Arsenal Flattered – 4 Liverpool
There was something achingly familiar about yesterday: the much-vaunted mental strength that Arsène talked about was noticeable by its absence. Conceding four goals in nineteen minutes is a reminder of capitulations at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, flashbacks we could all do without.
Arsène was punished for his failure in the transfer market. He threw Chambers and Holding under the bus; they were badly let down by the manager and teammates. The experienced defenders were poor, Nacho Monreal – uncharacteristically so – but it was the whole team selection Wenger got wrong.
The goalkeeper is a concern. Coutinho’s free kick, as good as it was, should not have found the net and that vulnerability is a sign of waning powers. We saw it with David Seaman as long shots became a problem for ‘Safe Hands’ to deal with but even he managed to see the bollards in the club car park.
The XI felt unbalanced with no seamless transition from the midfield pairing of Coquelin and Elneny whose primary role was to protect the centre backs. Santi Cazorla provided the urgency we needed when he arrived and the directness of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s running was a welcome relief to the habitual passing for passing’s sake we had resorted to. It gifted Liverpool too much of the ball in midfield and they ruthlessly exploited the space.
Equally, it was a bizarre choice to use Theo on the right when he has spent the pre-season in the centre. Alexis’ effectiveness was significantly impaired in a typically obtuse Arsène moment. We’ve seen that the Chilean as a lead striker is rarely a good move.
Rubbing salt into the wound was Alexandre Lacazette’s hat-trick at Nancy, ironically the club which gave Wenger his managerial chance. The striker issued a ‘come and get me’ plea but the Jean-Michel Aulas summed up Arsenal’s place in the food chain:
“The day that Real, Barca or Manchester United come to see us, it will be different.”
We’re viewed as pygmies by other clubs, confirming the view we lack ruthlessness in the transfer market. It’s no laughing matter that almost a month after losing our most experienced centre back, we are still floundering in the sands, trying to sort out deals.
The most baffling aspect is Wenger’s post-match comments:
We lost this game for many reasons and was one of them is [the psychological impact] of Liverpool making it 1-1 just before half-time. The second one is that physically we are not capable of maintaining the level, because not all the players have the same level of preparation. Maybe we lacked a bit of experience but if you look well at the goals, I don’t think it was necessarily the inexperienced players that cost us the goals today
Perhaps Arsène could explain why the squad isn’t “physically ready” for the season. That’s his job and he failed woefully to do it. This isn’t the first time though. The statistic of one win in the last opening day matches passed without any surprise. It’s the same story, year in, year out. Wenger can’t even point to summer jaunts; we’ve only been visiting the Far East and USA for four years; the rest were in his favoured Austrian training camps.
At the same time, I’m worried by his admission that he wasn’t able to stabilise the ship at half-time. The defensive side of the game hoisted a white flag and typically we capitulated. The fundamental issue remains why we couldn’t see out the remainder of the first half. Had we reached the interval ahead, it might have been a different story. Only when Liverpool became over-confident did we manage to put some respectability on the scoreline.
Matters took a turn for the worse with Aaron Ramsey suffering a hamstring twang and Alex Iwobi, a thigh train. No news on whether they are serious enough to keep both out of next Saturday’s trip to Leicester. With Laurent Koscielny not likely to be ready either – presumably Özil and Giroud are the same – there is a genuine concern about the XI we will field for that match. It won’t be any surprise to see all three start, even if they aren’t fit.
It isn’t just in preparing those players we already have, Wenger has yet again failed in his duty to strengthen the squad during the summer. Thierry Henry received flak for asking the question most of us have thought and put out there in public. More disturbing than that, for me at least, was his assertion that the club isn’t an attractive option for top players. Ambition is noticeable by its’ absence.
Some will argue it was punditry and it was. But whilst some may (wrongly) try to bring his managerial qualities into question, there’s no argument over his playing credentials. If players are genuinely thinking that we are unambitious, content with fourth, then that is a huge problem for Wenger to overcome.
More and more we rely on our London base as the key selling point – Sanchez is the most obvious example – as opposed to our footballing credibility.
Graeme Souness nailed it for me though. The club has forgotten that we are all about football and is more concerned with the business side of things. Wenger’s recent pronouncement that resale value is a key factor in signing a player is indicative that we’re still thinking like a cash-strapped club rather than acting like a financial powerhouse. It’s not about spend, spend, spend; players are the key assets of the club. Invest in them and reward will come.
It’s inevitable though that Arsène’s words would come back to haunt him:
“If you want to make everybody happy, then just buy 20 players and then everybody is full of hope until the first game. And then we are back to reality.
“Vibrancy does not win you games. What makes you win is quality of performance and the quality of your football. You have to focus just on that.
“That is very difficult in the modern game – there is always a demand for new. But new is just new.”
We don’t have vibrancy. We don’t have performance and we don’t have new. We need all three but whilst we may get performance, the other two are beyond Arsène. Like all the club’s successful managers in the past 50 years, he has stayed too long. He’s joined in Bertie Mee and George Graham in overseeing a decline. Wenger’s credibility is disintegrating in front of his eyes.
Not that he’ll see it…