Morning all, Alex here.
What’s that on the horizon? Is it Arsenal’s annual November collapsathon? But for the 88th minute bullet header of a surly Frenchman, you’d have thought so.
We have been playing very, very well of late. The results and the performances of the team are testament to that. In fact we’ve been playing so well that even the most cynical of Arsenal supporters (i.e. me) are starting to believe that this year could be different.
But at the back of your mind is the knowledge, learnt through years of bitter experience, that Arsenal are always two flaps of the butterfly wing away from turning in a banter performance, which can quickly degenerate into a banter run of games and, if not checked, end in a vintage banter season.
Maybe we shouldn’t read too much into the tea leaves at this stage. This is one game, which we drew. United, are a team with great (expensive) players. Mourinho, as much as it pains me to say it, is still a great manager. And we were playing at one of the toughest away grounds in the league where the pitch is 7 miles wide and the grass is made of tarmac or something.
However, bar one moment of magic from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Giroud, that performance was insipid. From the initial team selection to our passing, to the way we pressed the ball. The whole thing was just a bit Brexit.
Specifically there are a few things that worry me:
Wenger STILL doesn’t know how to beat a Mourinho team
And it looks like he doesn’t really want to try. Mourinho set his team up the same way he has against Arsenal for the last gazillion times he has faced them because he knows our manager will never, ever change his plans. As good as our players are, it was painfully obvious that United had a plan to control them: camp around the penalty area then hit on the counter. Poorer managers than ours, with worse players at their disposal, have come up with ways to beat Mourinho’s United (or at least give them a run for their money). More than anything, it’s got to be disappointing for Arsene Wenger personally that he’s never been able to defeat the gloating little turd.
Midfield bra, seriously?
Aaron Ramsey on the left? No, no, no, no, no, no. But he provides defensive cover… except he doesn’t. Monreal got beasted all day by Valencia (who should have had a penalty) and Ramsey, one of our best players, had zero impact on the game.
Instead it was left to two defensive midfielders, Coquelin and Elneny, to try and build play from the back, which neither could do because that’s not their game. Elneny, who is a great player, was awful yesterday and should have come off at half time. Between the two of them they were completely overrun by Pogba, Mata and Anders Herrara who, incidentally, joins the legions of diving, cheating United players that you despise with every fibre of your being. In short, this game was crying out for Granit Xhaka in the middle, or Aaron Ramsey, or both. The manager’s aversion to this midfield combination remains one of the great mysteries of the 21st century.
Which leads on to another favourite topic. Arsene made two great substitutions that saved us a point. But how he could have watched that performance and not wanted to change anything before 70 minutes is very worrying. Stubbornness in the face of incontrovertible evidence has been a hallmark of our manager for the last decade, and one of his greatest failings. It was clear yesterday the selection he had started with was not working. We were completely overrun at the start of the second half and their goal, when it came, felt inevitable. If the Arsenal-supporting world and its dog could see it coming, why couldn’t the one man who can actually make a difference?
Fatigue, mental block, handbrake yada yada yada
After the game the manager said: “Maybe it’s the mental block here because for a while it didn’t go well for us. Was it a bit of fatigue after the international break? I don’t know.”
How many times have we heard this over the years? Some intangible, unidentifiable blockade that makes our players’ legs turn to jelly and their brains turn to hot Bovril. He’s right though. We looked knackered; even Mesut Ozil who has just had two weeks off. And we looked scared, like we didn’t want to be there, which isn’t really good enough for a game against our fiercest rivals.
I don’t really subscribe to the ‘pashun’ hypothesis – the idea that the team which shows the most will automatically win the game, otherwise Stoke City would be champions every year. But I do subscribe to the idea of not playing football like you’ve just walked in on your best friend snogging your mum: scared, confused and a bit sick.
Unfortunately, along with 70 minute substitutions, mental blocks in big games is something we are likely to be stuck with until the manger changes. Let’s just hope when that happens, we never hear of that cursed handbrake again.
Finally, big props to Olivier Giroud for producing something MAGIK from the bench again. I’ve always loved the man and wanted him as a Plan B in tough games. It seems he isn’t happy with the role but no one’s going to care about his feelings and stuff if he keeps scoring.
Anyway that’s yer lot from me. Roll on PSG. Have a nice Sunday!