and the blame lies firmly with one man.
The excellent @BeardedGenius tweeted yesterday about “Arsenal being Arsenal” – a fair point, but perhaps it would be more apt to say this was “Arsene being Arsene”. The ongoing and repetitive failings at the club are not an “Arsenal” problem that runs throughout the fabric of the club. They are problems that are intrinsically linked to Wenger – he has, and always has had, all of the power at the club and the shortcomings that continue to repeat themselves should be a reflection on him.
A new manager may or may not bring success, however you can be certain that our long-standing problems would be eradicated by someone with new ideas and a fresh pair of eyes. Sometimes change is better than nothing and in all honesty, what do we have to lose?
I refute the warnings from those who took a cursory look at the difficulties United had after losing Ferguson as a justification for not seeking change ourselves. They had just won the league and lost arguably the greatest manager in the league’s history. League champions, we most certainly are not. The only thing at stake is our Champions League status. I may be in the minority regarding this point, but the Champions League isn’t the golden egg to me, as many would have you believe. Clearly there are financial implications, but if our manager won’t spend the accrued revenue anyway, what is it for? Some tepid group matches, followed by a spanking from one of Europe’s elite. If that’s all we risk by seeking a new manager, then it’s a risk I would be willing to take.
Wenger deserves respect for what he has achieved and the transformation he oversaw at Arsenal. His legacy – the Emirates Stadium – will stand for many years as testament to his achievements. However, football is never static and as Wenger himself has said “Arsenal can never stand still”. Unfortunately, we have reached a painful point of stasis and I can’t see it changing.
Until a change in the manager’s approach, or in the management personnel, comes about, I’m afraid our seasons will continue to be nothing other than a foregone conclusion.
Until next time.
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