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.