The phrase “well that was 90 minutes of my life I’ll never get back again” hasn’t really, over the years, been something I’ve associated with watching The Arsenal. But after having to sit through that utter snooze-fest yesterday lunchtime as we played out an utter bore draw against an equally confidence-shorn Everton, I think it is the most applicable use of that phrase that I’ve ever said.
It was Freddie’s last game in charge as Arteta takes over as manager and if the hope was that we’d get a rousing performance from an Arsenal team, we were all left sorely disappointed, because we got an exhibition in mediocrity in the North West. It was like crap 90s football had come back to haunt us as passes went astray from both teams time and time again and neither ‘keeper had much to do in most of the game I felt.
Freddie named a youthful starting XI and I suppose if we’re going to talk mitigating circumstances, you have to look at the fact we have no natural fullbacks available because of injury, as well as a growing list amongst other positions on the park. No Holding, no Bellerin, no Tierney, no Kolasinac, no Özil (although kudos to Freddie who said he wouldn’t play anyway), plus I think Pepe was rested because he had a knock too, even though he was on the bench. It’s a growing injury list at the most condensed part of the season, game-wise, so bringing in Maitland-Niles and Saka at full back shows just how much of a challenge it is to be Arsenal manager right now.
The midfield was our strongest in Xhaka and Torreira and I thought the Swiss was certainly one of our better players on the night. There are rumours of Hertha Berlin coming calling in January and if that’s true then I understand given what has happened this season, but the club will need to replace of so, because Guendouzi, Willock or evening Maitland-Niles, have shown that they aren’t ready to put in regular performances in that position.
But back to the game and from a defensive point of view Everton rarely troubled us. They had a couple of half chances but by and large our back line stood firm and in midfield our two central midfielders kept their shape and didn’t disappear into the corners of the pitch to leave massive gaps.
It wasn’t the defence or the midfield that were the challenge though, but our attacking quartet. Ljungberg went with Auba up top but he surrounded him with kids and in that first half that’s exactly what it looked like. Smith-Rowe, Nelson and Martinelli all looked every bit the youngsters and I lost count the amount of times that one of Xhaka, Torreira or Luiz made hand gestures for some movement to happen up top.
It’s not that these kids aren’t fit enough, but I suspect it’s that there wasn’t anybody in that final third to talk to them about their movement. Freddie can shout on the sidelines all he wants but sometimes you need somebody in the spaces on the field telling you what to do. I didn’t think we had that at all yesterday because as much as Auba is Arsenal captain, he doesn’t seem like somebody who is imparting that knowledge on the team. Certainly at the moment.
So for me cramming the team full of those young players probably had a big impact on how we played because we offered very little going forward in that first half.
We were much better in the second in terms of passing and control of possession, but you could still see that there was a lack of creativity in our team and that’s something that Arteta is going to have to get to grips with quickly. Martinelli was his usual effervescent self but I’m starting to get worried about Reiss Nelson. Yesterday he disappeared in plain sight on the pitch and the exciting young talent that we saw a couple of years ago suddenly doesn’t seem to want to beat a man, isn’t outpacing defenders and didn’t really offer much against an Everton back line that aren’t really that good.
Perhaps Mikel can have an influence on him but there are a few players in that squad that he’s going to have to have that influence on. We need to see a marked improvement from so many and that has to start right away. Arteta has four more days to train with the players and get to know them better until we play Bournemouth on Boxing Day. I think the hope from us all is that by then we’ll start to see some small incremental changes.
I’m certainly praying for that. The last thing I want to have to relieve is more of what we were served yesterday.
A quick aside on the AFTV stuff that happened yesterday. It appears there’s a bit of a revolt from match-going fans on AFTV and whilst I don’t think I’d ever want to see any kind of physical violence or skirmishes with those from AFTV, my opinion is that they have kind of brought this on themselves. For years I’ve had rival fans laugh at us as a fan base because we have a small collective of people who just rant – often incoherently – outside the ground. AFTV are a polarising group but it has become clear that they are individuals who thrive from publicity, profile, extremism, and for some time now have been profiteering from it.
People have finally had enough and that has boiled over. I’ve met Robbie, he seems a nice enough man and most people will say that, but he has built a contentious empire and profiteered from the extremism. This was always going to come to a crescendo and now that it has, the AFTV group are calling foul? Not for me I’m afraid. You reap what you sow I’m afraid. I just hope nobody gets hurt. Because that where it feels like it’s heading.
Catch you all tomorrow.
None of the players coming through from the Arsenal academy look very special. And which of the senior players can we not afford to lose ? Aubamayang ….. anyone else.
I think that’s pretty fair about AFTV. I never watch it, so I thought something specific had happened when the chant started yesterday, but it seems it’s just fans are fed up with it.
Robbie can’t complain about the mob culture among the away fans. AFTV helped to produce it, the mob’s behaviour towards Wenger – particularly at West Brom in 2017 – was thoroughly appalling.
But as you say, you reap what you sow and AFTV will continue to get this until they cease broadcasting.