Ahh man that was boring to watch last night.
I tweeted that Arsenal are an ugly team with a handsome manager and last night’s 0-0 snoozefest against Crystal Palace certainly felt like it was backed up by an Arsenal team so lacking in creative spark that you wondered if we were actually watching a pre season friendly or testimonial game. Certainly that’s what it felt like when I repeatedly saw Luiz bringing the ball out from the back. He was at walking pace time and time again and in a way this was a microcosm of what the game felt like from an Arsenal perspective. We were languid, we lacked any real urgency, almost as if we thought this game had to be decided on the night. It was real pants stuff.
Crystal Palace were organised, they knew exactly what they needed to do and I suspect they also knew that provided they keep their defensive shape, they’d have a very good chance of keeping this Arsenal team out. That’s because against low block, so-called ‘smaller’ teams we have no idea how to break them down. Especially at home. It has been pretty much painful to watch all season and you have to go back to the Sheffield United game – OVER THREE MONTHS AGO – to see an Arsenal side break down a stubborn defence and win at home. That is an utterly wretched home form and whilst the good news is we all don’t have to endure an Arsenal performance this weekend, meaning we can enjoy our weekend, it does mean we have the prospect of yet another dull and drab affair when we once again play Newcastle on Monday night.
Boy, am I not looking forward to that prospect, I can tell you. An Arsenal team without the required guild and creativity to break down a side like Palace is going to find it tough going against a Newcastle side who last night will have watched that and thought “lovely – there’s the blueprint lads”.
The problem is that in the previous games we’ve looked at the Hale Enders and they have delivered some good displays that have contributed to goals and wins. But these are young lads and naturally will not produce elite performances game after game; it is just what happens with young kids. So when you do have games like last night, what you are looking for is the more senior creative attacking players to step up. But sadly we got another poor set of performances as Aubameyang flitted in and out of the game and his passing let him down in the final third, whilst Lacazette huffed and puffed up front with little impact whatsoever. Then, when you looked at our bench, you’ve got Pepe coming on who resembles Bambi on ice and Eddie Nketiah who we appear to be putting our striking eggs in rather than Balogun. It was a nothing of an attacking display – a familiar story this season.
Smith-Rowe and Saka were quiet and it never really came off for them, but they are young players and so you can cut some slack. The others I would say not. Perhaps Eddie gets a slight pass because of his age, but he’s played a lot more games than those two and so we should be right to expect a little more from him after a few seasons at The Arsenal now.
The same has to be said for Ainsley Maitland-Niles. He came in at right back for the injured Tierney and the differences between the two players was like night and day. In Ainsley’s defence he isn’t a left back, but that said, if you are going to make a case for never being included in a position again, he did a fine and upstanding job of it. His first attacking foray was a cross which ballooned miles over the Crystal Palace goal for a goal kick. Then a couple of minutes later he misplaced a simple five yard pass. The another five minutes later he’s mis-timing his header to head the ball to a Palace player in the centre of the park so they can set up a counter. It was a shoddy performance and shows just how badly we missed the guile of the in form Tierney.
On the other side we had a poor display from Hector too, whose passing was off on a number of occasions and in the final third never really found any kind of final ball. That was the same for almost every player in the final third as we laboured again and again to find a chance and got nowhere.
What was strange about last night for me was that the one problem we’ve had all season has been our central midfield, yet it was the two central midfielders who were some of the best performers for Arsenal on the night, with both Ceballos and Xhaka looking good I thought. Xhaka misplaced a couple of passes but defensively I thought he was excellent and he was at least trying to help build up the play with progressive, forward, passing. Ceballos too was spritely; there looked to be an urgency in his game throughout, to which it was just a shame that the same couldn’t be said about some of his teammates.
And so we come back down to earth with a bump after four wins in a row. Perhaps we needed this as fans to see just how turgid this Arsenal squad is as a whole and how much surgery is needed in the summer. And I don’t know about you but I feel like I am stepping back into the “well, this season is a write off anyway” mindset with a performance like that. I thought that the recent form has snapped some players out of the funk they’ve been in for most of the season, but perhaps for some this IS who they are now. Perhaps for this team this IS what we are. This felt like a laboured mid-table team and that’s what we are right now.
I can’t wait until the summer. Whilst most of the wasters weren’t playing yesterday, just the idea of trimming the squad, of bringing a little more unity to a bloated team, feels like the refresh we need.
Roll it on. Soon.