Well folks, the good news is that we aren’t out of the Europa League yet, that there is still another leg to go and an opportunity for Arsenal to progress to the semi final of the competition. In itself a 1-1 draw in a two-legged tie isn’t the worst thing in the world; you still have to score away and we should have that mindset whatever the result yesterday, but the only difference now is that we do indeed have to score away and Slavia Prague can sit off and look for the clean sheet.
But the bad news is, unfortunately, in abundance this morning from me I’m afraid. That’s because what I saw last night was more worrying than any individual result in isolation. And I think this is where many of us are particularly frustrated with what we saw yesterday, because this game isn’t in isolation, because we’ve been watching this for a few week’s now. The last 10 minutes or so against the Scum when they were a man down and we should have cruised to a victory, the first half against West Ham, the shoddy overall display at home to Olympiakos, the atrocious performance against Liverpool, then last night’s display against Slavia Prague. These aren’t isolated incidents any more, this is a pattern developing, and it has an all too familiar feel about it.
What I mean by that is November/December 2020 of course. During that terrible run during the season we were slow, passive, ponderous on the ball, looked like we had no idea against sides that wanted to sit back and hit us on the counter. Last night felt like a return to that time of this season and, frankly, I find that unacceptable. And sadly I have to lay it at Arteta’s door this morning as much as some of those absolute wastes of space who take to the field.
Let’s start with the team line up. There’s a lot of navel gazing that takes place during team selections these days and I must admit that I too am guilty of it at times. I try not to get too worked up about it but invariably the odd decision that is made with regards to the starting XI has me raise an eyebrow or two. But last night it wasn’t just one decision, it was multiple decisions. Let’s start with the back line. Cedric has been ok at best in the left back position. Last night he was pretty poor and at fault for the eventual concession at corners that we conceded. He is a massive downgrade on Tierney, but where he is the biggest downgrade is going forward. I lost track of the number of times in which he got the ball and checked back on to his right foot. Hey, he’s not in his natural position though, I get that, but if we are going to have an inverted full back who won’t take on swinging balls in to the box when in to some of the positions he could have found himself on the overlap, then what is the point in having him there? At this point Arteta must surely be looking at Saka in that position. And there will be people spitting their beverages out at this I know, but hear me out. With the fixtures we have remaining – including the Europa League games – we are going to have more of the ball and we should be attacking more. That means whilst Saka on the teamsheet looks like a left back, the reality of which is that he will be providing more threat going forward and can deliver infinitely better balls from that left hand side that Cedric did.
What it would also do is give the left winger more of an option for balls in behind. But then again, here lies yet another mistake in Arteta’s selection decisions, because if he’s going to continue with Willian then even Saka isn’t going to get as much joy in space out wide left. That’s because Willian is toast. Finished. Washed up. Yesterday I watched yet another performance to chuck on to the dunpster fire of performances he’s given us this season. He played the game at walking pace, it felt like he never beat a man, he played the simple passes and when he didn’t do that he bashed the ball out of play. He has been an atrocious signing but we are now at the stage where the eyes aren’t on him for his performances, but for Arteta and his insistence on picking the player. With each one of these games I have thought to myself “well, that’s it for Willian now, he won’t play any more that’s for sure” and yet Arteta continues to pick him. The inclusion of Willian was wrong, wrong wrong. Especially so when you have so many other options there, like Martinelli, who came on in the second half and along with Aubameyang changed the impetus of our team. Which leads me to my next gripe with the starting line up…Alexandre Lacazette.
I honestly don’t understand how some people have said he’s been anything other than totally average for us. Let’s not forget this is a guy we paid of £50million for. He isn’t a £2million Yaya Sanogo punt here; he was brought in to be our elite centre forward and yet I find myself wondering why we sold Giroud. At least we knew what his strengths were. This idea that Lacazette is a better connector is a myth; last night he lost the ball, he misplaced passes, he even found himself receiving the ball at centre half in the first half last night. He’s had one decent game at West Ham in months and people want to tell me that Aubameyang should be the one who is dropped. Auba hasn’t played well, but Lacazette has been worse, yet it is the Frenchman who gets the nod. Some people think he ‘runs around and puts more effort in’ than Aubameyang. Did you see that last night? Or did you see a bang average footballer who is paid a six figure salary, unable to hit the target when one-on-one through with the ‘keeper. I’m sorry but Auba puts that one away in his sleep.
So why was he picked? Why was Willian picked? Why go Cedric on the left (although to an extent I can legislate for that before the game, just not after)?
It all comes down to Mikel Arteta. I’m afraid my support is starting to waver now. He had as much of a shocker as some of his players last night. The biggest worry for me, however, is that I thought Arteta was a quick learner. He’s managed us for 16 months now and he’s still making mistakes, but worst of all, he’s still not addressing those mistakes quickly enough. With five subs in the Europa League you can afford to make a few earlier in games. He made his first sub – Martinelli for Willian – on 73 minutes, then his second, third and fourth sub on 78 minutes. That’s 12 minutes and stoppage time to go. I’m sorry Mikel, not good enough, especially because the biggest worry of all is that you could see the changes needed to be made and yet you STILL persist with some of those players until the last 15 minutes of a game. It’s terrible decision making and the fact the interviewers afterwards called him out on it shows just how everyone was thinking it. Martinelli, Auba and Pepe all made the difference when coming on. There was an energy about us that never existed in the first 75 minutes and if Willian plays another minute for Arsenal – let alone start games – well all I can think of is who might be running the club in six months time, because it shouldn’t be Arteta.
The shocking players were shocking, but let’s also not forget some of the poor performances from the better players. Thomas Partey was a mess, emphasized by one moment in the second half where he played a cross field ball to absolutely nobody within 30 yards for where he kicked it. Saka missed a gilt-edged chance in the first half. Lacazette’s one-on-one was pathetic, but even Gabriel and Holding were pretty shocking, letting balls bounce all night.
And this is my biggest worry and why I’m starting to turn on Arteta: Those players are looking terrified like they did in November. They are getting the basics right. The ‘non-negotiables’ are very negotiable. Gary Neville said in commentary last weekend “Mikel knows what he needs to do about some of these players in the summer” intimating that Arteta will wield the axe to some of them. Of course he should, we all know he should, but this man persists with the likes of Lacazette and Willian and leaves Martinelli on the sideline kicking his heels. That’s why I worry that he’s going to keep faith in some of the idiots we have in our squad and THAT is why I am getting close to the point of turning on him.
I really don’t want that. Hope he can turn it around.
Catch you all tomorrow.