There comes a point in every season when things need to be changed. Depending on performances, it might happen once, twice, three times a season as Lionel Richie opined before he realised a more commercially astute path beckoned by substituting ‘football’ with ‘lady’ in a song title. And the masses fell for it..
Sorry to shatter a myth or two there.
Arsène faces such a moment. There are those who will point to the results going into the Monaco game as a sign things were going OK and football is nothing but a results-based business. When that doesn’t come, focus turns to performances and when they don’t come…do you stick or twist? And if you twist, how far do you go?
It’s a tough question to answer. The options for Arsène are limited. He has options in most positions but not all of them. Most, if not all, of the team were markedly poor on Wednesday night; how does he decide who to axe. It’s a pivotal moment in the season with a top five finish nowhere near assured. A poor response by players and manager to the defeat could undo the hard work in the past twenty games.
The notion of fielding an unchanged side on Sunday is not as fanciful as it seems. There is history of the same players putting in an entirely different level of performance within a week; God knows we’ve seen them play well enough at a weekend only to lose the plot completely in the next match. My immediate reaction was to look at half the side and change it. I don’t think that will happen but the option of using Santi Cazorla in a deeper-lying role has been exposed. It works against supine opposition but can easily be neutered. In those circumstances, the likelihood of Jack Wilshere returning to the starting line-up increased.
There will be beneficiaries of course. Wojciech Szczesny must have looked at Ospina’s performances recently and having been envious of the luck the Colombian enjoyed, is probably wondering if Arsène is judging his goalkeepers to be on a par. There are others, Nacho Monreal, who will fancy their chances of establishing themselves as the outright first choice whilst Theo Walcott is surely thinking likewise. It was that kind of defeat.
What concerns me is the ease with which any gameplan that Arsène put in place beforehand was so easily undone. Monegasque players and officials are rightly and understandably crowing about the fact that Arsenal played exactly how they expected, making the visitors job straightforward. The Arsenal players collective failings exacerbated the problems which Monaco were already prepared to try to exploit.
What the second leg holds, I don’t know and I’m not sure I want to contemplate right now, especially with experienced players talking openly about how the only option now is to go to the Principality and attack. Easy meat for headline writers to use the phrase, “Gung-ho“. Disconcerting and downright worrying when you see how easily Arsenal were picked off on Wednesday.
Before that the Premier League and FA Cup interrupt our thoughts. Sunday sees Everton who have by turn been obdurate and easy opponents. Like Monaco, they haven’t conceded many goals, certainly not since Christmas. They are however not scoring many either. Like Monaco. I can’t be the only one with a sense of deja vu here, can I? No, I don’t think that it will be a breeze.
The pressure is always on Arsène but there are cracks appearing in the fabric of the club’s loyalty. Like Jeremy Wilson, I don’t expect the club to change manager before the end of the current but it’s interesting that it seems someone has fed the journalist some off-the-record thoughts. It’s definitely appears to be an attempt by the owners to quell criticism about a lack of investment in his other sporting enterprises, to ensure that Arsenal are not tarred by the same brush.
We look forward now, the players must redress the wrongs as much as the manager. The response comes Sunday; the right words beforehand but now, more than ever, it’s a time for action.