A cold hard slap to the chops. A spanked backside. A welcome to the real reality of what it is to be an Arsenal fan under the current Arsene Wenger led regime.
Arsenal lost 1-0 to a Spurs side that bested them in every department. It was a 1-0 hammering. We were lucky to come out of it feeling only slightly humiliated. The truth of the matter is the game was a stinging rebuke of Wenger’s methodologies, and klaxon call to the owner to make an aggressive change this summer before we start to resemble an also-ran of the Premier League.
The starting 11 was robbed of Aaron Ramsey who tweaked a groin before the game, and we also saw Iwobi drop to the bench. Our midfield of Jack, Elneney and Xhaka looked balanced but lacked pace and spark. The Wenger plan looked fairly clear, absorb Spurs pressure and break on the counter, leaning on the creativity and quick distribution of Mikki and Ozil to feed our roadrunner of a striker.
If you’re absolutely fair to Arsenal, the first half worked out as well as could have been expected. The midfield did a fairly robust job, and Petr Cech put in a solid performance. We had one clear chance for a break when Jack Wilshere set Auba free, but the Gabonese was harshly judged offside. Hardly a critical moment in the game, but when your team offers up next to no service to the star forward, I guess it becomes a talking point.
The second half Arsene demonstrated he really does not have a penchant for the motivational talks. Mikki mentioned before the game that Arsene was way friendlier than Mourinho, cute compliment, but symptomatic of the larger issue of ease of life at Colney. I don’t know what was said at halftime, but to me, the reaction looked like the team had had a cheeky Thai Massage and a couple of joints. Spurs looked like they’d been told their families were being held hostage and a victory was the release fee.
Everything crumbled, including our backline. After a few warning signs, Ben Davies moved down the left side of the pitch, Xhaka and Bellerin didn’t challenge him, he picked out Harry Kane’s majestic leap; with Koscielny and Mustafi hopelessly out of position, the striker drilled his header into the bottom corner. I don’t want to keep bagging on Xhaka, but is he not the worst serious midfield signing of Wenger’s tenure? He is always part of the mix when we concede, why isn’t he dropped? As for Laurent Koscielny, he’s just mailing it in. Another big mistake in a big game, it’s simply not good enough.
Anyway, that goal opened the floodgates for chances, Eriksen, Kane and Alli all went close. The only hope you had as an Arsenal fan was historical referencing. When we were good, we’d dominate teams, and lose to two chances. Wenger changed things up, bringing the abysmal Mikki off, and rolling on Iwobi, Lacazette and later Welbeck. Hardly the cavalry, right?
I’m being harsh, all three kicked us into at least making a menace of ourselves. Arsenal had three huge chances to make something of the game.
Lacazette, career hanging by a thread, had a golden opportunity at the back when Bellerin found him with a cross. The Frenchman fluffed his volley horrendously over the bar, the look on his face said it all. He wasn’t finished, Iwobi found him with a delightful pass that flustered the Spurs defence, Lacazette ferreted his way in behind, Lloris bounded out, the shot was the chosen weapon but the strike was dragged wide. If that were Thierry or Pires, they’d have plated it for the incoming Aubamayeng.
The final chance of the game fell to Ozil. Danny Welbeck did well to get himself fouled on the edge of the box. Ozil the anonymous £350k a week superstar stepped up for the 22 yard freekick. His effort as meak as his performance. The game finished, Jack tried to fight Lamela, but it was too late. 4th place, served up to Spurs on a plate next to a salmonella-free lasagna.
What did we learn?
You can shuffle the furniture. You can buy new furniture. You can sell the old furniture to make the new furniture look nice. None of it matters. If the furniture is on the Titanic, and the ship has hit an Wenger shaped iceberg, everything is going to spoil regardless.
Wenger’s secret sauce when he was good was to find players with superior technique and fitness, and let them loose, the only guide being creative freedom. Now all players have good technique and most clubs have similar fitness approaches, the place where you win is smart tactics, pressing philosophy, man management and in game smarts. Arsene doesn’t have those tools, nor does he care for them. We still have great players, so it’ll never be that bad, we just don’t have the tools to compete.
Pochettino is extracting miracles out of his players. They die for the cause, they press strategically, they are all equipped to succeed. Everything at that club is built around improving the players, on a fairly modest budget.
Arsenal are deck shuffling. We have great data folk, but a manager not really interested in what it has to say. We have capable coaches, but there’s only one man empowered to make decisions. We have access to the best thinkers in the game, but one man runs the show and he is the most immovable bottleneck in world football. Arsenal FC is the greatest indulgence bestowed upon single paid employee in history. We are Arsene FC. We have been since David Dein left. It’s time for a change, and it must happen now.
The strategist in me looks at what the club have tried to do this January. The headline to the untrained eye is the club made a crap shot for 4th. To the conspiracy theorist in me would suggest the club may have tried to mitigate for excuse making come the summer. Wenger has a striker that can score goals, we removed his Sanchez problem, and the team is still playing exactly the same as it was before. The last time Wenger made a dent in a top 6 side away was 17 games ago against Manchester City. In our last 26 away games, we’ve only taken 26 points! Quite appalling really.
Sure, on another day, Lacazette scores those two chances and we come away winning. But it didn’t happen, and you can’t blame luck when the data so categorically points to the one issue at the club being the man who runs it.
It was interesting to see Carlo Ancelotti at the ground. His home is in Vancouver, which is a helluva flight. The man tweeted a selfie of himself at Wembley, it was almost like some sort of grim reaper message to Arsene Wenger. I’m at the point where I’d take the Italian as a transition manager. People I speak to insist it’ll take quite the iceberg to shift Wenger on this summer, but I’m struggling to see the new guys Ivan has hired not being used as weapons in the campaign to shift Arsene on.
If he goes, we’re in new exciting territory. If he stays, the club is working with an employee who is currently having his second worst season since he took over (only 05-06, our last at Highbury was worse at this stage, and that was a team that had Kanu, Henry and Bergkamp in it). If we keep him over the summer, imagine our levels of performance when the ‘I’ve only got one more year on my deal’ excuses start to drop.
He has to go this summer, or he has to be given a new deal.
Ivan G is a lawyer, you’d imagine he’s thinking ahead. You’d imagine this scenario is being thought through with Raul Sanhelli and Sven Mislintat. You cannot imagine a situation where the club risks another season in the wilderness just to give the manager a good send off?
The only hope Arsene now has is the club win the Europa League. I can’t see that. Bilbao, Leipzig, Atleti, Lazio and Napoli likely all have more than we do at the moment. So we’ll see. The ideal scenario is a poor sixth and no trophies. If it’s anything that smells like success, the nightmare could be a knee-jerk 2 year deal.
P.S. I don’t often ask much of you, but I wrote a piece for Mundial Magazine for March about the Dennis Bergkamp & Thierry Henry partnership. It meant a lot to write it, I’d like you to read it, and the magazine looks super cool on any self respecting football fans coffee table. Pre-order here. ALSO, scroll a bit below and listen/watch our latest podcast about Spurs and Arsenal being a bit shite.