Arsenal 4 – 1 West Ham United
We’ve had the ‘5-minute final’ so this is the ’10-minute finale’. It’s a flattering scoreline but do we care? That’s incidental, to be honest.
Arsène fielded a strong XI but that might have backfired with Mo Elneny collecting an ankle-knack which already ruled him out of Thursday night’s game. Jack Wilshere will be fit and sickly ickle Mesut Özil will be alright as well. We will, I’d hazard a guess, be in reasonable shape for Atletico.
Physically that is. Defensively, we were a shambles again so we’ll need to get at least a couple of goals ahead before we can begin to relax. But we knew that anyway. Mind you, if that was the players making a case for their retention under the new regime, quite a few are heading toward the door marked “Do one”.
Alexandre Lacazette isn’t, not with six goals in five games. The only part of the team which doesn’t need surgery is the forward line; it just needs a plan to fit Aubameyang and the Frenchman into the same line-up without one of them being shoved out on the wing. Very few teams play with a front pairing, so it’s going to be interesting to see if the new man can do so.
Or we could go with a trio of attackers, so long as Nacho Monreal is on the left. The Spaniard was our ‘fox in the box’ once more, opening the scoring with a volley just before half-time. Six for the season, I think they said.
Monreal, Aubameyang, Lacazette; MAL. We could play ‘Bad’ every time they scored. Maybe get Wacko to record a new version? “We’re bad, we’re bad, we’re really, really, bad”? He’s not dead; he’s with Elvis in Alaska, sipping a beer, avoiding the world.
Bad isn’t always Good
The 4 – 1 scoreline makes it look like plain sailing and I dare say that in years to come, we’ll forget how easily we exposed at the back. Marko Arnautovic thrived in the gaps we left for him and it was no surprise when he equalised. It was a well-taken goal, but again, the marking was lax. And that’s being polite.
Which allowed the Hammers to consolidate while we laboured. Alex Iwobi, I’m afraid, continues to infuriate. We know there is talent there, but he was woeful yesterday. Lack of confidence? Shock at Wenger leaving? Worried about the future? All these could affect him yet they all undermine him as well. A new manager, that jolt, may be the best thing for him. If not, he will quickly find himself on the pile of players who flattered to deceive at Arsenal.
He wasn’t the only one; quite a few were below par yesterday but Declan Rice ducked out of the way of Aaron Ramsey’s cross and the ball bounced in. Joe Hart, who like so many others of his ilk, turned in a good performance to that point and let Rice know his thoughts on the matter.
The Lacazette stepped in with his two goals at the tail-end of the game. Created by Aubameyang – and I think that’s the concern I have for Thursday – whose entrance as a late substitute was more about three points than preserving fitness. However, he can’t play on Thursday so we need someone else to step up into that creative role in the final third. Any candidates?
Three points all but sealed sixth place. Yes, we can catch Chelsea but we won’t; they won’t drop enough points in their remaining games. And in any case, we’ve got United next weekend so will lose that.
Dreams and Reality
Which left Arsène facing the press afterwards. He let a little snippet out about how he still retained power or would have done. “My job is to take care of the team, of the results, and of the finances in the transfers,” he said. Ivan’s power-grab wasn’t quite as effective as he hoped. Or not until Arsène chucked in his tickets, anyway.
He isn’t offering his view on who the new boss should be either. “My job is not to select the next manager,” he commented, ensuring that all the brickbats fall on Gazidis and the recruiters if it doesn’t go smoothly. Thierry Henry was “surprised” the announcement of a successor wasn’t made on Friday, but I think that’s because it isn’t agreed yet. The club knows who they want, but having tied it down.
Naturally, Wenger was asked about the reasons for his departure and it’s worth looking at what he said as a whole rather than in isolation.
“I believe this club is respected all over the world, much more than in England, and our fans did not give the image of unity that I wanted. That was hurtful because I feel the club is respected over the world and, overall, the image we gave from our club is not what it is – and not what I like.”
“I feel this club has a fantastic image and, for me, that is absolutely vital. We can speak and speak and speak but sport is about winning and losing and you [the supporters] have to accept you will lose games, even when I will not be here any more.
“But it is about something bigger than just winning or losing and that was always a worry: how the club is perceived worldwide, for kids playing in Africa, China and America and the dreams it can create for young children who want to play football.”
More damaging to that global perception is a lack of Champions League football, or not challenging for the title. Wenger’s idealism is well-known but it is contrary to the raison d’etre of the Premier League. That’s all about money, shiny new things and how much you can spend. Not about bringing through young players or inspiring generations. That romanticism has no place in modern football. No matter how depressing that may be, it’s the truth.
Ours is an almost peculiarly English history, one which will see us drift from consciousness if we remained outside the elite for too long. We can’t draw upon Champions League or European Cup victories; we haven’t built a global following on glorious European adventures.
Wenger inspired with a philosophy but that only worked while we were winning trophies. League titles and Invincibles did more for Arsenal’s image abroad than Project Youth. Reaching Paris in 2006 was a more lasting marker than Nicklas Bendtner or Fran Merida making first-team appearances.
He did, of course, address how he felt about the past few years.
“I’m not resentful. I do not want to make stupid headlines. I’m not resentful with the fans. If my personality is in the way of what I think this club is, for me that is more important than me. That is all I want to say, it’s nothing to do with the fans. The fans were not happy, that’s my job, I have to live with that. I can accept that.”
That isn’t the headline-making statement. It’s better in the circulation wars where everyone is dying on their feet, to talk about division or dissension. To make it them and us or to gloat over the toll it took on his marriage, allegedly. More papers are sold and ads viewed by titilation than anything else. Substance is only something to be abused.
We move on, Arsène waits for the offers to roll in. It won’t be in England although if that’s the only job which came along, he would take it. That’s the future; he has his and us, ours. They may yet be intertwined.