If That’s An Arsenal XI Going For History, God Help Us All

B

Arsenal 1 – 2 Watford

0 – 1 Ighalo (49)
0 – 2 Guedioura (63)
1 – 2 Welbeck (87)

You are always in the middle of a drama. It is becoming a farce. We have lost a game. We are sad and we want to focus on the next game. Arsenal has lost games before in history and we will lose again in the future. We will stick together and cope with it and prepare for the next one with complete belief.

Not even Papal Infallibility stopped scrutiny of decisions, Arsène. Even referees have to put up with constant questioning; you enjoy the opportunity to answer your critics back although I wonder if you’d prefer to sit in silence in your own ivory tower.

Arsenal’s reign as FA Cup holders is over. Arsène politely described it as happening in “a sad way”; I can think of much stronger adjectives and will no doubt use them later in this piece. The frenzied finish summed Arsenal’s season up. Hope destroyed, revived, tantalising close to being grasped but ultimately, the opportunity was thrown away by the preceding, largely insipid, 85 minutes. Even at two-down, urgency was very noticeable by its absence.

And, despite his protestations to the contrary, this is very much the end of Arsenal’s season. We’ll limp through the remaining Premier League games, maybe even capitalise on a slip by Tottenham to finish second although I’m not holding my breath on that. Instead of recognising this as a failure, it will be hailed as an Arsenal triumph, proof that the old fox has life in him yet. He does but he’s Italian.

Tomorrow’s trip to Catalunya will feature a strong squad, Arsenal hasn’t given up hope. Or his words haven’t, even if his body language betrays that belief. If retrieving a two-goal deficit in Munich was Mission: Impossible, this is a mite harder. Concerns about damaging morale by a second-string XI being mauled miss the point. Morale surely can’t go any lower than it is now, crushed by losing a home cup-tie to Watford.

For the first time, Arsenal have lost three consecutive home games at The Emirates. Everything which is wrong with the club at the moment is summed up with two of them being against Watford and Swansea. Please don’t embarrass yourself by trying to claim it’s the result of improved standards in the Premier League. This is down to Arsenal and how much of a backward step this season has been.

The business side of the club is fine, Stan admitted as much last week and let’s be honest, if there were problems there, he’d be over with his six-gun and 11-gallon hat doing his rootiness-tootiness Yosemite Sam impression, shooting all the varmints who were causing problems.

But the football? That’s another story.

As Andy pondered yesterday, is the club’s biggest asset becoming its biggest liability? Has Arsène been so overtaken by events that he is overwhelmed by football’s modern thinking. Kroenke, whether he cares to admit it or not, is on the cusp of having to make one of the momentous decisions in the history of Arsenal Football Club: can Arsène Wenger still manage the club, build title challenges and bring it success once more?

The body language of the players for 85 minutes yesterday brings that into question. The bewilderment as they approached the banks of four midfielders which Watford so obdurately set, seemed to baffle talented individuals. The lack of imagination was baffling, individuality was noticeable by its absence and the XI was devoid of ideas.

And then the spark of life, a glimmer of hope that we might enjoy a reprieve. The goal raised spirits; oh, for some more luck and better finishing. It didn’t come, exit FA Cup stage left. The brief, late tempest aside, it happened in the most insipid manner imaginable. The squad has as little regard for the cup as they do the league; they didn’t want either enough.

Yes, the decisive goal was a wonder-strike, Guedioura won’t hit the ball as sweetly again in his career. But the defensive woes which beset us were highlighted in the first. Mertesacker’s barely left the ground as he tried to prevent the near-post flick-on. Gabriel managed to mark Igahlo tightly without achieving anything. Two-down with a quarter of the match remaining.

The cavalry charge came with a baffling decision to leave a defensive midfielder on the pitch whilst removing a wide player and central striker. OK, Giroud didn’t look like he was going to score in a month of Sundays but that had as much to do with the poor service he received as his own fragile confidence. Joel Campbell’s flirtation with form is over, the limitations of his one-footedness evident whilst Alexis slipped in and out of the match, ineffective on the whole.

Arsène’s view that the players head toward Barcelona with “complete belief” is as hollow as his recent claims that we are still in the title race. The back four played as strangers at times, Gabriel is fast becoming the litmus test of how the afternoon will go. A good game by him and we do well. Yesterday, he was lucky to stay on the pitch and we spent the match as he did: pushing our luck.

How a player who previously looked an accomplished centre back has degenerated into a nervous wreck is a problem Arsenal have yet to confront.

I’m struggling to think of the positives. Mesut Özil was Mesut Özil, floating like a butterfly watching Arsenal sting like one. He genuinely is wasted on his team mates; bereft of confidence and belief, feelings which must surely be transmitting to the German. Tough contract negotiations lay ahead for the club in his case.

Chambers and Elneny did OK, providing support and working hard, the same as Coquelin. It’s just that the whole XI had the feeling of being distinctly average. Lionel Messi told his colleagues that Arsenal could still win the tie. How they must have been rocking in the aisles as he finished that sentence, re-affirmed that the Catalans could field a La Masia XI tomorrow and still win comfortably.

It’s not looking good, Arsène. Not looking good at all.

’til Tomorrow.

143 thoughts on “If That’s An Arsenal XI Going For History, God Help Us All

  1. Henry

    If Wenger stays on then yes. If not then it’s game on because we have enough talent to win it even next year if you get a manager and backroom team in that are gonna pull the plug on utopia. Then implement a serious operation.

  2. This set up reminds me of my frustrations at people when they use to give me praise for the various things I could do and would put it down to natural born talent and then make excuses as to why they couldn’t do certain things.

    Then i came across a quote from Malcolm Gladwell. “It takes roughly 10.000 hours to gain mastery in any given field” Boom.
    It’s that simple. Practice. You get out what you put in.

  3. That is a good quote, Colts, and I think it is along the lines of one I heard about Gary Player, the brilliant South African golfer who at the top of his career was accused of being lucky to have won a particular tournament, and he said, “You know – the more I practise, the luckier I get”.

    Actually, that quote has been attributed to a lot of brilliant sports people, and proves your point.

  4. For people with a reasonable amount of talent that’s true. Sadly for us lesser mortals there have been studies to try and validate this and it seems that if you have little or no talent even after 10,000 hours you will likely still be less than brilliant. One was I recall done by a guy practising his table tennis. He got better, but still not much better than the average club player. A real kick in the nuts for us wannabe’s. I’ve taken up drumming in the last eighteen months, sadly my desire to put in those 10,000 hours seems to be at odds with my neighbour’s desire for a quiet life…..Bastards.

    That said you’d have to assume that our players have more than a little talent so perhaps there is something else missing? I’ve always liked the Gary Player quote though. Leicester one up and another nail in Wenger’s coffin.

  5. I have a different view Colts,
    Kroenke hasn’t provided a platform for progression at all.
    He has created an environment where making money is more important than trophies. Sure he will take the kudos attached to winning, but he hasn’t created the platform at all.
    He like Wenger because he enables him to achieve his goals. And they are both self acknowledged “moneyball” advocates.
    Yes Wenger makes all the decisions regarding the team, and is therefore just as entitled to be criticised.
    It’s not an either / or.
    They both are to blame.

  6. Colts

    What we don’t see is the hidden strings attached to the spending. I’m absolutely convinced that funds are only available if 4th spot is at risk. Chips often says the cash is there, but he’s saying under his breath “if you need it for 4th”. We needed a signing in the summer we bought Ozil as we had chased two strikers and got neither. Alexis was the signing that Wenger thought would get him the goals without undermining his golden boy, Giroud. Wenger makes the decisions, but the lead from on high is that cash is only there if you can present a really good case for spending it. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can see no other reason why a manager refuses to spend money. In fact, if they so desperately wanted him to spend the cash wouldn’t they be questioning why the manager takes the risks he does with his transfer policy? Wouldn’t you spend the money if you really had it? That bollox in the summer about finding no outfield players who were better than what we had was a complete joke and smacked to me if cash not really being there. You can have the money got Cech as it is a great opportunity and our young Pole is random. Do you really need to buy anyone else to get 4th? Leicester caught everyone out and if Chelsea, City and Manure were performing to the level we normally expect we would have spent a lot more in January.

  7. Kante is unfucking real, he just puts out ALL fires and if he doesn’t then he slows the opposition down and his mates rally and help him.

    Don’t care what some think but a DM that has the work rate to match his desire and discipline can make all the difference in the world. Yes goal scorers are massive but to have that player in midfield that not only puts out fires but slows down countera is massive.

  8. Watching Leicester is a revelation. Players with purpose, a clear game plan and a determination to see it through.

    In contrast we lack direction and a plan. We also lack players with the ability to take a game by the scuff of the neck and kill it.

    I don’t want Arsene, or Stan, anywhere near our club.

    Whatever is going on there, it’s not healthy for football or the club.

  9. @Bob

    Watching Kante and the other pivot is why I think an Elneny/Le Coq pivot can work. The difference, they understand their roles and do their jobs. I think we have two players that have done it but we wait to see more of Elneny.

    Okazaki while a skilled player, works his socks off. Does Huth have more pace than Mert, no but they have a system that allows him to play to his strengrhs a not get exposed.

    We have the players to play like that but don’t have the directuon and thats the difference.

  10. I really like Benitez, knows his tactics and is an extremely knowledgeable manager.

    Can already see his changes to this Newcastle side.

  11. C
    Practically anyone has got more pace than Mert,
    I said on here before Xmas that Gabriel must be piss poor in training,as he wasn’t getting any starts except when there was no other choice. I can see now why that is, but it begs the question as to why this has happened, he has become a nervey, confidence lacking, shadow of the player he appeared to be initially,

  12. Time is running out for us. It’s looking inauspicious. This is looking like you bastards are going to be proven right!

  13. Henry

    Love the subtle sarcasm in that quote:-) like they say how you make your own luck in football. Sure some of it is genuine luck like that goal that entered a black hole recently. But making the opponent make mistakes is a sort of luck borne from a good plan.

    Andy

    :-). I think there are more factors than just practice, the type, your own passion and perceptions. Having asthma as a child I always saw my brothers stamina as a natural talent.
    If I had to guess I’d say it’s the attention to detail that’s missing. Barcelona say a lot, but I remember them sayin years ago how afraid of Theo they was. So I would assume they thought his pace would be utilised well. Fast forward to today and we still don’t know how to use him. Tinkerman the sequel.

    Phil

    I think having a stable billionaire that isn’t goin to plough money in then die is good enough for me. Perhaps provided was the wrong word, this environment you speak of was established long before sk got here, it was the whole point of moving. And we all excepted it till the denilson sized cracks started to appear, and a djourou wall fell down revealing arshavin and podolski stuffing their faces whilst takings selfies.
    Do I believe the board or Stan should have a more hands on approach? Yes in a perfect world managed correctly but I also don’t have a problem with the board not bein bothered whether he has a plan or not. Fly Emirates or crash and burn. Kinda like Wengers management style, figure it out or your benched.

    Wavey

    Kinda hinted at it in my response to Phil. The list of sub pars that over stayed their welcome is sad reading with the most significant one still stinking the place out tryin to get us in the saarch.

    Phil@9.29

    Nice 🙂 hope your right on behalf of all of us.

  14. Colts,
    I don’t necessarily want Kroenke, or any other owner to be more involved then they are.
    The Board sets the strategic direction, and the executive team run it.
    That is the normal approach.
    But our strategy appears to be :
    Maximise making money.
    The best way to achieve that is to ensure we finish top 4 and get into Europe.
    Winning things is a bonus.
    Kroenke doesn’t have to plough anything in, just reinvest the funds that are generated by the club. That is the least that any owner should do.

  15. Final point,
    Whilst it is appropriate to have at least one ” football ” person on the Board.
    I would never put Wenger in there.

  16. @Buck

    Its the organization that Mert brings when at his best, plus Kos and Gabriel just don’t seem to work given our current system because they are essentially the same player. Gabriel, as Moe has said, is Kos when he first arrived: overly aggressive and no nonsense but reckless so you either get really good performances or you get nervy performances like Watford.

  17. @Colts

    Strangely the season RvP was finally banging in goals on thr regular for us, Arsene figured out how to use Theo and then the season after that he was still using him most effectively and since then he has scrapped that plan. I guess the old saying, “Don’t fix it if it isn’t broke” never truly applied.

  18. C

    It’s far to easy to blame Arsene for everything. The only thing that Arsene did to Theo was to give him a chance to play at the position a lot of fans and Theo himself wanted him to play

  19. Phil

    I have no problem with that strategy, it works, and the bonus would have came also if Wenger had planned better. Every year we’re in transition and are at least two players short, not to mention injuries.

    C

    As Bill alluded to, it takes two to tango. But ultimately for me Wenger created this situation in which a player can influence his own position either through contract negotiations or bad play. Once this year I saw Theo mirror what Sanchez was doin on the other side and hoped it was a new more mature Theo. Haven’t seen it since, we know he can do it, so why doesn’t he do it more often than not.
    Wenger seems to have too much faith in players physically and mentally.

  20. Arsene is the captain of the ship and his job to make global decisions and he is the one who has built this squads culture. However he can’t control the form of individual players once they are on the pitch. Theo is certainly capable of thriving in the system we play.

  21. We talked about it a lot when Podolski was here. You can only run one system at a time and you can’t build a system that is perfect for the individual strengths of each player. Occasionally there might be a player who is really good but does not fit very well with what the team is trying to do. However I think that is relatively uncommon. There are exceptions but most players who are really talented can usually make themselves fit into a scheme and they can be influential if they make the effort.

    Players like Ramsey or Walcott who complained about the position they were being asked to play have more pressure to deliver something much better when they are finally put in the position they want. I would suggest that neither Theo or Ramsey did that.

  22. Bill – All true, but the buck stops with AW; he picks the players. Players he picks on a regular basis have shown time and time againa, that they are not really good enough/flawed players, yet AW persists. Walcott is almost the pefect example of this Arsenal side. Great in flashes, but you would not bet any significant sum on him peforming. Just too flakey.

    I think what you said was right five or six years ago. The players were letting him down. The players are still letting him down, yet he has not done anthing about it. That sits on his doorstep. We know before the season started , that only Giroud was a regular goalscorer from out three central options. And even then, he does it in spurts (as AW as remarked, so he knows this)…….yet he persised with that trio. Not we are not scoring enough goals and he has no real alternatives for a striker. And we did not sign one outfield player in the summer. That is nothing more than negligence.

    This all sounds like I am really anti-Wenger, but that could not be further from the truth. I think he is amazing……but he is leaving no more options. The truth (unfortunetely), is right before us. We have been a flakey side for the best part of a decade…..the manager is the only constant in that time.

  23. I am not sure this was the plan but the system we are running now has obviously evolved to be centered on Ozil. He has the freedom to get forward and stay forward and move wherever he wants. That may have become the default since he is the only attacking player who has really played at a reasonably high level. The team as a whole has really struggled with this system. Myself I don’t believe that is related to the system as much as the failures of the individual goal scorers. We have not had adequate firepower for years. We have tried to replaced players like Henry and Van Persie with Giroud, Bendtner, Chamakh, Gervinho Walcott Welbeck. We certainly can’t blame Ozil because he has a great season. However it is instructive that we have had perhaps the best seasons from an Arsenal #10 in this century and we will probably have the team with the fewest league goals in this century.

  24. @Bill

    Very true, but why even put the thought in a players head or if you do put that thought you tell the player, “hey your strongest and best position is here but you could play here if the situation called for it.”. Instead ot was the opposite way around.

  25. Bill – Agreed. Our system is not that different, and hasn’t been for a long time. Out problem has always been the balance of the side. And you are right about goalscorers; we have Giroud & Alexis. That is prety much it.

    I don’t know what it is with us really. We just have no verve when we attack. We don’t have enough players willing to run behind the defence, thus negating Ozil to a large degree and we seem too happy to just pass the ball about without really going anywhere. We are so predictable, we must be easy to play against in many respects.

    We have lots of “good” players, but only a few “very good” players. The problem is that AW keeps faith in the “good” players and seems unwilling up grade them. Giroud is a good example of this. I like him, he scores goals, and his hold up play can be exceptional. Should a club like Arsenal have better?…….probably. We don’t really have a stand out performer on the right; AOC not kicking on, Theo has been awful, Campbell and Ramsey both put a shift in and do OK…..but that is not enough.

    I like Coquelin and really rate him. He and Cazorla were really effective. But who else in the middle? Wilshere is the man (I believe) but is constantly crocked, Ramsey to flawed to play in the middle despite his great energy, Elneny looks decent, Flamini should not be starting games.

    Monreal and Bellarin are good full backs and Koscienly is a excellent CB. Cech is helping organise at the back. But in general, we conceed goals due to team setup without the ball. We are still just far too open when we lose it.

  26. @colts

    Thats the thing, we have seen Theo on the flank look better than Theo centrally since his return from injury, why not tell the player to focus on that? That goes back to direction and leadership. Sure the player wants to play there, but direct the player, tell him to focus on his strongest position for the team and should the situation arise, like playing a team such as Spuds who play a highline, then he can play there, otherwise focus on the flanks where he can have a better influence not just in the team but in matches. It goes back to direction and influence and that for me goes back to the manager. For instance, watching Leicester, Mahrez could play as their #10 and has when thr situation has arose, but Raneiri has clearly told him to focus on the flanks because he is best in their team their and is unplayable.

    Direction, leadership and management, that is what we are lacking.

  27. @Bill

    Lets not forget that Theo prior to him messing up his knee in that Spuds cup match was playing well at CF, then upon his return last season was playing well, the team was scoring goals, he was scoring goals and he dislodged Giroud. The start of this season he was playing well, the team was scoring and he had dislodged Giroud as our CF1 but he got injured and hasn’t returned to form, only in glimpses but not consistently.

  28. I have had it with Walcott now. The performance he turned in against Manure was plain disgusting and was the straw that broke the camels back for me. I can take somebody simply having a bad game, but he hid throughout. His stats at the end were nothing short of embarrasing. He can be effective, but this all too rare now. He had a period before he knacked his knee where he looked like he had turned a corner, but he has just regressed (not long after his new contract…….again).

    Even when he came on the other night, one of there players had the ball in their box, and Theo his jogged towards him rather than chase him down. This was in the last 2mins where we were piling pressure on and desperate for a goal.

  29. GoonerAndy.

    In my mind the reason our attack stalls is related is because we just don’t have enough scorers on this team. We need a talent upgrade in our forward line.

    C @ 1:33

    the manager can’t put your arm around them and coddle them and be their friend. That might work for a short time but are adults and they can see thru that. You can’t fool them into doing something they don’t want. You have to take control and tell them you think they should play at this position and if they don’t like it then they won’t play.

    Theo has shown a couple of glimpses of his good form since his ACL injury but it’s been hit and miss with mostly miss. He still has incredible pace but I wonder if the injury took more away from him then we thought it would

  30. Andy

    Theo is one of the few players on this squad who is capable of a hot streak in front of goal. When he is playing well he is a good finisher and because of that he has upside potential. Ox Welbeck Campbell Ramsey Wilshere and all the other players we have used in the wide position opposite of Alexis are nice players but none of them are scorers and therefore have limited upside. IMO. I get the frustration with him and he certainly deserves all the criticism. I don’t think he is the type of player who could be your teams #1 CF because he is so streaky and there is no way he would stay healthy for a whole season, but I really thought he would play well when he got a chance to move back to RW but he has completely fluffed his chance and may be it is time to give up on him but logical or not I still hold out hope that he can be a good squad player and an impact sub.

  31. Yeah, he is decent enough as a squad player (albeit on £140,000 p/w). He just hasn’t really improved. His flaws outweight his value. He has only once ever scored more than 9 lge goals in a season. His scoring rate is not that great really, considering the team he plays for.

  32. It’s hard to argue with that. None of the attacking players other then Ozil have covered themselves with glory this season. Even with that background of mediocrity Theo has probably stood out from the crowd because of how poor he has been. May be it is time to give up on him but I still think he could have some use as a squad player and impact sub.

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