Watford 2 – 1 Arsenal
I knew the game was lost fifteen minutes before kick-off when the bathroom light fell from the ceiling and caught me on head. Moments like that, when you’re feeling grumpy already, are generally a sign that the football’s not going to end well.
And it didn’t, which allowed Troy Deeney to claim that Arsenal don’t have an “aura” any more. That didn’t stop you being interested when we were linked with you a little more than twelve months ago. Hell hath no fury like a bitchy footballer scorned, it seems.
Watching it back later without knowing the score – hardly a Likely Lads task – sometimes makes the match easier to watch. The time lag dims some of the passion for the performance and it’s fair to say that Arsenal lacked passion in their performance.
It’s three points thrown away, in the space of fifteen minutes. Per Mertesacker said afterward that the penalty was a turning point. Disturbingly, he hinted that yet again the players lacked the mental strength to deal with a situation. “It was kind of a wake-up call,” the bleary-eyed German said before hurumphing that “it wasn’t lough enough.”
Which is the same problem as usual. Arsène made sure that attention focussed on that decision. He called it “scandalous”; bad, yes, but the scandal was in our wasteful finishing and the poorly thought-out substitutions.
So, the penalty. MotD’s replays – not BT’s – at slow speed and with telescopic camera lens picked up the slightest of touches. That means the referee could not have seen the touch from his position, nor could the assistant on that side of the pitch. Which means Swarbrick guessed; the question is whether a VAR would be able to give the kick given replays were inconclusive in the immediate aftermath.
Try Anything Hard
It was a penalty which should have had no bearing on the score. Once again our mental strength was less than the ‘super’ Wenger used to claim it was. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t use that phrase much anymore. This was a game where we should have been comfortably ahead by the stage we were pegged back.
Either that or learn to shut up shop. That used to be what we were known for doing but assumes we have a plan to do that; we don’t. Wenger claimed Wilshere was coming on for the final five minutes. We needed a quicker response.
Between the penalty that never was and the full-time whistle, Arsenal didn’t register a shot on target. Not one; even though were obviously struggling, Wenger did not react positively. Five minutes for Wilshere to make a difference? What of the intervening thirteen minutes. No Walcott either? The two ‘attacking’ players left dawdling on the bench.
This wasn’t a masterplan to keep a substitution back in case of injury, that was ‘fortuitous’. When you need three points, an immediate response needed and quick reactions from the manager weren’t forthcoming.
The introduction of Özil for Welbeck changed the dynamic of the team while Giroud for Lacazette is Arsène’s refusal to countenance the pair playing on the pitch at the same time. They were the sign of a manager who presumed his side untouchable in the fixture even though we were just one-up at the time. Harsh lessons never learned.
As for the winner, I can’t begin to fathom what we were thinking about. Watford took impetus from the penalty as you would expect but once again the lie of having eleven captains on the pitch was exposed. It’s the same leadership Theresa May is showing; a frightening and dystopian future.
There’s More Than One Sign
What’s next for us? Welbeck is suffered hamstring twang so that’s weeks yet again while Koscielny has calf problems which may heal in seven days but it’s hard to see how. Everton on Sunday is vital for us. While results at Selhurst Park went our way, the gap between ourselves and the top three is very evident.
The gap between us and City has grown to light years. Did they fall flat on their faces after the last international break? Theirs was a performance to enjoy yesterday. I understand that some despise them and their wealth, distorting competition but if you can’t admire the philosophy behind it, that’s a perversity I can’t understand.
And there is no point railing against them or Chelsea. We took on Manchester United when they were dominant and won when the gap was comparably big. The will to do so is not there at Arsenal. We’re too concerned with being highly thought of as a responsible club, where supporters value the financial rectitude more greatly than performances on the pitch.
It’s not how life works and the way this is going, Wenger is not paving the way for a bright new future but making the Emirates a white elephant. Which begs the question where we go from here. The book the manager often threatens to is likely to be called “Arsène Wenger: My Part in his Downfall” and it’s going to make gruesome reading over the final years of his reign.
What Arsène must do is reignite passion in the squad and himself; restore footballing intelligence which has gone AWOL. How he does that, I have no idea and nor I suspect, does he.