Arteta (61 o.g.)
It is damning reading whichever spin you want to put on it. No points from the five away games against the top six in the Premier League; fifteen points dropped which have strengthened the position of teams around us. More damning than any statistic is the fact that we have not looked like taking any points in any of those fixtures. At least Arsenal were consistent in that respect at Goodison Park.
How on earth has it come to this? The only thing that changed from Anfield, from Stamford Bridge, is the scoreline. The collapse may not have been as deep, quick or severe but it was as damaging. Post-match, Arsène spoke of the need to get “back to basics” and whilst listening to Billy Bragg’s album will no doubt provoke some thoughts, I am not sure how it will help to improve performances. Promoting social awareness is all well and good but discovering A New England is not necessarily the same as rediscovering form.
Wenger was at least honest about the match,
Our performance was not convincing, defensively not offensively. Everton were better than us and deserved to win. It’s a very disappointing result and a very disappointing performance, the two go together
In truth, Arsenal were outfought, out-thought, outwitted, outsmarted whilst Everton were out of sight by the interval. Crucially, even with a defensive shield in front of the back four, there were still plenty of gaps to be found and exploited ruthlessly. Monreal was exposed by Lukaku’s presence on the right with help in short supply as Everton moved the ball efficiently. The words carry a familiarity not just in the repetitiveness of use after the big matches but because they are ones more closely associated with Arsenal performances. Where has it all gone wrong, Arsène?
Wenger is in an invidious position. His loyalty to the players means that he has to defend them come what may but in reality he must feel incredibly let-down by them; disappointed, angry, bewildered. The latter is the only explanation one can find for the slowness of change. Arsenal needed some impetus before the halfway point of the second half when Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey entered the fray. The pair and Sanogo offered the prospect of putting a false air of respectability on the scoreline with the Welshman providing energy, Oxlade-Chamberlain crashing a shot against the bar and dubious officiating robbing Sanogo of his maiden Arsenal goal. But a two-goal salvo would have flattered to deceive, papering over the cracks. In truth, Arsenal got what they deserved out of the game; nothing.
Roberto Martinez hit the nail on the head in his post-match observation that this was a “a huge three points from a psychological point of view“, not just in Everton’s chase but in reinforcing negative messages in the Arsenal players minds. They have failed at every domestic hurdle away from home this season: United, City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton. The matches where points can have a positive impact not just in your own total but restricting that which your opponents can reach. Had it been five defeats by a single goal, the perception would have been different but the craven capitulations on five separate occasions is incomprehensible. How can players supposedly at their peak, be so collectively poor. The only one I think who would escape censure for yesterday was Wojciech Szczesny. In fact I have a lot of sympathy for him, exposed hopelessly by his teammates for all the goals, pulling off two saves in the process only to see a lack of response from those in front of him, slower than Naismith and Mirallas to rebounds. Or the former at least; perhaps Arteta being slower than Mirallas would have kept the score down to two, who knows?
It is the manner of the goals being conceded – why did Monreal force a central striker inside when pushing Lukaku makes more sense – that is baffling. Arsenal were significant contributors to their own downfall and the lack of response openly calls into question Arsène’s assertion that the spirit of the squad cannot be called into question. The fight displayed against Manchester City was absent and I don’t think you can separate the spirit as Arsène refers to, from confidence which is at a low. The tough run of games appears to have openly taken its toll on some players, Cazorla looks shattered and bereft of inspiration in himself. As hard as he may try – and I would not fault anyone’s effort, I don’t think they are shirking from the workload – it isn’t ‘happening’ for him; a talented player is looking rather, well, ordinary.
And whilst the players are rightly bearing the brunt of the criticism for the performances – they are rightly applauded when it goes well, the brickbats have to be taken after they have let the club down – the manager and coaching staff are not exempt from criticism either. A one-off defeat can be excused, thrashings are painful but as long as the lessons are learned, there is nothing but good to come from them. When the same tactical errors are made, there is a problem. Arsène set the team out as most expected him to and whilst I understand the logic in pursuing the gameplan despite the setback of an early goal being conceded, the midfield was bereft of invention. Even with the personnel on offer, nothing happened to put Everton on the back foot; there was no response to Naismith’s opener and that is concerning.
Ultimately, we can offer as many extenuating circumstances as we want for a one-off performance but repetition of the same mistakes, displaying the same shortcomings indicates that lessons are not being learned or imparted effectively on the pitches of London Colney. It’s ludicrous to claim the players are not playing for the manager but they don’t seem to be invigorated by him or the staff. Is that fed in part by their own interpretation of the uncertainty over the future? Perhaps but it strikes me that the issue of confidence is much more deep-rooted and I don’t think Arsène can solve the problems on his own. I don’t think that he can resolve the issues, full stop. I don’t think it is fair on him, however, to draw a contrast on managerial posture beside the pitch. Of course Roberto Martinez was full of life, the Spaniard was exuberant watching his team dismantle a team above them. If that display doesn’t charge you with energy, nothing will. Of course Arsène was muted by contrast, how can you be perky with another defeat staring you in the face. The problem was not beside the pitch, the problem was how easily Arsène was outwitted by another younger manager.
It’s a dreadful end to the season with the FA Cup a welcome distraction from the Premier League at the moment. It’s increasingly looking like a swan song.