Sigh. Double sigh. That’s it for our domestic cup campaigns and we find ourselves out of them both within the space of two weeks. It is frustrating, but for some reason, I am reeling even more than I thought I would this morning. I think it is because in my mind I’d built up this game as a proper ‘Good vs Evil’ encounter. Liverpool were the cheaters, the gamers of the system. The guys that lied to get this game pushed back two weeks so they could play their entire first team – Salah and Mane aside – and we were the good guys who had said “fair enough” and let the EFL and Liverpool fiddle the system. I had hope that we would be able to replicate the performance against Man City (of course not the result) and we would be able to show just how far we had come against the second best team in the country.
But alas, ’twas not to be. Evil sometimes triumphs over good and Liverpool’s sh*thousery over the postponement has got them in to the final.
I know I am also being a little disingenuous with that opening thought too, though, let me say that. Because if we’re all honest with each other they were the better team on the night. Able to field a full strength side of players who looked fully fit and firing, after the initial positive first 15 minutes where we hit the bar through Lacazette (more on him anon), Liverpool invariably scored against the run of play and after that the game swung in their favour. Jota is a class player, but you can’t give him that much time and space to dribble across the 18-yard box. Tomiyasu’s defending of it was poor, but he wasn’t helped out by his teammates and Ramsdale looked really flat-footed as the ball trickled in. It was a really poor goal to concede and frustrating because Liverpool didn’t deserve it at that point.
But in that goal I think we saw a big factor in why we didn’t get that big performance we were hoping for; it looked to me that we had a number of players who just didn’t look 100% fit. Tomiyasu was certainly the chief in that and afterwards Arteta admitted he hadn’t trained and we just had to through him in because of injuries to Chambers and Cedric. So having spent the last five days being lambasted by the media for not playing our kids, I think this shows just how down to the bare bones we have been and you have to worry about how fit they will be for Burnley at the weekend.
Emile Smith Rowe managed just over an hour but he didn’t look 100% and Saka wasn’t taking on players and weaving as much as he normally does. We had guys going out there that were patched up and you could tell. And for me that is the frustration. A fully-fit and firing Arsenal team with a functioning midfield probably give Liverpool more of a game. But we just couldn’t. It was similar problems to the Forest game; our midfield of Sambi and Odegaard just didn’t feel like it worked yesterday and at times Sambi was a little too isolated. That’s not to dig our Odegaard though, because I thought he played quite well and in possession he looked good. But we had too many times where we weren’t in possession and Liverpool’s fully-fit first team were able to capitalise on that.
But at least we had Partey on the bench for the second half, right? At he could come in and sure us up? I think in hindsight giving him 20 minutes was a lot to ask of a player who had arrived in the UK at 12pm. Bear in mind that the flight from Cameroon is a seven hour one, so he will have left at 5am UK time, touched down at 12pm, got to the team hotel probably around 2pm and then travelled with his teammates to the game. Easy to say in hindsight, but we should have saved him for Burnley at the weekend. And now we don’t have him because the night had the sh*t cherry on the sh*t cake when he got himself sent off for a silly tackle on 90 minutes. Looking at the first challenge that got a yellow it looked harsh, especially as Fabinho got away with a number of fouls and was never punished. But that’s just us I guess and now we have the same problem because despite being fit, both of our first choice centre midfielders are now serving suspensions. How very Arsenal, eh? Especially when you think about how we’ve offloaded a bunch of players and haven’t yet replaced them.
The midfield was a problem, but an equal problem we have is up front, because Lacazette offered nothing last night. His free kick in the opening minutes was good, but after that his night was done. He waddled around up top, he rarely offered any kind of out-ball for the team and when he had his one big chance after a good ball from Sambi, he blazed it over. The reason we are calling for a better centre forward right now is that we see an opportunity in top four and as it stands, we have nothing up front, because when Nketiah replaced him did anybody really believe he’d do anything? I didn’t. Lacazette and Nketiah as your two striking options does not a top four team make and we are going to fall away – despite the lack of intensity of matches – in the coming weeks unless something drastic happens.
And there are no excuses for action not to be taken now. We have made room in the squad by exiting players. We have cleared some deadwood. We have trimmed the wage bill and now we are looking alarmingly threadbare. After the Burnley game on Sunday we have eight full days of the transfer window and no match to speak of. After this Sunday we have 18 days until our next match away to Wolves. Xhaka will be back, Partey will be back, Pepe will be back, players will be rested, but we absolutely should have added to our team and we shouldn’t be looking at any more difficulty in terms of player availability. We are in one competition and we’re playing once a week. Those players need to be fighting and ready for every match.
Arteta needs to pick them up off the floor this morning because we have a clarity of vision and that has to be that top four spot.
Go and get it Arsenal.