Today’s thoughts are coming with an opening paragraph disclaimer:
I am not going to be nice about the team or the manager today. I have been stewing on yesterday’s result since the final whistle went and where sometimes time can be a healer and cause me to try to be a little bit more objective, today’s blog is different, because I am still feeling anger, frustration and resentment. If you want to go into football lockdown until Swansea, I suggest you minimise this page, pick up a book and forget I exist. This ain’t gonna be pretty.
Right, with that disclaimer out of the way, let me give you my thoughts after what was quite frankly a new level of appalling that we witnessed from Arsenal yesterday. I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic either. Against a United team with more injuries than could have been hoped for in our wildest dreams, the collective of players in gold shirts failed so miserably, that our title ambitions feel over. Which shouldn’t be the case because we are only five points from the leaders and have 11 games to go. But wow Arsenal, you really are quite amazing at inventing new ways to shoot yourself in the foot, so congratulations in that regard.
United were more hungry, closed down Arsenal better and given that they all played on Thursday night, looked fresher than an Arsenal team who looked like they couldn’t be arsed. I’ll come to individual culprits in a second, but that a team supposedly going for the title can’t motivate themselves to drive forward a clear technical advantage against what looked like a Capital One Cup side of youngsters, is a damning endictment of the mental fragility of this team. The arrogance, the sense of entitlement to just rock up and pick up the win and not have to work hard for it, was horrific for me to watch as a fan. And the man who prepared that team has to take a lot of the blame today. He spoke before the game about focusing more on ourselves than our opponents. On making sure we’re mentally prepared and ready. Well Arsène, if that display of tripe yesterday was you having focused solely on your team and nobody else, then you really have failed in your duty. Your duty is to motivate the team enough to go out and beat a team that is on its knees through injury and fatigue from three games in less than a week. You cannot do that. Are you incapable of doing that? That is the question I am pondering this morning.
Perhaps the players should not need motivating. Perhaps they should be motivated enough at the prospect of challenging for the league? You’d think that, but in reality we looked like we had a group of players preparing for the annual fight for fourth place. It’s embarrassing. There is a culture of acceptance at Arsenal. That’s the only thing I can think of when I wonder why both Chelski and United beat us every season. The Arsenal players have no belief. They can’t have. Not when they turn up to play a terrible United team and still make them look like title rivals. They’re not. They were gifted all three goals. The first was a deflection off Koscienly but <unknown Man United youth product 1> still managed to have a free hit with no challenge to make it 1-0. The second was easy to avoid and if Gabriel steps towards the cross, then <unknown Man United youth product 1> doesn’t score. The third? Perhaps you can say there was fortune about the massive deflection, but come on, how the hell does Herrera have that much time and space to find the shot on the edge of our box?
It was a total shambles. Our league title attempt is a total shambles.
So, to individuals within the Arsenal team, who almost all failed yesterday. Let’s start at the back, in which both Koscielny and Gabriel looked like they’d never played together in their lives. The Brazilian looked nervous throughout and his switching off at times is worrying. Remember Norwich away? Yesterday felt a bit like that. There are plenty of people who have suggested that Big Per is done, but on that showing yesterday, is anybody going to tell me that partnership is working?
Perhaps it needs time, but we don’t have time if we want to win the league, which I would question at this point. I mean, it’s hardly that there’s any evidence of an unwavering and determined steel about a team who will do everything in its power to win, is there?
Big Per has previously spoken about the little partnerships that need to be formed all over the pitch in order to make a team successful. I didn’t see one that worked yesterday. The central defensive pairing didn’t, but then again the two central midfielders hardly did either, did it? Coquelin made a couple of dramatic blocks, but in the main he was poor. He wasn’t strong enough at times and looked careless in possession. But his partner Ramsey? Well, he deserves his own paragraph completely, because he was terrible.
In fact, Ramsey’s not really been that great all season, I don’t think. He held on to the ball far too long for most of the time he had it yesterday, he gave no real support defensively and looked like a guy who wanted to spend his afternoon cruyff-turning or playing keep-ball. He was shocking and much like before 2013/14, I wonder if he needs to go back to basics. He wanted the central midfield role, but on this evidence he does not deserve it, because he isn’t capable of delivering on a consistent basis.
Our front four had two successes and two abject failures. Özil was a success purely for his end product, scoring one and assisting another, but other than that I thought he suffered an indifferent afternoon. Still, indifferent is better than anonymous, which is how you’d describe the ghost of Walcott’s afternoon. The most obvious and visual example of how awful he was yesterday was evidenced when Arsène hooked him off after 60 minutes. Arsène NEVER makes subs that early, but Walcott was so anonymous he must have thought that we needed 11 on the pitch, which is why he swapped him for our leading goalscorer Giroud who hasn’t scored for eight games. Walcott had 17 touches and lost the ball on 11 of those occasions. That’s atrocious. That’s less than Cech. The man is completely out of form, seems incapable of showing for the ball and when he is not given a ball in behind to chase, he is completely redundant. It’s time to start asking whether a life without Walcott would be that bad at all. He’s been like this too much this season. We can’t afford to carry passengers. That’s why we offload Arshavin and Podolski. Walcott is going the same way as those two.
The other notable absentee was Alexis, who once again was terrible. What is going on? Has Wenger broken him already? It’s probably got nothing to do with Arsène I know, but his form is beyond patchy now, it’s just bad. Have teams figured him out? He cuts inside and looks to cut again before driving in, so as long as teams place three players in a line to cut that off, he’s negated. The only difference for Alexis other than Theo is that you know he will work his way back in to form. Theo will wait for it to be delivered on a silver platter.
Form. That’s the problem we have at the moment. We have too many players who are woefully short of form and the result is the car crash we have to watch each week. Most of us thought it was down to injuries that we weren’t playing that well, grinding out results with squad players, but with only a couple missing now you have to wonder whether our problems run much, much, deeper.
I have accepted our fate. We cannot win the league with this team. On what basis can anyone argue otherwise? We play Swansea on Wednesday (with hardly an amazing record against them!) and then the north London derby on Saturday lunchtime. I can tell you right now, with no momentum, players out of form, up against a confident Spuds team, there is absolutely no chance we’ll pick up three points. One would be a dream with the way we’re playing. And if the worst happens and we do lose against that lot, it really will be game, set, match on our title hopes.
One positive is Welbeck. The guy looks hungry and has already bagged two goals since returning. Along with Özil, Cech and the two full backs, you have to say that he gets on to the team sheet for Wednesday and the weekend at this rate. They’re the only players who are deserving of their places at the moment.
This team is mentally on its knees, so when the manager comes out and talks so positively about the team and it’s mental strength like he did after the game, talking about the team being ‘fighters’ you start to wonder who is going to drag this team back into a position where it can challenge for honours. It certainly isn’t Arsène, or at least it doesn’t feel like it, at the moment.
That’s all I have got for today. Sorry for the overwhelming negativity, but where else can I go after a weekend of football like that?
Catch you tomorrow.