Hello darkness my old friend, its Alex here after a looooooong hiatus to report on the abomination that was Arsenal’s performance at Old Trafford.
I wish we were meeting under more felicitous circumstances, I really do. However this is a season where mediocrity has been the benchmark and Arsenal are struggling to even be consistently mediocre. The only thing that does appear to be consistent is our unnerving ability to blunder our way to fourth.
Why does this keep happening? The players are different, the tactics are different, the backroom team is different, the transfer budget is different, the opponents are different, their managers, kits, medical teams, all different. However the results remain the same. The one constant is Arsene Wenger. A good manager, perhaps. A true servant to Arsenal Football Club, undoubtedly yes. The man to put Arsenal where they belong, at the pinnacle of English and world football, NO.
In isolation this match would be an embarrassment but it’s symptomatic of a failure to perform on the big occasions which has meant Arsenal has not really been dining with the big boys since 2004. This result was in many ways worse than the 8-2. That day we fielded a team of youngsters and ne’er-do-wells in what was essentially a damage limitation exercise (brought about nonetheless by Arsene’s lack of planning).
Yesterday was different. United were the ones fielding a squad of assistant burger flippers and chimney sweeps. I swear by the end they were bringing on kids who’d just resat their 11 plus. Throw into the mix fraudulent show ponies like Memphis Depay, an ageing Carrick being played out of position, two fullbacks who hadn’t played for months and a complete fruit loop of a manager, this team deserved a spanking.
It’s almost impossible that a team of professionals; World Cup, Champions League and league winners could contrive to lose to that Motley crew. Almost but not quite. Not when you’re Arsenal.
The first five minutes were alright. United looked like they were due a hiding, we had most of the ball and created a nice chance through Monreal who should have been more clinical.
But then it became apparent that something was wrong. United were pressing us high and our midfield, Coquelin and the absolutely woeful Aaron Ramsey, went missing. More often than not our back four were bringing the ball out and struggling to find an outlet. Usually having Giroud up front would give us an alternative, however Walcott was having one of those days (you know the ones where he is in a state of quantum superposition and you’re not really sure if he exists).
We started to get jittery, LIKE WE ALWAYS DO WHEN OUR OPPONENTS REFUSE TO ROLL OVER FOR US, and that’s when the bullshit started.
I questioned the decision to drop Mertesacker for Gabriel. Sure Merts had a mare against Barca and was at fault for both goals, but Gabriel still looks a little green and plays like he is wearing rollerskates. Sure enough after about 12 minutes he got skinned by Roy of the Rovers and was lucky not to concede a penalty. It was shocking play from him, his body positioning was all wrong and he got turned inside out by a child with zero Premier League minutes. He should have been subbed for that alone.
Walcott briefly appeared to try and dribble the ball out of the danger area. Unfortunately he was only able to run in a straight line and was quickly dispossessed. United broke forward before Arsenal could reset themselves (that’s why you shouldn’t get dispossessed in danger areas Theo). Their fullback whipped in an excellent cross which Koscielny missed and Gabriel jabbed at like it was a dead beagle. The ball fell for Captain Marvel who smashed it home. Awful anticipation from Gabriel.
Their second came a few minutes later. Lingard moseyed inside and Herarra’s ball over the top was too much for Alexis (another player guilty of breath-taking shittiness) to track. The floated cross landed bang in the middle of the six yard box, in between our two centrebacks and onto the head of the Boy Wonder. I’m blaming Gabriel for this one to. He could see Rashford in front of him, and his anticipation was way, way too slow.
Their third was another example of shambolic defending. We had six players back versus their three and still got taken apart. Here’s a tip, rather than standing in a straight line in the penalty area, Coquelin (or even Ramsey if you feel like it): TRACK THE RUNNER.
I’m not going to focus on our goals as they don’t warrant analysis, other than to say there was a noticeable lack of response from the players following both. The players reacted as if Ozil’s goal was a consolation after a 10-1 shellacking, not a crucial turning point in the game. Can you imagine any team other than one managed by Arsene Wenger chasing their first league title in 12 years reacting so nonchalantly to this goal? I’ve played in pub darts teams with more desire to win.
The game ended with United showboating. Actual 18 year old debutants doing step-overs and flicks to piss away the last five minutes. That is how little threat we posed, that is how little respect they had for our team. Champions? Not fucking likely.
So what are the talking points? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
Wore the captain’s armband but needs to start acting like a captain. That doesn’t mean just playing ace, it means sorting out your team mates when they have taken leave of their senses, organising the defence and showing some #pashun when the rest of the team are losing their heads.
There is a good player in there somewhere but this has been a season to forget for him. He should be starting behind Mertesacker and even Big Cal at the moment. He needs extra coaching on his positioning because it’s usually wrong and he is relying on his pace to bail him out. Have you noticed that he’s almost always falling over at the critical time? He is the very definition of “last-ditch”.
What is going on with this guy? Does he even know what his role is in the team, does he get instructions from Wenger? I’m pretty sure Ozil is the guy with the free role, Aaron, so stop dicking around in the penalty area and sort out your positioning. United pressed high today and both he and Coquelin were unable to play around it. Dare I say it but did we miss Santi Cazorla?
Possibly his worst ever Arsenal performance. Theo seriously needs to think about what he wants from his career, does he want to coast for the next 8 years like he has the last 10? His best season for us was 10/11 when he played out wide feeding Van Persie. That season he would hang off the full back’s shoulder, carry the ball to the byline and whip in crosses for RVP to finish. I’d suggest he reverts back to that role as its not working for him at number 9.
Another one in the category of WTAF. This guy has been playing like a bucket of cold sick for months. I know he’s one of our superstars but he needs to be dropped. Like Ramsey, he is desperate to score and holds onto the ball for too long. He needs to drop this Roy of the Rovers nonsense and focus on the basics. In the meantime, why can’t Campbell fill in?
I’d love us to win the league and there is still a possibility from this position. But if it is to happen it would require a complete reversal of the form we have shown over the last two months. Let’s be honest, Leicester are playing like Champions. Tottenham are playing like Champions. We got lucky in the Leicester game and haven’t looked confident or clinical for a long time. I would put that down to the mentality of the players but we know these guys are winners. Alexis, Ozil, Welbeck, Mertesacker, Giroud have all won major honours. Why are they looking lost now?
There is something psychological going on, “bottling it” is actually a thing and it is what Arsenal are doing right now. We either start games complacently or we panic when the game plan doesn’t work. We’ve been finishing seasons like this for 12 years now and it’s not getting any better.
However, more concerning than even this, we are not playing like a team. We are not playing well as a defensive unit or as an offensive unit. There is no link up between our defence and midfield or our midfield and attack. There are no successful partnerships on the pitch and there is no one to take the game by the scruff of the neck when needed. Ozil is the closest thing we have to this but even Mozart is going to struggle to make beautiful music with a cow bell.
Which brings me on to the manager and his consistent inability to resolve these issues. I alluded to this at the start of the post and it is a drum I have been banging for so long my arm has fallen off. He is the cause of (and unfortunately for now) the solution to all of Arsenal’s problems. That performance was so bad in every respect, coming at such a decisive time in the season, how can it be tolerated by a club with serious aspirations of winning the title? Will the necessary pressure be put on him to re-evaluate his methods?
His substitutions against Barca were insane and I’m not sure of the value of bringing on Iwobi over Campbell in this game. However it’s the lack of motivation for the team and ability to change things when the chips are down that are his real Achilles heel. His post-match comments were petulant but reveal what is at the heart of the problem with Arsene Wenger.
“They spent a lot of money” the long standing refrain that has been his emotional and professional security blanket for ten years looks threadbare now he has two players in his team who cost upwards of £70 million combined. This is not a time for excuses, it’s time for him to reflect on his own performance and consider if it has been good enough.
The bar has been set considerably lower this year and yet, somehow, Arsene Wenger’s team still look set to hang their caps several pegs below it. That in itself should be enough for him to reflect on.
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