Congratulations to Manchester City, the best team in this country by some distance. I’m not going to be churlish and draw attention to unbeaten seasons; it’s unbecoming.
Were Manchester United were humiliated more by yesterday’s events? Being the victims who hand over the title in defeat must be a deeply unpleasant experience. But watching your team lose at home to the hopelessly inept team at the bottom of the Premier League, knowing that defeat handed the title to your local rivals? Surely that’s worse?
The astute will note that it’s a case of anything but talk about Arsenal’s defeat at Newcastle this bright and sunny morning. It won’t last, of course, and as I type this, the dark clouds provide a momentary interlude.
Honestly, I’m beyond knowing where to start. I’m a lot less emotionally eviscerated by the result and performance this morning. More phlegmatic, which is why I am grateful for the moment of sanity which prevented the anger spilling into a vitriolic post, ranting against the manager. No purpose is served, beyond making me feel better for the briefest of instances.
Those who defend the manager always laughed at the hyperbole of ‘we’re the worst team in the land’ type comments. Well, it’s a fact. Arsenal are the only one of the 92 professional clubs without an away win this year. Even Chesterfield who prop up the Football League have won away from home in 2018.
To those hardy souls who carry the baton at away games, my sympathies. Hopefully, the social side of the day makes up for it all. It always used to back in the day when results and performances failed to materialise. And that’s quite a frequent occurrence these days.
Where’s the Three-man Defence Going to Gestate? You Going to Keep it in a Box?
So, to the reason we’re here today and where to begin? For a brief spell, the hope of a victory filled the air. Alexandre Lacazette’s fine finish hinted at a potent partnership with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Credit Shkodran Mustafi for an exquisitely weighted raking pass into PEA’s path.
Not that there was much design on Wenger’s part for the partnership. PEA was the square peg pushed into a round hole, played on the left albeit moving into a more central role whenever he could. The manager doesn’t have a plan to play the pair together; there’s no semblance of a tactical overhaul which makes the best use of his assets. Sigh.
Before I take issue with the performance, a brief pause to commend Chris Willock for a solid Premier League debut in testing circumstances. Plenty of promise for the future in what will surely be better Arsenal sides.
But the rest. Wenger tried to blame the trip to Russia for the poverty of some performances. According to the Frenchman, “you could see that some players had played on Thursday night, especially late in the game.”
That’s why you have substitutes; when a player is tired, replace him. It’s the sort of thing you expect a manager to be acutely aware of; Elneny might be knackered after his exertions, keep an eye on Mustafi and Monreal while you’re at it.
Yesterday’s bench had a centre-back, right-back and left-back. OK, Maitland-Niles is versatile, but the point is that two of the players seemed specifically picked to accommodate tiredness in colleagues. Wenger didn’t react to that, instead being left to chase the game long after it was over.
He’s not the Messiah, He’s a Very Naughty Boy
It’s hard to take your eyes off Mustafi, a walking defensive disaster area. While Perez finished well for the equaliser, I can’t escape the feeling that a centre-back ought to be stopping that goalbound shot.
Shelvey had already played the pass for his forwards to chase a couple of time before the goal and they were willing runners, just like Shane Long. Ball-watching, Mustafi found himself unable to force Perez wider or react to the shot.
As for the second, if there were a criminal court for defending, Arsenal were guilty. Monreal didn’t clear well at all, and Mustafi gawped as Slimani headed back across goal. Ritchie’s determination was such that he was never going to be stopped from equalising.
Ultimately, none of this matters. We lurch from one bad performance to another, unable to find any consistency. There’s no point in looking ahead because we are such a Jekyll and Hyde team, no-one can tell how we will play, least of all the manager.
He told Sky after the match that it was “baffling how we lost this game”, that “It is a little bit of the story of the season away from home: we went 1-0 up, we don’t put the game to bed and we made mistakes defensively.”
If it’s the story of the season, why aren’t you addressing it? Because it’s a trifling matter, the stuff a visionary such as Arsène can’t be expected to deal with. That’s for lesser mortals and their teams.
He offered little proof that he is the man to save the day.
“How do we address it?”
Do tell, do tell.
“By not making the same errors we have up to now, it’s quite baffling because traditionally we have been very strong away from home.”