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!