Dismal Matches and Arsene Wenger
It has been a few weeks since my last entry and frankly I needed a break. Not from writing,mind you, but simply from football. On the back of the improbable but not impossible loss to Swansea City, I was in no mood to watch any international football. I could care less about qualifiers or friendlies. I think I shared the same jaded feelings that many Gooners are feeling right now, but it took until the match against the Swans for me to hide for a while and do some Arsenal soul-searching.
Checking up, sparingly, on the Arsenal news outlets, I saw the new injury worries and various scares and I began to get nervous again. Somehow though, as the Manchester United match came closer to kick off, I felt pretty confident that we would get a result. Man. Utd has a defense worse than ours and we have a good attacking force. 2-1 was my predicted result. I was wrong.
Arsenal played very well. We attacked with authority and defended just as well. I was even more confident. Then the Wilshere miss occurred. He did not have the greatest of matches and was lucky to be on the pitch at all, but that shot summed up the rest of the match quite well: wonderful attacking football but absolutely zero clinical finishing. Then an own goal after Gibbs and Szczesny took each other out which not only resulted in a goal against but Szczesny was injured in the process. Could nothing go right? Apparently it could not because Shrek managed to score on a counter attack which sealed the win for United. Di Maria could have rubbed salt in the wound but he managed to shoot wide and save us the embarrassment. Giroud came on late and got a goal back with a wonderful strike that was a consolation but in the end the points were sealed and we lost to a team that may actually be worse than us. After that loss, I had enough. Maybe my expectations were unrealistically high for the match, but that loss really cut to the bone. Something needs to change and fast.
I began to wake up and check other fan reactions. I saw a lot of player names being thrown around as catalysts for our destruction. A lot of blame placed on our defenders, others blamed Arteta/Flamini and some blamed Arsene Wenger. I generally stand with the players more often than not because I don’t see our players as the types to give up and not play 100% for the shirt. Those that aren’t like-minded get weeded out. I still stand behind this. I truly don’t doubt the players’ commitment to the team but I do think they need to simplify the game and go back to the basics.
Arsene Wenger should take responsibility for these poor results and overall dismal season we are having. He chooses the team selection and is the one that buys players. He decides the tactics, sets the line-up and makes the substitutions. Wenger trusts his players almost to a fault. He gives them an almost free license to do whatever they like in respect to their position but that clearly hasn’t been working. Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere are the two players that come to mind in this discussion. Jack plays with such a cavalier style that I have no idea how he has evaded more yellow and red cards. I like his conviction and even some of his flying tackles but often a good tackle can look badly timed at the wrong angle. Instead of making a bad tackle, which opponents often use to their advantage, he needs to be a menace, haranguing defenders with tenacity, something that he needs to look to Oxlade-Chamberlain as an example. He is one of our best players at the moment.
Ramsey, a player that we all expected to continue being the midfield star he was last season, has fallen back into his past habits. Misplaced passes, skied shots and runs that leave the defense exposed are the staples of his game lately. Wenger called out Ramsey to play more simply and it is starting to work but not to the level we need. More importantly, we need his goals. Ramsey was the player we could count on last season when we needed a critical goal. Maybe Alexis has stolen his thunder a bit but Alexis can’t do it all himself (although he tries).
Wenger seems to control this team like a fatherly dictator and his stubbornness is legendary. We all complain about his lack of substitutions before 70 minutes. If the sub isn’t forced by injury then generally Wenger will avoid it. How many times this season have we sat back yelling at the TV for a sub at halftime. We all can see that player x is not performing well and player y is sitting on the bench, so why can’t Wenger? Wenger is man of great belief in himself and his players. Maybe he feels that a sub is bad on a players’ morale but the club is more important than a few hurt feelings. Substitutions for tactics would also show that his decision was wrong and I don’t think Wenger takes being wrong well. This is also true with squad rotation.
Look at the team sheets for the season and see how many players were changed in the starting XI from week to week, in the BPL and Champions league. What you will find is that, barring any injuries (of which there are many), Wenger does not stray from what he perceives is his strongest lineup. Normally this is what you want every match but players are human and they get burned out and tired. Since our defense is light, it doesn’t allow for much rotation however in midfield and attack we do have a bit of squad depth that is not being utilized. The end result is our worst nightmare: another player clutching a hamstring or a knee in pain and limping off the pitch. How long until Alexis runs his legs off until they turn into Jell-O because he doesn’t have an off switch and Wenger doesn’t give him a break? Probably never, bad example, Alexis is too great and fit for that. But look at the rest of the line up and you will see a long term injury waiting to happen and we can’t afford it so squad rotation is key.
I wouldn’t be doing justice if I didn’t mention that we beat Dortmund at home 2-0. Sanogo (yesthat Sanogo) and Alexis got the goals. Both of which were well taken, especially Alexis’ goal. I loved Sanogo’s reaction because even he was surprised that goal went in. Alexis’ goal was one of beauty especially the curl it took from the left of the box to the right post was spectacular. It was a solid performance all around and one that should do the confidence some good. Naysayers will say that Dortmund is in bad form right now and while that it is true, it doesn’t take away from the fact that we played to that advantage. There wasn’t a single moment that caused me to freeze and expect a goal against. It was one of our best, if not the best performance of the season so far.
We have the early match against West Brom on Saturday and we need to take 3 points to get the season back on track, and hopefully the win over Dortmund provides that spark.
Up the Arsenal!
For once this season could Arsenal give us a couple of good consecutive performances so I stop having to write positive negative entries? This is ridiculous. We faced Burnley and Anderlecht since my last post and we got a win and a draw. So, how can it all be bad? Easily after a win late in the match against Burnley and a 3-3 draw with Anderlecht at home after leading 3-0 just after halftime.
Our match against Burnley was actually a good one. Two goals from Alexis and one from Chambers sealed a win for the Gunners. It was a solid performance. Defensively, we looked comfortable and were excellent in possession. The only real problem is our lack of attacking threats. After the 2-1 win over Anderlecht, where we won in the last dying seconds, I was eager to see if Arsenal would ramp up the attack to not leave it so late. Unfortunately, this did not happen and we left it late, but no need nitpicking over an overall comprehensively positive performance.
I am writing this in the evening after the 3-3 draw at home with Anderlecht where we scored two in the first half and one early in the second. It seemed like we were finally getting our act together and going to run away with the match. I was at work, busy and after 30 or so minutes I check the score and see 3-3. I did a double take and sat back dumbfounded that we blew a 3-0 lead! AT HOME! What do we have to do to close out a game?
Reading the post match reactions on Twitter, I noticed a few observations made by our very levelheaded and very vocal fans:
We are clearly lacking something in this team. It permeates through the stands and the pitch. The cutting edge is missing. Our squad isn’t putting teams to the sword offensively. We aren’t shutting down the attacks of other teams. The Emirates should be a fortress that strikes fear into the hearts of other clubs. We are the Arsenal. We have cannons adorning the stadium. The walls should be like battlements and ramparts of a medieval castle. The stands should be filled with the voices of thousands of singing knights, cheering on the cavalry that is the Arsenal.
The home crowd is full of silent mouths, eager to pounce on a misplaced pass or skied shot. The boos are ready to fly out at will just as the negativity pours onto Twitter the minute the match is over. Worse still is the negativity after a win. Starts out “good win, but (insert player name) needs to be dropped because (insert bogus reason born from zero logic)”. I tend to avoid social media after a loss or even a draw because I can’t stand a lot of the poison that seeps through it. I am not happy. I hate losing just as much as the next Arsenal fan, but we have a tendency to claim the sky is falling after every bad day of football. Then after a win, instead of celebrating in the good day, we find ways to make it about how it was a fluke.
It has been a rough season so far. We are still in the Champions League despite the draw, with two matches to play in the group, I am very confident we will advance. We are fourth in the league and still have the FA Cup to play for. We need to look up and see that we can still turn this season around. Our defense looks shaky and aside from Alexis our offense isn’t clicking like it should. Frankly, I don’t know what can be done to fix this except for buy a defender in January, however based on Wenger’s record lately, I am not positive we will do so.
It is matches like this one that show how much we miss Koscielny and Debuchy. We are also missing Vermaelen. I was not happy with us selling him and not getting a replacement. He was knocked out of the pecking order by Mertesacker and Koscielny, who together form a very solid duo. He did his duty the last few seasons as the captain but spending most of the time on the bench. He didn’t complain and did his job when called upon. It was unfair for a player with his talent to waste away on the bench but what is more egregious was letting him go without making a clear signing to replace him. Debuchy was signed to replace Sagna and prior to his injury, impressed me greatly. I think Debuchy feeding Walcott and Alexis on the right will be a godsend when he gets healthy.
Continuing with the defense, Chambers was signed as a young talent, who could fill in where needed and sub from the bench. Yet with injuries to both Koscielny and Debuchy, he is playing musical positions both in center and right back. To his credit, he looks like the real deal. Wenger has made a wonderful signing with him and he will only improve. The problem is he can only fill in one position at a time, which means we have to move Monreal into the center. Monreal is not a center back, and he does not pretend to be one. I think he has been shaky for sure, but he is not alone in this defense and it is unfair to place all the blame on him. Mertesacker doesn’t perform as well without Koscielny, and Monreal is a decent back up left back but is not a center back. The only defenders left are reserve players and that prospect scares me more than Monreal. All these problems could have been allieviated if Wenger would have kept Vermaelen or signed a true 4th choice center back.
Another problem we have is our formations don’t seem to be working with our player’s skill sets, but that is a discussion for another week. We play Swansea this weekend and we need to continue to perform in the league if we are going to right this ship. Alexis is on fire right now and the entire squad needs to mimic his drive and energy. He is outplaying every player on the pitch and doing his best to carry this team. I have said it before and I will say it again. We have talented players on this team, they need to show that class, starting now.
Until next week,
Come on you Gunners!