Well, nothing like the ‘cyclical’ start to an Arsenal season is there?
Here’s the checklist, and tell me if it reads familiar:
- Manager spends the summer in France doing squat
- A hefty transfer budget, left mostly untouched
- 1 senior signing, made early
- No striker signed
- Massive quality gaps in the squad
- Long term injuries piling up nice and early
- Our Euro players the only internationals not back in their first team
- A manager behaving like a petulant child in the press the night before aghast at fans who dare to challenge his beliefs about how to improve a squad that doesn’t win major honours
Yep, feels like the usual recipe for an all too familiar tradition of the opening day disaster.
A pretty damn average Liverpool side rolled into the Emirates yesterday to take three points against an Arsenal side the manager claimed was ‘unprepared’ for the opener.
Looking at the starting 11, it was hard to disagree. Any side that heads into the first game of the season with a Callum Chambers, who’d played about 12minutes of football last season (unconvincingly) and a Rob Holding, who wasn’t even a first-team player in League 1 this time last year, is asking for trouble.
Wenger also made additional odd decisions, like playing Francis Coquelin ahead of his hero signing Xhaka and really, Theo Walcott out on the right. Having said that, I wasn’t too fussed about Theo, he and Ox are much of a muchness (poor old Joel Campbell).
The game was fairly interesting from a tactical perspective. I’m not sure if Liverpool just didn’t show up in the first half, or Klopp decided to shock us by not pressing the hell out of us. But whatever, we generally controlled the pace of the game in the opening 45mins. The Liverpool players really struggled to play the ball out from the back and the quality of their play was questionable.
First blood went to us, but not before Theo Walcott tepidly missed a penalty he was awarded after being chunked over by Alberto. I’ve no idea why anyone let Theo step up. We all know if he has time to think, he generally chokes. His low shot to the right was telegraphed well enough for Mignolet to palm away.
He made amends minutes later when Coquelin broke up a counter attack, laid off to Iwobi who slipped him in on the right, his deft low shot clipped the inside of the far left post. Expert finish, mostly because it was instinctual.
It didn’t take long for us to fall back level. A freekick conceded about thirty yards out from a definite dive. Coutinho stepped up and rifled a near perfect effort at about 500mph into the top corner. Unstoppable. The crowd went quiet. 1-1 at half time.
I actually had to move bar because the one we were in was at melting point. By the time we arrived Adam Lallana had cooly controlled a Coutinho cross that defied the whole of our defence, he buried it past Cech from a pretty tight angle inside 50minutes, and the collapse was on.
Coutinho was back again, Clynne beat Monreal out wide, Holding didn’t read the cross, Chambers didn’t mark the space or player and allowed the Brazilian to tap in from 6 yards. Awful, awful defending.
Mané made it jokes-0-clock when he rounded the entirety of our team and buried the ball into the top corner in Ryan Giggs 1999 fashion. A lot of people said after that it was a worldy of a goal, my big issue was that sure, it was a great goal, but fuck me, that’s Saido Mané behaving like Messi, tell me another top club that would allow that sort of run without lumping him over? Also, for the record, if you’re struggling for a striker because there are few available, sometimes you have to take a punt… appreciate we were pretty awful at the back at times, but you can’t argue that Mainé has pace and perseverance that is going to cause problems for teams this season.
The game wasn’t dead, well, it was, but we had to save face and make it a glorious failure. Alex Oxlade (Iwobi, injured) came on with Cazorla (Ramsey, again). The Englishman made an impact inside 5 minutes, he broke from out wide, burst through two defenders and buried his shot inside the near post. A great goal and a promising contribution from a guy who should be making things like that happen on the regular.
We kept the result super tantalising, our little Spaniard delivered a delightful ball into the box, Callum Chambers delicately nodded inside the far post.
Could it, possibly? No. We did so well to score those two days, but we kind of ran out of ideas and juice.
The game finished, the fans booed, Arsene Wenger apparently took a bucket load of stick from people running down from the upper reaches of the lower tier. Deservedly so.
So what do we think?
No doubt about it, Arsene Wenger absolutely deserved the result and he absolutely deserved the tirade from the fans in the ground. I was told by a few people that the atmosphere was the worst they’ve ever experienced at the ground, which is quite something considering it was the opening game of the season.
Question I have, is why would Wenger put himself and more importantly, the team, into such a shitty situation?
We knew this sort of result could have been on the cards. Worst thing is, that wasn’t even vintage Klopp there and that really isn’t a good side he’s building. I’d be shocked if they made top 4.
Our manager lined up with two children at centre back. It’s an outrageous oversight from the manager. The problem dates back further than this summer. Wenger should have been looking at his defence 2 seasons ago and planned how he was going to transition Koscielny and Mertesacker out the side. Chambers should have been out on loan last season. Wenger should have made a decision on replacing Per in January when it was clear performance levels were dropping and injuries were creeping in. He should have made a decision that maybe Gabriel wasn’t the player he’d hoped as well.
Chambers should have been out on loan last season. Wenger should have made a decision on replacing Per in January when it was clear performance levels were dropping and injuries were creeping in. He should have made a decision that maybe Gabriel wasn’t the player he’d hoped as well. He also should maybe have asked himself why our Euro players are the only internationals not in their clubs starting elevens this weekend?
Anyway, when the two injuries set in for Per and Gabriel, he should have gone hard for two senior defenders. I mean, let’s be honest, I highly doubt Mustafi was on the radar before the summer started, because if he was, we’d have tied the deal up in May (because Valencia are broke). If the Mustafi deal couldn’t drop, we should have gone hard for Jonny Evans. Whoever we signed, it should have been an adult and it should have been done far quicker than it was.
Now we’re going into negotiations with clubs with zero leverage. In fact, worse than zero leverage, complete desperation. Not because we’ve had some bad luck, but because Wenger is a terrible strategist.
All of this centre back nonsense has completely taken attention away from another glaring issue… the striker. Sanchez looked well off the boil yesterday, I was struggling to work out whether it was bad service, fatigue or he’s just not right for that role. Theo showed late on he’s really not fit to be a striker when he fell over the ball in a good position. Chuba Akpom couldn’t deliver on loan at Hull, so he’s got no chance in our first team. Then we have Giroud, who is a year old and closer to the magic thirty number. He’s also not top class, that is not going to change, regardless of Wenger’s cyclical dreams.
How has Wenger still not bought someone? If we can’t sign a hero striker, sign someone for the future. We really can’t be heading into the season, yet again, not doing what is right for the team?
But we all know why, right? Wenger knows if he spends all the cash and delivers nothing, he’ll lose his job. But playing this stupid game he plays every summer, then making top four, he preserves himself. It’s all about him, it’s a totally selfish move. Because look, there’s literally no excuse now. If Wenger wanted to spend £150m, and he justified it to Ivan and Stan. You think they’d say no? If Wenger wanted John Stones, you think the club would say no? If Wenger wanted to pay Mikki £200k, you think the board would say no?
Don’t be daft.
The board understand the realities of modern football. Not only does cash in the bank depreciate every summer, it also stifles our brand globally. I know people hate the idea that we’re a brand, but look, the Premier League brand is what puts the dollars in the kitty. We are a global club and we need to appeal to global fans.
You can do that by winning things, and you can also do that by making superstar signings. Wenger does neither of those and that will have a direct impact on shirt sales, it’ll weaken our ability to negotiate mega sponsorship deals and it’ll make it far easier for clubs like Chelsea, City and United to steal new fans off us.
But outside that, the most important thing is not signing players does affect our performance. Not signing players does affect the vibrancy of the camp. Not signing players does affect the atmosphere in the ground. These things are all linked together and they all affect performance.
The sad thing is, we aren’t close to being world beaters and that goes beyond simply players. The whole set-up is built for ‘ok’, because the attitude of the manager to winning is so clearly not there. We’re not going to win the league. We’re nowhere near being Champions League contenders. It’s almost better that these poor results happen now, and fans show Wenger their dissatisfaction for the things that he’s so clearly ignoring to suit his own agenda, because that way, maybe the new deal will be taken off the table. Because look, Wenger is so off the boil these days, he can’t even attract players like Jamie Vardy… end of days stuff right? That’s before you consider his tactical ineptitude, his lack of strategic thinking, his dead footballing philosophy and his general antipathy for the fanbase… and don’t even get me started on the two injuries we picked up inside 60minutes and the bleating about how unfair the Euros have been to him (Iwobi didn’t even go).
This season, Wenger will be afforded no nostalgia pass. He surely can’t survive continued onslaught of criticism. He surely won’t be shameful enough to put pen to paper if he knows the fanbase don’t respect his vision?
I hope so anyway. Wenger isn’t the right man for Arsenal, he hasn’t been for years, it’s only now the strawmen arguments he hid behind are dead that it’s coming to light. He’s brought all this on himself. Today was just another predictable example of why we need to finish his tenure this season and let someone new takeover.
A bad start to the season, but one that most knew was coming. Well, most, bar the most important man, the manager.
Onwards and upwards…
P.S. Did you hear Thierry giving his true opinions now he doesn’t need something from Wenger?