Stoke City 1 – 0 Arsenal
I am not going to lose my sht about the second game of the season…I am not going to lose my sht over the second game of the season…
That’s the verbal equivalent of Michael Palin’s elastic bands, for those that recall the Alan Bleasdale-penned series G.B.H. Stoke away has traditionally caused Arsène Wenger problems but last season’s demolition gave hope that a new Arsenal were in town. Arsenal 2.0, if you like. Instead, we got Arsenal 2010 or 2011 or anything insipid Arsenal which has previously pitched up in the Potteries.
We flattered to deceive in typical Wenger fashion. Plenty of early opportunities and possession stats which were eye-watering but no end product. Another case of style over substance and a costly defeat. Others will devastate Stoke; they aren’t a good side and it won’t be any surprise if they flirt with relegation. But they beat us and that’s the tangible, the one thing which should have happened.
It was down most to our own failings. In attack, defence, midfield, and management, we were found wanting at key times. When we got our act together, Jack Butland was in the way and serving notice to Wenger that Petr Cech’s time is most likely up next season and we tend to do rather well with English goalkeepers.
The Future’s Not So Bright We’ve Got To Wear Shades
We can point to the wrongly disallowed Lacazette equaliser. The official drew praise for sharp-sightedness but it was a guess; he got it wrong. There was a documentary on BT Sport which drew attention for Mike Dean’s antics on the training ground but the telling point is that most offside decisions are guesses based on perception. There’s a mantra of something like ‘if you look offside with a one-metre gap, you’re onside’. It works a lot of the time but there’s always one…
We can also point to the penalty which Hector Bellerin won but wasn’t awarded. Crucial moments with wrong decisions by the officials. Games are won and lost in those moments; it’s wrong to dismiss them and as Arsène said post-match, “we were unlucky with some of the referee’s decisions.”
There was also some bad luck with the team selection. Who knew that playing two left backs in the centre and a right back on the left would leave us with an unsettled back line. Wenger had the brass balls to claim that he “was not convinced by our central defence today” when he spoke to hacks after the match. You selected it, have the guts to stand up and say you were the problem before you blame the players.
It’s a policy of appeasement which history tells us never ends well. This time, Wenger has to fit both Oxlade-Chamberlain and Bellerin into the XI lest they become upset and leave. Instead of picking Mertesacker and Holding, we got Nacho – who plays well at left central defence, don’t get me wrong – but Kolasinac is a left back. It’s nonsensical to play him in the middle and then criticise “the central defence”. Anything but hold your hands up over team selection.
Sloppy Defending + Missed Chances = Dropped Points
That doesn’t absolve the players on the goal. It was a sucker punch; poorly ceded possession left a hole in midfield while Ramsey was in attack. A counter-attack where those tracking back – Özil – didn’t continue defending Jese’s run and the defence which didn’t close the run down either. A horrible goal to concede. A very Arsenal goal to concede.
But it shouldn’t have been more than a consolation for Stoke. We had the opportunities ourselves to score but poor finishing and good goalkeeping. Butland’s positioning was first-rate and when needed so were his saves.
It’s hard to draw positives from this performance. Too many were sub-par on the day; pretty passing but ineffective. Mesut Özil drew criticism for his performance and rightly so. As negotiating ploys go, it wasn’t worth £250k per week. And that’s an issue to be dealt with. In that XI, he is the big fish. He is the player whose wages demand he pulls the rest up to his level rather than slinking into anonymity. He isn’t that player though but he must become it to justify himself every week.
The wait for back-to-back wins at the start of a season goes on. Anyone who held aspirations for a title challenge needs to take note of the performance as much as the result. If there were genuine thoughts of lifting the Premier League trophy at the end of the season, this defeat would be the catalyst for change. But as we know, Arsène doesn’t know what that means.
A very poor performance and one which tells us that the new boss is very much the same as the old boss.