Manchester City 3 – 0 Arsenal
A pitiful postscript to the afternoon. Arsène Wenger provided a pitiful vignette on the final and in the closing years of his reign.
We’re on a Road to Nowhere
This is the umpteenth rewrite of today’s post.
I tried to capture the mood of the afternoon but gave up when I couldn’t find a new way to describe our performance. Abject is too kind.
In all the years I’ve watched Arsenal, it was the worst performance in a final I’ve seen. Yet in the dark moments following the defeat, I found empathy with my fellow supporters. I understand the numbness Villa fans felt as they watched goals enter the net in what they hoped would be a moment of glory.
There’s a moment in every game when you know the race is run. To call it as kick-off yesterday is cheating but when Auba missed from virtually on the goal-line, that was it; game over. We prodded the sleeping bear with a stick and it was furious. It took a while to get going but landed a serious blow despite its sleep-ridden state.
With a little help from Arsenal, of course. For £35m, we expect more. Shkodran Mustafi is an accident waiting to happen, much like the rest of the defence bar Nacho.
With 20 Germany caps, Mustafi can’t be a bad player; £35m was steep but we were in dire straits and needed a virtuoso. We got a three-chord wonder instead.
The mistake is beyond elementary. It was the sort a professional shouldn’t make yet we do so with alarming regularity. Sergio Aguero made no mistake with the lobbed finish. Earlier in the game but as catastrophic as Koscielny and Szczesny’s cock-up last time we were at Wembley in a League Cup final.
We huffed and puffed for the rest of the half. Matters weren’t helped when our leading scorer from recent weeks, Nacho Monreal, withdrew after 25 minutes or so, but we were already floundering by then.
They’ll Make a Fool of You
For a while, we dragged City down to our level, as if ready for a scrap but we neither fought nor went toe-to-toe to get outpassed in a passing battle. We did nothing but surrender meekly.
Lacklustre, rudderless, and leaderless; there was no desire and no connection between the three areas of the pitch. The gap between midfield and attack became too far to bridge while the gap between the defence and defending continues to grow unhindered.
A decade ago it didn’t seem possible; not even five years ago, but the truth is here: Arsenal are a long ball side. And not a very good one. Arsène opened the gate and treads the trail which Bertie Mee, Terry Neill, Don Howe, and George Graham blazed before him.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang found himself isolated, on the periphery of the game in the same way he was when we played Tottenham at Wembley. Mesut Ozil, marginalised as ever in a big match, was unable to provide any hint of a passing game.
Jack Wilshere, so often given a free pass on the pages for effort when there is nothing else in a performance to cling on to, was equally ineffective and considerably more petulant. Granit Xhaka, Sead Kolasinac; the same boat. Supposedly good players in Germany but failing to find consistency in the Premier League.
The transfer market is a risk, but we increase that by signing players who don’t fit in a system. Not that we have a favoured way of playing. Back three, back four; neither matters because we’re inept with both.
Wenger doesn’t like the former and prefers the latter yet our defensive signing this summer was the best left back in the Bundesliga in three. So, we switch to a four and find he doesn’t fit.
They Can Tell You What To Do
It wasn’t always this way. We used to be the team everyone admired but no more. We’re the team who used to be, full stop. We used to defend, we used to pass but there’s no uniqueness anymore. Half-a-dozen top-flight sides do both better than us now.
The fear at half-time was that while City had several gears to go through, we did not. And so it came to pass. Not from Arsenal, obviously. Our passing was all over the place – anywhere but where it was intended to go.
Prior to the match, Wenger dismissed Guardiola’s influence with Barcelona and on the English game. In not so many words, he dismissed him as a chequebook manager. That was the only defence of Arsenal seen from those who still believe in the manager.
Yesterday, he got his answer. Guardiola gave a half-time talk which elicited a response. City improved and made us look worse. From our perspective, you cannot distinguish between the two halves; that’s how low we’ve sunk and how ineffective Wenger is now.
While City’s squad are hungry for success and buy into the manager’s philosophy, nobody at Arsenal plays like they believe. They aren’t even louche about it; just disinterested.
Nothing at Arsenal will change until Wenger and his senior coaches have gone. ‘Wengerball’ is a distant memory and there’s little to be optimistic about. The league table tells us that win our game in hand and we’re within five points of the top four. The game in hand is against Manchester City.
Taking That Ride to Nowhere
We’re in no man’s land as a club. In two seasons, we’ve gone from the Champions League to fighting to be in the qualifiers for the Europa League.
On Thursday night, we suffered arguably the worst European performance of the past two decades but were told the heavily rotated side was to blame for it. What excuse for yesterday? New players, same problems.
There’s only one common thread: Arsène Wenger. Had the board and owner any balls, we would be rebuilding this season. Now, we’re treading water with lead weights tied around our ankles.