Hard to know where to take this post and I’ve polled opinion of friends to make sure I don’t go overboard. I think Arsenal fans are in the brace position, you’re in the car with granddad post Christmas, he’s been drinking and he’s just asked you to hold his beer as he attempts to drive in the ice. You kind of know where this is going, but you can’t be sure…
Will the weekend be the thud into the neighbours wall? Or will it be the tonic to a 2 game spree of which 3 points would be a pretty healthy return?
I don’t have time for a full-blown dissection, but some points that are worth bringing up here.
Top Teams Away
That was our second game away from home against a top half of the table team. The first we went to a dejected United and made them look like a cohesive modern team that could win things. Yesterday, we went to an Everton side that were; if not for the opening part of the season, been classified as ‘IN CRISIS’, we went there in incredible form and managed to lose to a team that had recorded 1 win in 10. That’s not good news. Once again, we’re the season page turner for a team playing badly.
Is our early season form a lie? Or more to the point, par the course because we were playing poor teams? Big question that’ll be answered this weekend when we’ll either wither and die at City, or we’ll blossom and everyone will be waving ‘SIGN DA TING’ Wenger flag.
Ok, ok, you knew I couldn’t resist mentioning this, but Arsene Wenger is not the master of keeping his players fresh for the vital games. He blew a huge opportunity to leave his star names at home last week for Basel. Instead he sent them to tank a shite team to go for an overly vicious win. Sure, we topped the group, but it wasn’t worth it in the end because we drew Bayern. More to the point here, we should have been able to win that game with a second string side. Or at least a hybrid that switched out key names that have played a lot of minutes.
Ramifications are you have two plane journeys, you have your players getting home at 3am, getting a poor nights sleep and an interrupted recovery… then we played Stoke on Saturday, again, the standard first team with no rested players. Then we play an Everton side, with a backline that’s been in pieces this season, ripe for a beasting with a high energy powerful attacking display and we don’t have the energy.
Same issue will likely be present for Sunday. Players sat on a coach for 4 hours last night, get home late, go to training today and tomorrow, probably get slammed, then they have to head up on a coach again (maybe it’s a plane), and Wenger will play exactly the same side again and we’ll likely be flat.
I’ve been on Ozil’s back a little bit this season. As I pointed out, there’s been a sacrifice of his productivity this season. He’s taking more shots and creating 2.5 less chances per game. We’ve lost his main benefit for a slight increase in shots. Outside the loss of his assist game, he dropped another tepid performance in a big game. He missed some absolute sitters and watching him literally walk away from the ball for the Ashley Williams winner was unbelievable. He didn’t fancy it. Not the first time we’ve seen that.
Sure, there are arguments here that he shouldn’t be defending a corner, but look, this is a team game and you have to put a shift in at all times, regardless of how silly it is that you’re marking a beast of a centre back. This goes back to my point earlier in the week, he is a sublime talent, but that edge you need to be a dominant superstar just doesn’t seem to be there. He doesn’t have that nasty bite Bergkamp did, who is the most comparable as a ‘quiet’ player. You can say I don’t get it because I’m not enlightened by the Church of Oziltology, but look, once again, when we needed our superstar to show up, he slinked into a shallow puddle.
The difference between £180k a week £300k a week.
As I said in yesterday’s post, you can pretend things aren’t real when you’re winning. We kind of ignored the defensive fragility that’s crept into our game this season. We’ve conceded a lot of chances against some pretty average teams. Stoke and Ludogorets did well against us, factor in that we’ve not kept a clean sheet in 11 games, and well, the writing was on the wall that we’d be punished at some point. That happened yesterday when we were caught napping twice. We need to shape up for City, we don’t have the advantage of a fresh team, so battering them back with an agressive press is out of the question, so we’re going to have to hope we’re solid in the middle of the park and at the back. A tough ask when the gormless Gabriel is paired in there.
… but look, we’ve scored more goals by this point of the season, we were celebrating a deep squad just last week and there are certainly improvements to stay excited about. Let’s not throw the towel in a few days after Leicester spanked City 4-2. The league is hard, all the clubs have very good players nowadays and there are no easy games. We can still have a good season, we can still challenge, we just have to deal with this setback like adults and win back the points at the weekend.
My only worry is this is a familiar pattern and a predictable one. Running out of juice in December, not have that extra spark and not having enough tactically at the very highest level when you need it.
Let’s hope this was a blip, not a confirmation that Wenger isn’t cut out to win big trophies in a more sophisticated footballing world.
P.S. The Rams fired their coach because performance didn’t match expectations. I mean, he’s a terrible coach, but is this Stan delivering on his, ‘you know what, winning things is fun’, comment? Would be nice to know that if Wenger doesn’t perform this year, there will be a consequence of sorts. One can hope.