The most predictable outcome of the season occurred in the first home game of season when the European Champions absolutely took advantage of our messy starting 11. They were better than us, they didn’t really step out of 3rd gear, and they took their chances with absolute brutality.
I’m sure I’ll be accused of excuse-making, but when you’re 8th placed Arsenal and you’re missing your best two strikers, your best midfielder, your best two defenders, and your most effective creative midfielder… there’s a chance you aren’t going to do well against one of the best teams in the world. You can give me the ‘standards’ chat, but reality is, that was always going to be a nightmare day out.
There were some bits that I liked. The most important start to the day was seeing Arteta come out all guns blazing, it’s a small thing, but after his carry-on pre-Brentford, it was nice to see him bring a bit of fire to proceedings. The start matched that intensity as well, for a truly glorious 14 minutes, we pressed hard, we tackled with power, and we looked a nuisance. The football was exciting.
Then BANG. Caught out on the right by the excellent Reece James, we failed to stop a cross that found Lukaku who finished with ease on his debut.
That took the wind out of a young side and we struggled to find our composure. The organisation went out the window, the gulf in class became more pronounced, and the weak links started to break in front of our eyes.
The second goal came 20 minutes later. Xhaka didn’t do well enough on the edge of the box, James was found in acres of space on the right that we didn’t solve for, Leno was beaten easily with a lashed shot that went high across his goal.
We didn’t totally fade, but you could see the players looked beaten. The ref didn’t help us, just like last season when we were on all the extreme ends of VAR decisions, against Chelsea, we were at the mercy of the new relaxed reffing on penalties, where apparently clattering through someone’s legs in the box doesn’t cut the mustard a season after a rogue bootlace would have the ref pointing to the spot.
The second half was marginally better in that we didn’t concede, but to be honest, Chelsea dropped into first gear because they knew we didn’t have much in the tank mentally or physically to move the needle. We dropped a lot deeper, which stopped the beasting, but it didn’t give us much in attack.
The fans, in fairness, stood by the team. When they showed some fight, there were cheers. Auba came on and looked pretty sharp, Tavares looked tidy when he replaced Tierney… but really, no one was saving that game.
It’s hard to pick through a game like that because most of the players we were missing represented starters, however, there are some things we need to discuss.
Cedric Soares isn’t going to cut it this season. We’re on game two and no one has a clue who our best right-back is… I have a sneaking suspicion it’s probably Ainsley if he can get his head on the project. There’s no position that needs a jolt more than that one.
Nicolas Pepe dropped another poor performance, as he seems to against big teams. He lacks a wingers instinct, he’s too slow making decisions, and most of the time his mazy runs end in him losing the ball. This is his 3rd season with us and he still looks like a raw 19-year-old finding his way. He had a couple of decent corners, but didn’t create a single chance.
Pablo Mari really is nowhere near the level needed even as a back-up. He has absolutely no idea how to handle Lukaku. He was too close, then he was too far, he had no street smarts about his approach, and his feeble collapse in the penalty box summed him up. How can you let another man do that to you when you are a professional athlete? That’s an Arteta and Edu decision though. They had him for 5 months, watched him train every day, thought he could handle the Premier League. He was shite against Brentford, then we let him loose on Lukaku and it was predictably bad.
Gabriel Martinelli was a 0 out 10 again. It was weird against Brentford and even weirder yesterday. Where is the beast from Brazil? Where was the nusiance press? Where was the player we saw burst onto the scene? It wasn’t good enough from him again and that’s a real shame. I can sympathise that he had to drop deeper because Mari was so poor, but he still didn’t shower himself with glory.
There were some bright sparks. Rob Holding might not be the best, but my word does he always give you a full-throated performance when you give him a sniff of the starting 11. He made some great passes, he was always in the game, and he did a better job than I thought he might.
The fact that Xhaka is the least of our problems but still a problem is also irritating. I watched a Reuben Neves masterclass against Spurs, who were the jokers that said he was the same player? Far more ambitious with his instinctive forward passing, certainly a level above the player we just gave a new deal. He’s slow, he’s safe, he switches off to danger, and he’s never going to win you games. Yet he created the most chances yesterday with two. I really hope the long-term plan is Thomas Partey and Lokonga.
Mikel Arteta’s performance? He was caught out by Tuchel who exposed the left side brutally and he didn’t react. The tactics didn’t match our reality, if ever there we a time for a shit-house special, it was with 6 starters out the team. Two banks of four with a springloaded counterattack was the move. We tried to go at them, which worked for about 14 minutes. We simply didn’t have the personnel to play the way we tried to play.
So where are we now?
Arteta has spent all his fan capital. Boos at halftime isn’t cool but that’s football in 2021. Fans want to see wins, Arteta hasn’t been delivering them, and it doesn’t look like he has it in the locker right now. We’ll go into the international break rock bottom and that will be a painful week or so. His only hope after that is that the players aren’t broken by a brutal City spanking, and that the players coming back in can pivot the season right away.
Beat Norwich and Spurs, who were dreadful against Wolves, and you can slowly start to pivot the negativity. Lose those two games and it’s pretty clear the season is over before it’s started and Arteta will be out way sooner than he should be. Football is about winning games, if you don’t win enough at a club like Arsenal, you’ll be out on your arse and we’ll move onto the next manager.
Still, at least the next manager has some good players to work with. Sambi Lokonga looks an excellent signing, his passing range is a breath of fresh air. ESR looks like he’s going to go from strength to strength when he gets his more experienced teammates back in the mixer.
Those points aside, it’s bleak out there… not all of it is on Arteta, but the bad transfer decision of last year bit him hard again, and it’s hard to avert your eyes from Soares and Mari and who welcomed them to the club.
Right, we did a video, just me and Matt. Enjoy it. See you in the comments.