Tough to understand Wenger’s in game decisions of late and persistence with Walcott

Just nto contributing

Just not contributing

After midweek wins for Leicester, Spurs and the two Manchester clubs, our disappointing draw with Southampton felt like a defeat. Whilst there will undoubtedly be a few more twists and turns in the title race, a paltry return of just three points from the last twelve on offer, coupled with the knowledge of difficult away fixtures against United, Spurs, Everton and Manchester City still to come, makes it difficult to be positive about our chances of landing this season’s crown.

During recent weeks I have found it has become increasingly difficult to contain my growing frustration towards both Theo Walcott and Arsene Wenger. It is not solely the frequent missing of chances on Theo’s part that is testing my patience but his overall contribution, or lack of it I should say, that has made it open to debate whether his current form warrants the game time he’s being given. Particularly ahead of the promising Alex Iwobi, who impressed after coming on as a substitute at Stoke and was our best performer against Burnley, (as he was v Sunderland in R3.)

Iwobi pushing to play more often

Iwobi pushing to play more often

In the past I have criticised Arsene for his poor in game decision making and his failure to be proactive from the touchline in terms of reacting to on field situations. There is no question that our last two league encounters have provided further examples of why I consider my criticisms to be justified. Firstly, Arsene’s decision to replace Olivier Giroud with Gabriel following Per Mertesacker’s early dismissal against Chelsea, not only removed the focal point of our attack but also the one player in the side who excels at holding the ball up when under pressure and the better option would have been to replace Theo instead.

Olivier’s hold up play and aerial ability also makes him a useful player to have in the side when defending set pieces, especially in circumstances where we are suffering from a numerical disadvantage. Some supporters will undoubtedly defend Arsene by stating that Olivier was suffering from a knock he reportedly picked up in training but if that was the case and he didn’t have the physical capability to play for at least an hour, why was the Frenchman selected to start the game in the first place?

A substitution to baffle us all

A substitution to baffle us all

I’d perhaps have been more understanding of the logic behind the change had Walcott been in top form and scoring goals on a regular basis alongside a fully fit and firing Alexis Sanchez, but as it was, we might as well have played with only nine men such was Theo’s minimal contribution and it is safe to say that his poor performance came as no surprise to most supporters.

Another example came late on in the stalemate with Southampton when the team was searching for the breakthrough that would have given us three crucial points. Can someone please explain to me what purpose was served by replacing Mathieu Flamini with the equally defensive minded Francis Coquelin? Surely a better option would have been to bring on the attack minded Alex Oxlade-Chambelain, who despite being out of sorts, still offers significantly more goal threat.

Not in form but at least an attacking threat to win!

Not in form but at least an attacking threat to win!

Whilst I can accept that Alex’s positional naivety has at times led to him making mistakes in defensive areas which have resulted in us conceding, I felt that in a situation where the team was dominating possession and piling on the pressure, his introduction was worth the relatively small gamble it would have represented, so it is difficult to understand why Arsene appeared so content to settle for a solitary point.

At this juncture I will point out that I do not hold Arsene solely responsible for our disappointing results against Chelsea and Southampton. He is not directly responsible for the challenge that led to Mertesacker’s dismissal, nor the poor decisions made by match officials or the team’s wastefulness in front of goal in a game where we had twenty two shots and still failed to find the back of the net. However, as I mentioned above, there are decisions that could have been made that may have influenced proceedings.

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I will also use this opportunity to express my concerns about the nightmare possibility of Spurs winning the title, which despite the denials of many Arsenal supporters, has suddenly become a worryingly realistic possibility. Without wanting to praise them, as an individual who says things as I see them, they have become an organised outfit and a difficult team to beat. One that doesn’t roll over and let the opposition tickle its belly in the same fashion that we did at Southampton on Boxing Day.

It is no exaggeration to say that in Harry Kane and Dele Alli, they also have two of the most in form players in the division. The mere thought of them even finishing a place above us, is enough to make me want to throw myself through the nearest window. Please, if it’s not us, anyone else but them.

Can Elneny fill the Santi-shaped void?

One Positive in Mo

On a positive note, I was pleased with what I saw from new signing Mohamed Elneny on his debut against Burnley. Without being exceptional, he was quietly efficient and appeared to possess the ability to regularly find space and make himself available for team mates. The fact that he doesn’t hesitate at attempting to shoot from long distance is an added bonus and one that I hope doesn’t get coached out of him.

Although its early days and it’s a possibility that our new recruit received instructions to play further forward with Francis Coquelin in the team alongside him, there was little evidence to suggest that Elneny is the tough tackling defensive midfielder who will provide competition and cover for Francis. This is not to say that I don’t think he will be a good addition, I’m simply saying that based on my first impressions, his attributes make him a potentially valuable asset in a more advanced role.

Whilst I wouldn’t put my house on us winning the title this season, I certainly didn’t think Leicester would be leading the table after twenty four games either. With that in mind, there is still enough time for us to find some form and turn things around. Let’s hope the first steps towards us doing exactly that will be taken this weekend at Bournemouth’s Dean Court stadium.

Onwards and upwards….

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9 Responses to Tough to understand Wenger’s in game decisions of late and persistence with Walcott

  1. stevepalmer1 February 5, 2016 at 8:21 am #

    Nice one Nick, unusual for me to find a guy who writes what i am feeling but you have hit the nail on the head mate. Walcott has me pulling my hair out, lazy with his work rate, and i call him the passenger. Him in the side is like playing with ten men. I dont want to play on the wing, i am a centre forward, i’m up against a tough defender, and moves to the other side of the pitch affecting many players throughout the seasons.

    Young Campbell has grafted since his inclusion in the side, my man of the match on a couple of occasions, Now a nineteen year old Iwobi, who has shown more football brain in one game than i have witnessed in ten years with Walcott.

    I am amazed, by the hold that Theo has on Wenger, does Wenger not see what the rest of us do that he is a passenger, never challenges, never takes on a full back. and his consistency in finding empty spaces where he is not expected to do any work , His inclusion week after week is affecting promissing prospects from giving fans the skills we have been missing,

    We have an out of form Ramsey, never finding the form of a couple of seasons ago, and Wenger still plays him instead of our new guy who knows where the goal is.

    • chris February 5, 2016 at 10:19 am #

      Within the Emirates … Arsene is considered more powerful than any Director (except the absentee Kroenke). He is known for taking ages – unable to make up his mind …. and then stay with his views against all evidence. How many years did he fail to use a genuine DMF ??

      • Victor Thompson February 5, 2016 at 11:56 am #

        very interesting insight into “the corridors of power” Chris

  2. Ray February 5, 2016 at 8:40 am #

    One thing is certain in all these, once a team loses, there always the tendency to apportion blames and criticize harshly. Walcott might not be playing well now, yes. You can question why Giroud was substituted afte Per’s red card but the fact is that you don’t have all the information about the team and the physical state of all the players.

    Whatever challenges there is can only be overcome by the entire team together.

    I’m pained by the situation right now too. But I feel it’s down to the entire team; I hope they come out of it and meet our yearnings.

  3. JOEL February 5, 2016 at 9:03 am #

    Out of form Ramsey,Walcott ane the Ox…a walking or rather jogging and pointing non-entity in Flamini,,,a slow moving defensive accident always waiting to happen in Mertesacker…Wilshire sidelined by another long term injury…but how well was he playing before this latest calamity anyway….padding out the squad with Arteta and Rosicky who are both injury prone and way way past their best…Having supposedly had the EPL handed to him on a plate Wenger’s misguided loyalties,out-dated tactics,inability to motivate, and refusal to create greater competition within the squad will cost Arsenal yet again…but not as far as their bank balance is concerned…So everything is rosey in the Boardroom and they can look to extend his contract once again…Groundhog day…

  4. chris February 5, 2016 at 10:15 am #

    Even in the days of Wenger success (for those old enough to remember) his substitutions were laughable. EG. he would bring on Cygan (the reserve central defender) and tell him to play wide left …. thinking that would help hold on to a lead !! As a a tactician, Arsene has never been at the races.

  5. Nick Birch February 5, 2016 at 10:58 am #

    Agree completely Chris, I often think that people think there needs to be a certain level of genius involved with tactics but in reality, all that’s required is the use of basic logic.

    Sadly Arsene doesn’t appear capable of doing so…

  6. Victor Thompson February 5, 2016 at 11:42 am #

    I agree that Walcott is not worth his place at the moment and I don`t understand why he is regarded as being worth £140k per week in his new contract but the loss of the recent 9 points could not have been down to any single player. The main culprit is Wenger. The selection of comments here contain a number of reasons for that; his poor tactical decisions, particularly in use of substitutes and in extreme loyalty to certain players.

    Despite his game against Spurs which was an exception, Flamini is not good enough and Arteta is too old and slow. Other teams with limited talent at their disposal, make up for it with tactics and their midfield and defence play to a plan. Arsene doesn`t know how to make such plans or even how to counteract them. He seems to miss the flow of the game in the first half and does not pick up on the reasons for us being outplayed. He has a stubborn refusal to make substitutions at the proper time and whilst he used to refuse to make a sub until 70 mins, he had recently appeared to take on board the huge criticism aimed at him for that policy. Alas on Sunday he reverted to form and waited until 60 mins to make a substitution. I don`t need to repeat the criticism of the quality of that decision which has been aired above, or the other ones which followed.

    I agree that I would have been happier to see Elneny given his chance instead of Flamini or Ramsey. We learnt nothing from the Ramini combination which we did not already know and now we face a much more challenging set of games than those which we have just dropped 9 points in. If Wenger would not try Elneny against Southampton, why should he try him against Leicester, Spurs, Everton or Man City? What if our midfield and defence cant cope with their tactics? Did he learn anything from his omission of Elneny against Southampton.

    Arsene is now so entrenched in his own opinions that he is incapable of considering the opinions of others or of listening to useful advice. With Steve Bould coaching the defence, I cannot believe that he has not been offered advice in regard to the obvious weaknesses that other managers have exploited repeatedly. The Chelsea game was a classic example of waiting for one chance to exploit the gaps we leave and take advantage of Mertesacker`s lack of pace. It is a tactic they always use against us and it always works.

    His failures to open the purse strings are undoubtedly his worst and most damaging traits. It has left us with few choices at the vital part of the season for the last two or three seasons and has clearly cost us the championship on at least two of those including the present one. I fear that when Guardiola takes over Man City and they buy the cream of the talent available to improve their already impressive squad, we shall not get such a chance again. Meanwhile I also agree with you Nick, that Spurs are a real “Elephant in the room ” now.

    They are on the up. Their team is young, ambitious and physically strong. They look as if they will be around for the foreseeable future. It does us no good to ignore them. Wenger is going to have to look over his shoulder because until now the fans have not had the experience of worrying about Spurs. He will have to make wise decisions from now on and jettison his outmoded notions which are costing us dearly. Had he retired two years ago, he would have been revered as the saviour of Arsenal Football Club and the architect of their renaissance. The Emirates stadium would have been a monument to his success. If he keeps on going as he is now he will be remembered as our own Grand Old Duke of York who led us to the top of the hill and charged us exhorbitant ticket prices for the pleasure, only to march us down again. He will be reviled for that.

    • Nick Birch February 5, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

      The article wasn’t intended to single out Walcott for the loss of 9 points recently, it was simply to say that he’s the player who’s performances I’m finding the most frustrating of late.

      There are of course various factors that are collectively responsible….

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