Before I start on the meat of the day, many thanks to all for the good wishes sent in recent weeks. Apologies if I haven’t replied to emails sent but I’ll get there; honest, guv.
It’s hard to know where to begin, even harder to reconcile the European form with the limp and insipid Premier League performances. The goals against column brings forward an acknowledgement that football existed before 1992.
Yesterday’s point against Brighton wasn’t enough for a top four place. An eight-goal swing in goal difference on the final weekend of the season isn’t going to happen, underlining just how costly the defeats at Wolves and Leicester were, not just in points dropped but those goals shipped.
I haven’t forgotten Palace. Of all the recent Premier League travails, that one sits squarely on Unai Emery’s shoulders for the team selection and Shkodran Mustafi’s for the mistakes. The coach under-estimated Palace and over-estimated our squad.
Yesterday was as careless a performance. Weeks ago, the gift of an 8th-minute penalty at home was the cue for a comfortable win. Not yesterday. We were uninspired and not driven by the prospect of a top four finish.
The attitude reminded me of the opening twenty minutes on Thursday night. Yes, we had good opportunities and who knows what would have happened had Mkhitaryan’s shot cannoned off the post into the net. But beyond that? A couple of Aubameyang chances and Lacazette’s strong penalty shout at the end?
We owed more to Leno’s excellent save as Brighton sought to heap more misery upon us. Gross’ miss was worse than anything Aubameyang contrived throughout the ninety minutes.
Of course, Brighton’s goal was a case of loading a 12-bore and firing squarely into our defensive feet.
Thanks, Granit, for the thoughtless tug which gave Murray a solid opportunity for an equaliser which he didn’t waste. What possessed Xhaka I doubt even he knows and I’m not going to speculate on it. Mainly because my imagination isn’t that vivid.
Disconcertingly, Unai reacted slowly and late in the game to the laborious performance. The coach praised earlier in the season for his dynamic substitutions seems genuinely perplexed by events unfolding on the pitch in recent games, particularly domestic matches.
Thirteen minutes remained when the Spaniard made his move. Too late to impact the match, particularly when the creative element is misfiring. Ozil, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan; none are consistent when it comes to assists, less so with goals. We’ve fallen back into the trap of not providing enough goals from midfield in recent months.
Constant rotation doesn’t help. Not playing regularly makes it tough to generate form and confidence. Emery’s natural conservatism isn’t helped by a defence which is desperate to undermine the team and successful at doing so.
All this points to a busy summer for the club’s recruitment team. Monchi’s decision to return to Sevilla threw a massive spanner into the works and heaped pressure on Raul Sanllehi. Quotes attributed to Marc Overmars didn’t help; his view is that there can be only one boss. How well will that sit in an Arsenal hierarchy already split down the middle?
Not that transfer activity is the sole solution. Unai Emery must impose himself of this squad. We’re sorely lacking in leadership, confidence, and just about every other attribute successful sides possess. He inherited a slack set of players and there’s little evidence to suggest anything much has changed nine months on.
Of course, everyone is telling us we don’t have the money to give the squad the radical overhaul it needs…
Caps and Legends
Yesterday wasn’t just about the match; we said goodbye to Danny Welbeck, Petr Cech and Aaron Ramsey.
Welbeck is the kind of player we will seek in the summer transfer market but hopefully one who is more clinical in front of goal. And less susceptible to the bad luck which marred Welbeck on the injury front.
Cech’s time didn’t coincide with the upturn in fortune we hoped for but he probably sussed that out when he was the only new signing during the summer of 2015. John Terry claimed he would “save [them’12 to 15 points a season”. Ladies, gentlemen, if Cech managed that, we were truly buggered and didn’t realise it.
That Cech is still highly regarded at Chelsea underlines what a genuinely nice bloke and good professional he is. That esteem reminds me of John Hollins who was similarly well thought of despite moving across London. Cech’s sheer decency shone through when Ryan Mason suffered a head injury and unprompted the Czech reached out to offer support.
Which brings us to Aaron Ramsey. A mismanaged contract negotiation or brutal reality; the manner of his departure is irrelevant. His performances underline that he will be missed.
He still divides opinion and I think history will judge more favourably. Three FA cup winner medals and two winning goals in those finals? I’d say that makes him a legend. Add in his recovery from Ryan Shawcross’ blatant thuggery as well as the impact of other injuries on our form and his importance cannot be dismissed.
Goof luck to all three in their future careers.