When the match squads were announced, I started to feel reasonably confident. After all, United could only boast the returns of David De Gea and Marcus Rojo (the latter sustained an injury during the game and limped off). None of Jones, Valencia, Smalling or, most importantly, Martial recovered enough to even make the bench. And thus United played with a makeshift defense (Carrick and Blind at CB), a midfield containing Mata and Lingard and with an 18-year old debutant, Marcus Rashford, up top.
Arsenal, meanwhile, looked a 10-man pressing machine. Arsene made 3 changes to the side that went down to Barcelona: Gabriel for Mertesacker, Walcott for Oxlade and Welbeck for Giroud. All three made sense, none of them looked like weak links at the time.
As I made my way to the kitchen (where I watch most games), I made a passing joke to my dad, inviting him to come along and witness a rare sight of an 18-year old debutant bagging his 1st competitive hat-trick. He waved it off with a smile.
Some 35 minutes later I couldn’t believe my eyes. I couldn’t understand what was happening. The situation was so incomprehensible that I struggled to come to grips with the fact it was, indeed, real. We were 2-0 down, both goals were scored by Marcus Rashford.
The horrible thing was, few would argue, United’s lead was deserved. While we had fashioned the best goalscoring opportunity when Monreal went clean through (something that makes me think, however fleetingly, about the fine margins in football), our overall display was atrocious. It was limp, it was disinterested, it showed complete lack of fight and desire. In short, it was the display of a bunch of bottlers crumbling under pressure.
And so I find myself this morning, standing on the tube, wishing dearly I could support some other team or at least being less emotionally invested in the current one. Unfortunately, it looks like both tasks are insurmountable.
I’ll get you through the talking points, as always.
I don’t mean the in-game ones, I mean the changes Wenger made compared to our last game. Suffice to say two of the three didn’t work. At all.
Gabriel looked absolutely out of his depth. He was badly at fault for failing to deal with a low cross which led to the 1st (though Koscielny was just as bad), he lost an aerial duel for the 2nd, he nearly gifted the home side a penalty early on (thank God Pawson saw the foul was actually committed outside the box. To me it looked perfectly inside before I saw the replays) and his overall display was dreadful. Like Flamini, Gabriel’s mere presence induces a sense of panic in everyone around him, which isn’t helped in the slightest by his below-par displays ridden with mistakes.
If you think I’m ripping into Gabriel on the basis of one game only, you should read my pre-Leicester thoughts, where I talk at length about the Brazilian’s lack of organisational skills, his inability to forge any kind of partnership with Koscielny and, most importantly, his spacial awareness.
After the Barcelona game, when people were blaming Mertesacker for the goals conceded (not without reason), I had an idea to write an article about our German, highlighting his importance to this side. While I still may do so when I have the time (most likely during the international break), Gabriel’s performance yesterday kind of made it redundant. He failed badly at all the things Mertesacker does right in 95% of the cases and his fabled pace was of no use to us whatsoever. He showed those Gunners who crave to chuck Mert out because “he’s slow” that your acceleration means little if you don’t have a defender’s head on your shoulders.
I don’t want to see Gabriel start another game for us this season. All through the 15/16 season the signs were there that he’s not ready. He was a disaster waiting to happen and against United we got what was coming. That doesn’t mean I think Gabriel is utter crap and should immediately be sold, far from it. I think he can turn out to be a very good defender, but right now he is not one. I actually think Chambers should be ahead of Gabriel in the pecking order. Despite being 5 years younger, Calum looks much more ready to be 3rd-choice.
Unfortunately, I don’t have warm words for Theo Walcott either. He played 100 minutes of football in his last two games. During that time he took no shots, didn’t complete a single dribble, created no shooting opportunities for his teammates and only managed 12 passes of 16 attempted. 12 passes.
Theo Walcott is one of our highest earners. Only this summer he signed a new marquee deal. He’ll soon turn 27. He is no longer a prospect. He is an established professional, on par with Alexis and Ozil in terms of wages and experience. And games still drift him by. Most of them. He is not only making no tangible difference, he actually looks like he can’t even be arsed to make one. He is not a winger, but he’s also not a striker.
I think the time has come for us to part ways with Theo. Danny Welbeck, in his four games, did more than Theo did all season. Not in terms of numbers yet, but definitely in terms of desire to make things happen. You could argue that desire accounts for little if you don’t have numbers to back it up, to which I’ll say: is 6 goals in 32 appearances enough to justify a 140k salary? Welbeck already scored twice, in 4 games. Who do you think, hand on heart, will have scored more by June?
Like with Gabriel, I sincerely hope Theo’s abysmal showing has earned him a place on the bench for the rest of the season. Who Wenger sticks on the right is not even a problem with Theo the benchmark. Iwobi will do a better job all-around, Campbell will definitely do a better defensive job, Welbeck can be shifted to the right with Giroud coming back centrally. Even Ramsey can play there, seeing as it won’t be long before Cazorla returns. Oh, and speaking of Ramsey…
Aaron Ramsey, the central midfielder
He disappointed yesterday and, frankly, he had been below par the entire season. If we take his last three months only, here’s what Aaron did down the centre, a position he so craved for (League and CL only):
- 3 goals
- 3 assists
- 36 shots (11 on target)
- 15 chances created (4 vs Sunderland – highest)
- 22 dribbles completed (9 in 2 games – City and Chelsea)
That’s all Ramsey did in 14 (!) games. I checked out Cazorla’s stats. Took only his league games, though I feel the contest if fair, since there were 14 of those:
- 0 goals
- 3 assists
- 23 shots (9 on target)
- 36 chances created
- 36 dribbles completed
Cazorla created more than double the chances, completed almost double the dribbles, took fewer shots, but was less wasteful on these. The difference being, of course, that Santi didn’t leave huge gaps in midfield. He played much deeper than Ramsey, yet was still more effective up front.
The problem with Ramsey, from what I’ve observed, is that he offers NOTHING to the team unless he stays in position and helps his midfield partner defend. But he doesn’t do that very often. For an attacking midfielder he offers surprisingly little up front too.
That’s why I think he should either be dropped or shifted out wide. I don’t know how ready Elneny is, so I’m going to pipe up Chambers alongside Coquelin. If nothing else, Chambers will help out defensively much more + he is a very good passer of the ball. At least we won’t see a gaping hole in the middle of the park until Cazorla returns.
What now for the players?
They should be ashamed of themselves, of their mentality. They couldn’t bother to turn up for so many games. I understand losing to Barca or Bayern, but West Ham? West Bromwich? Zagreb? Olympiacos? Southampton? Even Chelsea, to whom we managed to lose TWICE in their worst season, in, like, 12 years.
This hints at a psychological problem. Players take opposition for granted. It’s not the big teams we’ve lost to this year, or dropped points to (mostly). It’s the supposed underdogs. Players need to have a long hard look at themselves and ask whether they really want to achieve something with Arsenal.
What now for Arsene Wenger?
While some laughed at the notion “if we don’t win the league, Arsene has to go”, I’m starting to think it has merit. Of course we can’t heap all the blame on Arsene, after all I’m pretty sure he never instructed his players to go and play like a bag of rat’s droppings, but he’s still the man at the helm.
It’s his team. He bought these players. He trained them. He put faith in them. He said time and again how this squad is capable of great things.
It’s one thing losing the title to Chelsea, City or United. However if we lose it to Leicester or Tottenham, this should ring the bell for changes. Neither club has our resources or such an experienced manager. Neither club can boast players like Ozil or Sanchez. And, while they won’t smash the Premier League highest total points haul, them finishing above us is embarrassing.
Besides, this season we haven’t demonstrated anything to suggest we would be the worthy champions. We were good in flashes, in short spells, but we haven’t been anywhere near good enough on the whole.
It’s not a step back not to win the league but it’s a step back if you lose it to Leicester or Spurs all the while playing like a fertiliser heap. If we do indeed miss on the title to Leicester or Spurs, I’d say it’s time for Arsene to step aside and let someone else have a shot. Losing out to such teams with such a level of performances is simply not good enough. If that happens, I’d say Wenger has taken us as far as he could.
That’s how bad yesterday was.
Back with a Swansea preview…