I don’t know what was worse about yesterday’s defeat to Chelski; the actual defeat, or the horrible predictability of how the game would go.
I thought we’d concede early. We did.
I thought they’d get a second and it would kill the game. It did.
I thought we’d barely be able to fashion any chances in the whole match. We didn’t.
It was all too familiar and that was depressing. It was depressing because we’ve all waited so long for normality to return. We’d see the joys that so many fans have already had welcoming their teams back to their own grounds; the roar of the home support as the players take to the pitch. We all wanted to be there, see it, lend our support and hope that it will make all the difference.
I thought the home crowd got right behind the team. I have been particularly fed up of late with armchair fans calling us the worst fanbase in terms of in-stadium atmosphere. Well, the home support yesterday did their bit, so it was all on the players on the pitch to do theirs. But I didn’t see that bear out on the pitch. I didn’t see the fight from the team. What I saw was a team with no real direction and idea of what it was they were trying to achieve. There was a lack of movement, a lack of awareness of Chelski’s movement, a depressingly familiar number of lacklustre performances and some players who look woefully out of form.
Of course there is the mitigation of having players out. Losing Ben White to illness (nobody has confirmed it’s COVID yet I don’t think) was another blow. Auba having had one training session and with Arteta confirming he was actually ill and therefore not asymptomatic as some had been led to believe was a shame too. Arteta bemoaned nine players of the senior squad out injured. But let’s not count Willian and Runarsson in that though, right? But still, we have a big chunk of the squad out and you could tell it felt like men against boys at times. Martinelli has had just a few training sessions since coming back from the Olympics and he barely got a sniff all game. Saka returned late and probably needs another couple of weeks before he’s at his best. There are indeed those challenges that sit before Arteta. But what I was hoping for was to at least see us have a go. Create some chances. Give the crowd something to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ about.
Yes, Saka should have had a penalty and I’ll watch with akeen eye in the coming weeks as that kind of coming together gets looked at when it is against us, but in truth we never looked close to getting in the game and would it have made much difference?
Perhaps. Perhaps going in at halftime gives some belief that the team can have a go at Chelski. But it just felt like they kept us at arms length the whole game and I never felt convinced that even a goal would do enough to get the team going.
There are some positives in the performances of Sambi and Smith Rowe, but there were too many average at best games for some of the more senior players. I didn’t think we saw much from Pepe at all, for example. Granit Xhaka looked a little lost at times and I thought for the first goal one of he or Tierney needed to be better in covering the space on our left hand defensive side. There was acres there and that was poor. We all love Tierney but he had a poor game yesterday and Chelski took advantage of that. James had a good game, but he was afforded as much time and space as he needed to find Lukaku for the first goal. For the second goal, again, he found acres and our back line was found wanting. Arteta was asked if he thought about a back three and frankly I think he has to take some blame today for the performance, because if you go with a back three then it gives you that extra man potentially covering that channel ball. Perhaps if we went with a back three Tierney would have been more centrally located to shift from the centre back position to the left side, as opposed to being too far up the pitch. Or even Xhaka tucking in. As it was we were far too exposed in a back four and it has cost us dearly once again.
I haven’t even got to Pablo Mari, who was marking Lukaku for the first goal and then simply fell over – Mustafi-esque like – in the build up before the Belgian tapped in. It was dreadful defending from a player who is looking worse and worse with every game. I know Arteta loves a left-footed centre half on that side, but surely we can’t keep doing this? Surely there comes a point in which he drops Mari and I’d even be putting Holding in until Gabriel is back. He has looked leggy, suspect in his positioning, he’s slow and right now I’m wondering what he offers to this team. Perhaps after next weekend’s hammering away at Man City we can have him drop down the pecking order as White and Gabriel could return, but it’s a damming indictment on our defensive situation that he is getting regular game time.
But it is what it is. It feels like it could get worse next weekend too and try as he might to convince us that it’ll all get better, I’m just not sure on Arteta at the moment. We won’t score next weekend. We’ll lose that match and it is a question of by how much. Then you’re looking at three games, zero goals, plenty conceded, confidence dropping. And we saw what that did to the team last November. That’s what I fear. The negative confidence death spiral. And after the international break it won’t get easier.
Sorry I can’t be more positive today folks. Feeling pretty low.
Catch you all tomorrow.