So today we all wake up after Arsenal’s title dreams unofficially died against West ham at Upton Park. Unlike Highbury, there was to be no ‘last London derby game at ground’ revenge we could extract on a very well organised West Ham team.
Well, they were well organised for the second half, anyway. Because at 2-0 up and crusing to halftime, we should have buried Slaven Bilic’s team whilst we had the chance, instead of letting them back in to the game by half time. Instead, we opted for that common of occurrences, the classic Arsenal defensive implosion, which saw us firstly concede to an Andy Carroll header that I thought was eminently defendable, if Monreal and Koscielny had looked around themselves properly. Carroll took a couple of steps back and then a couple steps diagonally forward and planted a header home.
Similar for the West Ham equaliser, Carroll found himself with enough time in the box to chest the ball down, have a shot, then another one without an Arsenal body being thrown at the ball. We all hate John Terry, but 20 years ago we used to have defenders like him, who would throw the full weight of their body at the ball to get a block. When was the last time you remember seeing an Arsenal defender do that? They just don’t. Arsenal has built a technically proficient team and sure, on the continent technique is more effective than the ‘blood and thunder’ Premier League, but sometimes you need that type of player in the heart of your defence to put his body on the line. I’m just not sure that’s the case with this Arsenal team.
Take Gabriel, for example, who I am seriously starting to have my doubts about. I feel like there’s at least once in every game in which he seems to be turned and falls over, which happened at one moment in the second half. Thankfully Payet couldn’t make anything of it, but how does that keep happening? I get that Arsene is giving him a run in the team to see if there can be some sort of succession planning for the ageing Mertesacker, but if this kind of stuff keeps happening between now and the end of the season, I’d start to question whether or not we need another centre half in the summer too. This list of players needing to come in to make us competitive is getting longer and longer, which becomes more and more worrying, because we know Wenger won’t make wholesale changes to his squad. He simply doesn’t believe in it.
He also doesn’t believe in adaptation to an opposition team. Bilic completely pulled his pants down yesterday. He brought Carroll in because he knew that his aerial threat has caused us problems in the past. Arsene’s response post game was to tell the world that he didn’t think Carroll would play. I’m sorry, what? Surely it’s your job to have a look at what might happen to your team and work out the variables of the opposition so you can nullify them. Isn’t that what every Premier League manager does these days?
Apparently not. Apparently it’s ok to ignore the opposition. It’s just a good thing that tactically, what Slaven tried in the first half was such a shambles that it allowed us to get in behind the West Ham back five time and time again. Welbeck, Iwobi, Ozil and Alexis’ mobility afforded them the run on all of the Hamers’ back line and as I talked to Ben at halftime, the general consensus was that if Bilic kept it the same, we’d get more goals in the second half. Of course, Bilic is a modern day manager, so he changed it at halftime and we immediately found it more difficult to break down a back four instead of a back five. So when Carroll scored his hat-trick, it came as no surprise to this Arsenal fan here, to which I thought we’d not recover.
We looked bereft of ideas for about 10 minutes after the goal had gone in to put us behind, but here’s the bit where I give a little bit of credit to the players, because they did respond with a decent finish from close range from Kos in the box. And Wenger did try to push the emphasis on attack, bringing on Ramsey, Giroud and Walcott for Coquelin,Elneny and Welbeck. We went a little bit ‘all the strikers’ but it didn’t really work because we never got that break through.
So we are now effectively out of the title race. The Spuds will smash United and Leicester will beat Sunderland away from home. Probably 1-0. What have we got to look forward to? The summer. Our hopes are all but extinguished and this amazing run that we were supposed to be going on ended quicker than we’d all hoped it would. But we’re not surprised, are we? The team’s deficiencies have become obvious this season and the manager’s were exposed obviously yesterday by a guy that was able to outwit him with a simple tactical change. His response that we need to ‘look at ourselves’ is obvious, but I hope it also includes himself. But we know he won’t change. We’ve been prone to implosions for about six or seven years now. Every season is littered with examples. We might be able to get new players in during the summer, but does anybody believe that with new players the team will be coached differently? Does anybody believe that if a situation next season comes up where an opposing manager changes things tactically, Arsene can adapt?
I don’t. Which is sad. Next season will be like a farewell tour, I hope, unless he gets another three years. It will be a long goodbye and I think a lot of us are ready for it, aren’t we? I love Arsene for what he has achieved at the club and the great memories he’s given me, but I think change needs to happen to truly move Arsenal forward.
Catch you tomorrow.