As the start of the 2015-16 campaign approached, I suggested that winning the league title this season was a realistic possibility, even more so if we were able to add at least one more player of quality to the squad and following our victory against Manchester City, it had appeared that both the manager and the team had finally learned how to play against the so called better teams by finding a balance between playing on the counter attack and looking to dominate possession.
During a season where all our supposed title rivals have struggled to find consistency and form, at times it has been difficult not to get caught up in the excitement that surrounds a possible title challenge, one that may yet end up being a successful one, however, our Boxing Day visit Southampton’s St. Mary’s Stadium provided a harsh reality check to any Arsenal supporter who had been getting ahead of themselves and there has certainly been a few.
It is not only our chances of success that supporters have allowed themselves to get carried away about but also the form of Joel Campbell too, with some members of our fan base discussing him in terms that practically suggest he’s the Costa Rican equivalent of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, despite having only impressed in a handful of games, with one supporter ludicrously labelling him our new Robert Pires.
Whilst I am happy to admit that Joel has looked a better player than I initially gave him credit for and accept that his inclusion, up until Saturday’s debacle, had given our team shape a more compact appearance due to his work rate and willingness to assist Hector Bellerin with his defensive duties, there remains a lot of work to be done in the final third of the pitch, in terms of his finishing and at times he still looks like he’s attempting to run through treacle.
Although Olivier Giroud has been in impressive form recently and finding the back of the net on a regular basis, the theatrical way in which he continues to roll around on the ground feigning injury and throwing his arms aloft in protest in the direction of the referee after almost every challenge remains a huge source of frustration, after all, he’s sturdily built and stands at six foot four so I’d expect him to have the physical presence that enables him to punch his weight against opposition defenders without complaint.
Whilst on the subject of players offering a physical presence, Southampton’s Victor Wanyama once again displayed the type of attributes that should make him one of the names at the top end of Arsene’s shopping list and having gone on record in the summer to advocate his signature, my opinion has not altered and one particularly robust challenge during the first half stood out.
Having recently praised Wenger for making an effective in game tactical change during our victory over Olympiakos in Greece, where he switched Campbell and Walcott to the opposite flanks, it would appear that Arsene took one step forward only to take two steps back by yet again demonstrating his inability to be consistently proactive from the touch line after it quickly became evident that Per Mertesacker was having difficulty dealing with the pace and movement of the Southampton attack, so why not replace him with the more mobile option in Gabriel?
Some supporters will undoubtedly argue that Laurent Koscielny was having an equally poor game and state that it’s unfair to single out individuals or criticise the managers decision making when the whole team has underperformed but replacing Koscielny with Gabriel would have done nothing but offer a like for like replacement, whilst replacing Per would have at least given our defence additional pace in an attempt to stem the tide.
I have seen numerous supporters point out that poor refereeing decisions had a major impact on the result, after having arguably played a part in all four of the Southampton goals but the reality is that a four goal defeat flattered us after we were outplayed and outfought in every area on the pitch for the duration and it is no exaggeration to say that on another day we could easily have conceded six or seven, sadly we really were that poor.
On the back of the victory over Manchester City, it would be very easy to suggest that it was just a bad day at the office but let’s not forget that this heavy defeat was against a Southampton side who were only able to pick up a home draw against basement boys Aston Villa a few weeks ago and have been struggling to score goals of late, with this in mind my question would be, why do Arsenal have so many of these so called called bad days at the office?
Having said all that, we still have a fantastic opportunity to win the title this season, even more so if Wenger uses the January transfer window wisely, a scenario that I won’t be holding my breath over and although Chelsea, Liverpool and both the Manchester clubs have all been surprisingly below par in this unpredictable campaign, if we do end up as league champions, the substandard quality of our rivals would not in anyway dampen my celebrations.
In some ways, what disappointed me almost as much as the team being beaten so comprehensively, is reading comments from people calling fellow Arsenal supporters ‘plastic’ for expressing their disappointment about the result on various social media sites.
Quite frankly, it is embarrassing to see fully grown adults using a term, that implies someone is a fake supporter, towards other supporters who are evidently hurt, frustrated or angry at watching their team suffer such a poor defeat, in a performance where all the players unquestionably deserved criticism.
Football has always been full of opinions and it’s about time some people accepted that everyone is entitled to have one…..