Gunners Outgunned – We have seen the over-reaction of fans but we need a reaction from players

Arsenal vs Southampton

When I saw Fonte power his header past Cech in the 66th minute, I turned the game off. It’s what I always do when the Gunners go 3 down. I haven’t watched us lose to United 8-2. I haven’t witnessed our 6-0 humiliation at the hands of Chelsea, or the 5-1 at Anfield. Even this year I have turned off our game vs Bayern.

Thing is, I just can’t stand it. I’ve been called plastic for that. But I still turn games off. And I will do it again in the future when we go 3 goals behind.

Why? The answer is simple: I suffer together with my team. When we fall behind big time, my suffering reaches tipping point: I physically can’t watch my team suffer. If they can’t put themselves out of their (and my) misery, then only I can do that. By turning off the TV.

What can I say about our defeat? We just didn’t turn up for the game. It’s happened before, it’s happened again and it will happen in the future. Unless we identify the problem behind it and address it, which I doubt. It’s the same as with the injury situation: if it was easy to solve, we would have done it already.

The thing I rue the most is that we never seem to get away with playing badly. We almost always get punished for not turning up, only the extent varies, whether it’s a fluky 2-0 opening-day loss to West Ham or a thorough bashing at the Allianz Arena.

Another bashing we took because we didn’t turn up

I have watched quite a few of United’s games this season (hours I’ll never get back for things more productive or, at least, more satisfying). Their luck has run out, it seems, that with 3 successive defeats in a row and a 7-game winless streak in all competitions, but they have been shit all season. Even their fans admit that. The number of games where United were really good and won as a consequence can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Yet their points haul suggests they weren’t as bad as they actually were.

That is the thing I love, and hate, most about Arsenal. This may well be the reason why I support them and will continue to do so. Nothing good ever comes easy for the Gunners. Our good results are a continuation of good performances. But we don’t get lucky bounces, or at least we don’t get them often enough to worth mentioning them. We either turn up, work hard and win, or we lose resoundingly. We crumble. We self-detonate in spectacular fashion.

Yesterday was one of the times when we haven’t turned up at all. Like against Zagreb, West Ham, Bayern. Sometimes we get incredibly unlucky with refereeing, for example. Like against Chelsea or West Brom. But most of the time we are the masters of our own downfall.

Mike Dean sends his regards

Despite me not being in a mood to discuss the performance in detail, there are still things I would like to focus on. I’ll start with the very thing I liked about our performance vs City, the thing we completely lacked at St. Mary’s. One which lies at the heart of such an atrocious performance, in my view.

The intensity

It just wasn’t there. Poof. Gone. We did the exact opposite of what should have been done, of what we managed vs City.

We lost duels, we didn’t track runners, we failed to keep our shape, we allowed Southampton to have the ball without putting pressure on them. What’s more, our efficiency dropped big time compared to 6 days ago. For example we took 8 shots with 5 on target in both games, but were only able to create 1 big chance vs Soton compared to 3 vs City. Here are the numbers which show how much our intensity dropped.

Metric Manchester City Southampton
Ball recoveries 62 46
Tackles 20/29 11/20
Interceptions 24 16
Dispossessed 10 20

What does it tell us? We were much less willing to attack Southampton players in possession, hence the drop. I regret a lot there is no such metric as “duels” (or at least it isn’t available for the wider audience), because I suspect that’s where we really lost the game.

Just how many duels did we lose?

The referee

He was shite. That doesn’t make us world beaters, but Jonathan Moss made three costly decisions on the first three goals, plus a lot of small decisions went Soton’s way.

There was an offside in the build-up to the first, Long blatantly tripped Koscielny to escape his marker for the second and the third wasn’t a corner. That doesn’t change the fact we defended like a pile of dung on all three occasions, but saying the ref didn’t influence the outcome of the game would be wrong in the extreme.

The (over)reaction

That was something else. Immediately after the loss people started calling for Wenger’s head, lambasting Per Mertesacker, saying Flamini is no longer up for it and so on and so forth.

Wenger went from being a tactical genius to being unable to implement basic things right, Mertesacker’s massive rock-solid City performance was forgotten and he went back to being a slow and useless lamppost, Flamini was “all over the place” 5 days after demonstrating brilliant acumen to pocket Silva, while Olivier Giroud transformed into a donkey from a clinical finisher.

From hero to zero in 5 days

If you look at your Twitter timeline (and I strongly recommend you not to), our title bid is over. We don’t have the depth, the mentality, the quality, the right manager – you name it.

Let’s just ignore the fact Manchester “much better than us” City actually trail us by a point, having lost to us just a game ago. Let’s close our eyes City were comprehensively beaten three times this season, losing twice by a 4-1 scoreline, one of these times was at home. Let’s talk down all our previous achievements and good games.

No perspective whatsoever. I swear to God our fanbase is as reactionary as it gets. Every loss is an utter failure, which should immediately be “seriously inquired into” and put right by axing the manager and half the squad.

Arsene disapproves of your meltdown

The verdict

This loss hurts. The fact that this loss came at a time when we had a chance to go top hurts even more. The fact that we were actually outplayed and humiliated doesn’t bear thinking about.

But the fact remains: this loss isn’t the end of the world. We are still second in the league, two points behind Leicester who take on City in the next game. We have created ourselves a cushion by beating City, now we’ve blown it. Yes, we now have a worse goal difference.

However we are still well-placed in the grand scheme of things. We haven’t lost three league games in a row. We aren’t in the 15th place, desperately trying to get top 6. We are still in the title mix, whatever anyone else might have you believe.

Now let’s hope we show up and do the job against Bournemouth.

Unfortunately I have an exam on Monday, so I don’t even know whether I’ll make the game. I’m leaving you in the safe hands of Sohum to cover the match. See you in 2016.

Until then

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One Response to Gunners Outgunned – We have seen the over-reaction of fans but we need a reaction from players

  1. Victor Thompson December 28, 2015 at 12:35 pm #

    HI Alex,

    I have to disagree with your article.

    I was one of those who wrote a critical assessment after the Southampton game but I think it would be wrong to brand me reactionary. I singled out Mertesecker because the weakness highlighted by Tim Hargreaves before the game game to fruition and I pointed out the effect it had on Koschelny in particular because the BFG was repeatedly caught out of position. That began in the first five minutes of the came and Long and Mane marauded through the spaces in the centre of the defence throughout the game. Flamini unfortunately did not get a blow in all night. He was bypassed in midfield by passes directed over his head into the same gaps.

    I have highlighted these mistakes several times and they are identical to the games in which we were trounced. That is not reactionary. A single unreasonable critique of an otherwise sound set up would be reactionary. These are repeat mistakes and Tim Hargreaves was hardly reactionary when he identified them before a ball was kicked.

    I agree that the team did not turn up and that they have done so many times. In particular I noted that when we were three down with 8 minutes to go the defence played six or seven passes between themselves at walking speed. The ball ended up with Cech instead of in Southampton`s penalty box.

    I acknowledge that Wenger was visibly upset by the performance and he paced up and down trying to cajole a performance from the players. Apart from Mertesecker, I did not single any particular player as being individually bad. Apart from Ramsey, none of them played well but the root cause was a terminal weakness in the centre of defence and Wenger had no cure for it. That is not to say that Mertesecker has not played well in other games but if you read Tim`s pre-match article the tactics Southampton would use were set out concisely and I have to say that I agreed with every word of it.

    The second major sin was entirely down to Wenger. When the match had clearly gone against us, he did not have any tools on his bench with which to change things. Once again I say that he did not get the players he needed in June.

    I note your optimistic comparison. We are playing much better than the “shite” Man Utd. are playing. We are not 15th in the premiership like Chelsea and we are only a point behind Leicester and one in front of Man City.

    That is all relative. In past seasons, Leicester would not have been in the equation and until we see where they finish it would be wrong to make comparisons. The other three clubs are having their worst season in many years. City are doggedly keeping in touch because of the size of their squad. Man Utd. are in their worst run in 54 years and Chelsea are unrecognisable as the team of recent years. It is a direct consequence of these teams bad performances that we are where we are. Frankly if we were not in this position it would be a major surprise.

    I am a thoroughly loyal supporter of Arsenal and have been for nearly sixty years. I am not in the habit of complaining about every aspect of the club. I am a grateful admirer of Arsene Wenger and I have several times pointed out the advances he has brought to Arsenal football club and particularly the brand of football they play. I believe that the tv audiences when they are playing is higher than any other side because the neutrals enjoy watching them. However, I cannot ignore the obvious mistakes he is now making having worked so hard to get us where we are.

    At the post match interview he referred ( as you have ) to three bad refereeing decisions which all led to goals for Southampton. I agree they were wrong and the referee was abysmal but after the first two goals we did not improve when we should have. On the contrary, we surrendered two more and it could have been 4. It is a nonsense to blame the referee when clearly we were comprehensively outplayed. It is not Wenger`s job to improve the performance of the referee. He should be occupied with improving the way his team is playing. Are our players so bad that improvement is beyond him?

    Blind support for the manager after so many repeated mistakes are being made does neither the manager, the club or more importantly, the fans, any good. We can expect no change in his methods unless he takes account of the mistakes. It is like the cavalry blindly following their general at the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava when all and sundry knew it was a monumental mistake and should never have happened.

    I fervently hope we remedy the situation against Bournmouth.

    Victor Thompson

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