Yesterday’s second half capitulation by Arsenal has once again raised more questions than given answers and, sadly, the questions aren’t really overly positive. That’s because what we fans witnessed yesterday was a team of mentally bereft idiots gift a two-goal lead to a side bottom of the league and who about a mont ago got tonked on their own ground against West Ham.
And I’m afraid we also have to look at the manager too, who not only selected what felt like the wrong team based on the type of players, but also made some baffling substitutions that only opened up the game more and gave Watford more belief.
The stats don’t make for welcome reading either. Watford had never had more than 30 attempts at goal in a game.
Then Arsenal came to town.
They’d only picked up one point all season.
Then Arsenal came to town.
They’d only scored two goals all season.
Then Arsenal came to town.
That last fact is, for me, most maddening. Because we have repeatable offences by this Arsenal team now and it stretches across many seasons. We are the gift that keeps on giving. Yesterday I saw people say that “if Watford play like that they’ll be nowhere near the bottom”.
They won’t play Arsenal every week though. My guess is that 75% of the teams in the league don’t lose a two-goal lead. We are unfortunately in the 25% because, quite frankly, we have the mental fortitude of the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz.
At the end of the game Granit Xhaka said we were ‘scared’.
SCARED?! Of what??? We were 2-0 up. All you have to do is recognise that Watford will come at you and do the basics right! But this current Arsenal defence seem incapable of that. The first goal conceded you could see from a mile off. The playing out from the back is what we do, I get that, but sometimes you have to mix it up because you become predictable. We didn’t mix it up and the utter stupidity of Sokratis was there for everyone to see. I mean, seriously, how can you be an experienced professional footballer and play such a kamikaze ball in front of your own box? It was idiocy of the highest accord and we got punished. And that gave Watford the momentum that they didn’t look like they had.
And I think it’s time we started looking at Sokratis more closely because he’s been poor this season. I’ve seen a few people suggest he was poor last season too, but because of the Mustafi meltdown that was happening he was a ‘lesser of two evils’. Well Mustafi isn’t acting as a shield any more and Sokratis has been found wanting. Two weeks in a row. At this point I’m wondering whether giving Calum Chambers a shot might be a better option. He isn’t as great with the ball at his feet but he’s at least less of a risk magnet as Sokratis.
But it’s not just him. His central defensive partner has shown us the worst part of his game since he joined. Luiz has given away two penalties in three games and been found positionally poor in all three of the last matches. If we thought we’d bought an experienced pro who would improve our defence then I think we perhaps were hopeful that at 32 he’d minimise his stupidity. But no, it’s there, there for all to see.
It feels like yesterday it even rubbed off on some of the other Arsenal players too, because twice we Guendouzi nearly gifted Watford goals and Maitland-Niles also made some utterly brain dead mispasses which could have cost us. He’s an enigma of a player because for every good bit of football – like the driving run and excellent ball in to the box for Auba’s second goal, there’s a stupid mistake that puts us under pressure.
Speaking of Auba, how the hell do you think he’s feeling this morning, because he’s absolutely doing his job with bells on and yet still our pathetic excuse for a defence mean we don’t pick up the points. His first goal was an expert piece of striking the ball and his second goal was a simple predators tap in. But with Pepe not really affecting the game in the final third, thank gawd for Aubameyang, because we seem to have few others willing to step up.
Mesut Özil was anonymous. Pepe was quiet. Nelson came on for 20 minutes at a crazy time in the match and where nobody had control, although that is more down to the manager, who I’ll come to in a minute.
In fact, no, let’s talk about Emery now because he got so much wrong yesterday. In midfield he went for Guendouzi, Xhaka and Ceballos and frankly, it didn’t work from the off. Guendouzi had a poor game but we left so much space when we were tracking back towards our own goal it was criminal. I’d said this on Twitter beforehand but for all the good things in Guendouzi’s game, he isn’t as great going back towards his own goal. So what should Emery have done? Fill that space in front of our back four. He could have played Torreira, or even Chambers, to cover ground. But he stuck with it and even continued after halftime, despite the fact it hadn’t really worked even though we were two goals up.
But he got the system set up wrong too yesterday. Watford have played narrow a lot this season and so perhaps that’s why he went with a narrow team which included Özil, Ceballos, Guendouzi and Xhaka. Perhaps he thought Watford would engage us in a battle of wits in the middle of the park. But Flores is not Gracia and he decided that he needed to use the width of the pitch to stretch the game.
And this is where it gets annoying, because this was there to see for the first 15 minutes, so why didn’t ‘Mr Halftime Subs’ make a change? I get that he might want to give it until halftime before changing it, but we came out exactly the same in the second half as in the first half, which for me was just wrong, wrong, wrong.
Then, when he can make a tactical change, he brings off players who help us control and dictate in possession like Ceballos (because it was “hot” apparently…I…I…I just can’t even respond to that…), he goes for the dice rolling of youth. Willock was making driving runs which looked good, but he also was careless in Possession and offered little composure from a defensive point of view. Nelson came on and did little.
And it’s left me questioning Emery this morning. Big time. Questioning because of the way the team set up and then when he needed to have his own influence, his decision making was left wanting. This guy should surely have been able to see what we all saw, and if not he has a team of people to help him, so why did he act in the way he did?
This result feels like it’s taken all of the early season positivity wind out of our sails. This feels like the bottling Arsenal of the end of the season. Emery needs to show that something is different from last season because if he doesn’t, fast, then surely the powers that be will start to ask serious questions.
They ought to do.