Kind of feel a little bit like a Democrat squealing about the Electorial College and the popular vote here, but please, can someone not agree that wiping out goal difference in the group stages is one of the most pointless amendments to the Champions League rules in a long time?
If we score more goals over the course of a bunch of very boring games no one cares for, we should be rewarded for making the dullest part of the competition more interesting. Not ruined because of our away goal record. Utterly deflating.
Our 2-2 draw with PSG wasn’t a pretty sight. It was another dismal display against a much more impressive PSG side. Wenger set up with Aaron Ramsey next to Coquelin, which wasn’t as defensive / functional as I thought he’d go, but the midfield certainly didn’t sing and our ability to link defence with midfield and midfield with attack was incoherent at times.
Wenger also dithered with his front three. Instead of resting Sanchez, he played him out wide, flanking Olivier Giroud. I really think Wenger needs to make a decision on the Chilean and stick with it. He shouldn’t be rotating him around the squad, especially when it’s clear he looks kind of flat at the moment. If he’s a striker, let him be a striker and rotate him with Giroud.
The game didn’t really offer much in attack from either side, it’d be hard to say that Cavani wasn’t the more lively of strikers, he missed a bunch of sitters again, once again proving that he’s not the full ticket at the highest level. I think in total last night, from 4 goals, there was one shot on target in open play.
We conceded the first goal when Matuidi was slipped in with a pretty straight forward, if not perfectly weight through ball from midfield, the Frenchman ran in behind Mustafi who failed with his offside call, the ball was cut across the box and Cavani crashed home from 2 yards.
Arsenal pulled the game back as they sparked back into life. Mesut Ozil played an outrageous reverse pass into the feet of Sanchez, the Chilean cut the ball back and allowed his ankle to be grazed by the lightest of touches. A soft penalty call from the ref. Giroud converted the opportunity sending the keeper the wrong way. That beard paying dividends.
The second half we livened up. Our initial 15 minutes were promising. Ramsey had switched up with Coquelin, the Welshman told to receive the ball from deep because, well, Coquelin runs scared. The play started opening up and we looked to have a bit of persistence about our press and a bit of aggression about our attacking play. That paid off with a calamity own goal that went Ramsey strike, through two PSG players and back in off Veratti. That Italian exPrison Break lead looked mighty embarrassed.
We had our own bit of embarrassment waiting. Jenkinson caught in no man’s land at the back post, Moura, 5ft8 headed at our back post without even jumping, Iwobi flat-footed nodded the ball in, Ospina too close to do anything about it.
2-2. But hey, I’m sitting there like an ignorant muppet with my ignorant pals… all reading Republican false news stories about what the f*ck goal difference was in the CL. The game winds out… and we look at the table, and we’re 2nd, facing the same fate we face every season these days… a nightmare match up against Barcelona in the next round!
So, who could we play? (second place team in brackets)
Leicester ( Porto)
A pretty beastly set of teams there. I mean, Monaco would be nice, but we’ve been tanked by them before and they’re playing some expansive football this year. Dortmund, Barca, Atletico or Juve would be peak disaster for Wenger because he simply wouldn’t have an answer. Napoli would be a sizeable task but one I think we could deal with.
What a nightmare. We didn’t do enough by CL rule, but by any other measurement in normal football we would have. So frustrating.
Wenger still won’t get over his love for the Coq. There was one point yesterday where Ospina was deep in his penalty box, he had nothing to his left or right and through the middle of the park, neither Ramsey nor Coquelin were present to receive the ball so it resulted in a hoof. A club like Arsenal should have players ready to receive the ball from deep. City have centre backs sprinting the byline to receive the ball to play it out, we have two midfielders doing god knows what. It’s really poor coaching, but let’s be fair here, it’s also because Coquelin isn’t comfortable receiving the ball there.
We also had a problem from midfield breaking through PSG. They pressed us fairly agressively, well, I mean, they pressed us and we didn’t have an answer. I think in games like that, when you know it’s going to be tough, you need your ball players on hand. Santi would have been great, but he’s out. So go to Xhaka and Ramsey.
Also, for all the mad critiques of Ramsey, he had a pretty powerful game. He took a while to get into it, but when he did, I thought he did way better than the stream of criticism he was getting. He made the 3rd most passes of the night on 59, Ozil made 43 with Coquelin on 38. He had 3 successful take ons, 3 times the nearest rival. He made 12 ball recoveries, the most of the night. He made 5 tackles, attempting 9. He made 2 interceptions, joint top with Sanchez. He also made 3 fouls, because he’s a LAD.
Our most influential player of the evening. Combative, contributed in attack and defence, the only thing he lacked was creativity, which usually falls on Mesut…
I think we’ve seen enough stuttering performances this season to start worrying that this is about our level. We haven’t had a good game against a decent team since, what, Chelsea? Wenger doesn’t seem to be able to strike the balance between defensive caution and attacking flair. Again, as has been the case all season, we created very little moving forward, yet were rewarded with two goals of 1 shot on target. Mesut was pretty quiet again, not really dictating play like he was last year.
So what’s the problem here? Does Wenger need to go back to basics and work out how he brought the best out of Ozil in the first half of the season? Does he need to have an honest conversation about what we lose and gain with a Coquelin? Does he need to have a word with Xhaka? What’s going on there? The solution appears to be sitting on the bench? Wenger had an excuse that is pretty convincing.
“Sometimes you go through spells when you win a bit less.”
We’re going to go one of two ways now… the flat performances are going to perk up and we’re going to see a reaction, or we’re going to lose to Bournemouth and see a midseason capitulation.
My worry is Wenger sees what we’re seeing and he doesn’t know what to do. He’ll also be aware we’re 18 games unbeaten, and that we usually react badly to a loss after such a stretch. My second worry is he’s running out of options to change things. Ozil and Sanchez do not look fresh now. My third worry is we have beastly games coming thick and fast in December.
Not a great evening. We’re in December, we’re worse off in the league than we were last year, and we’re in the same position we were in the Champions League.
Progress feels like stasis. Stasis is not going to take us to the promised land. Time for Wenger to get creative and show us he has the right to be running our club for the next 3 years. Because on face value, it looks like he’s proving once again he can’t cut it.