Manchester United 3-2 Arsenal: when it all comes crashing down

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.

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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.

The substitutions

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.

Gabriel had a part to play in both of Rashford's goals.

Gabriel had a part to play in both of Rashford’s goals.

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.

An extremely rare picture of Theo Walcott about to touch the ball...

An extremely rare picture of Theo Walcott about to touch the ball…

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…

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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):

  1. 3 goals
  2. 3 assists
  3. 36 shots (11 on target)
  4. 15 chances created (4 vs Sunderland – highest)
  5. 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:

  1. 0 goals
  2. 3 assists
  3. 23 shots (9 on target)
  4. 36 chances created
  5. 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 most exciting Ramsey has been this season is in his clash with Herrera

The most exciting Ramsey has been this season is in his clash with Herrera

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.

Can't blame Mike Dean this time... Wenger, it's YOUR team.

Can’t blame Mike Dean this time… Wenger, it’s YOUR team.

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…

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4 Responses to Manchester United 3-2 Arsenal: when it all comes crashing down

  1. Victor Thompson March 1, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    Good morning Alex, I am really surprised to see that even you have lost your optimism and the unremitting disappointments have almost convinced you that it is time for Wenger to go.

    To the rest of the static optimists, I ask you; do you really think that this team looks like potential champions? If they do by some miracle mange to win it they would be the worst Premier League winners in living memory, That is how far we have sunk. We are in real danger of falling out of the top 4. Man Utd are closer to us than we are to Leicester, so it is just as likely that they will take 4th spot than it is that we will overtake Leicester. That is the reality.

    From the articles in the press, it seems that there is no hint of Arsene admitting responsibilty. He is suggesting that the players are solely to blame. He has run out of the old excuses of not having the finances to compete with the big clubs. He has variously said that he will not sign a player unless he his better than those we have and he only signed Elneny because he said we did not need any others. Now all of a sudden it is the fault of the players he was so happy with, that we are once again fighting for top 4 survival. We cant beat a Man Utd. team with a bunch of kids in it and 14 players on the injured list. we cant beat Chelsea with any team they put out.

    How does he think that this lot will change anything? How does the Board think that Wenger will change it? Does it matter? What is the ambition of the Board? Are they prepared to accept collective responsibilty to the shareholders for the lack of performance of the team? At this stage of this disastrous collapse once again, they owe it to the shareholders ( and the fans ) to provide an explanation. What does it take before Wenger has clearly earned the title Mourinho gave him “An Expert In Failure”?

    The club now lives in a fine stadium and fine training and medical facilities and that is down in the most part to him, but unless we win the Premiership this year when everyone knows we were expected to he will indeed be An Expert In Failure. If he had wanted to prove Mourinho wrong, he should have shown some genuine threat as being title holders. Leicester do not have a fraction of our resources yet they are currently 8 points clear of us and show no sign of faltering.

    You may say that this is a fluke; a flash in the pan, but seriously, during the last 10 years I would have been happy with a fluke. The problem being is that no one would have called it that, because for a team of our stature it would not have been one. It would have been expected. I ask therefore how can Ranieri turn a team which was fighting relegation into champions?

    I have not suddenly become a Wenger hater. I was, like every one else, completely bowled over with his achievements right up to 2004 but in the 12 years since then we have only won 2 FA cups. I still didn`t complain until around 2012/13 when he was claiming that we would no longer be the the bridesmaid to the other big teams. It was our turn to be “the bride” – to “dine at the top table” and I believed him. Now the unpalatable truth is that it looks as if Spurs are going to show us the way and win it this year with about half of the resources that we have. Can you stomach that? Will that be enough to finally say “enough is enough”?

  2. Victor Thompson Jnr March 1, 2016 at 1:18 pm #

    I’m used to listening to people slate wenger. Sometimes even i admit he deserves it, other times it just feels like people use him as a punch bag to vent their frustrations. People have every right to have negative opinions about him but my opinion is and always has been, that without wenger we wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are now.

    Yes i’m well aware that Arsenal football club had great success before wengers reign. But Arsenal’s path in my eyes changed with moving to the emirates. At a time when abramovich was throwing money into chelsea and their fans were more than happy to see it happen as before then they were nothing more than a cup team. Arsenal would have been a very attractive purchase for any bored billionaire. But as we’ve seen with Usmanov are club has a level of class and tradition that is more important than short term success, and i love the club for it. The move to the emirates was a necessary step and in my eyes proves the ambition of the club so many question. To do that without the help of an abramovich or a sheik mansour is an achievement in itself. Unfortunately for wenger in the years before that when we played on a level playing field he did the one thing that could prove to be his downfall. He proved himself as a world class coach. The standards he set during that period followed him into one of the most difficult periods of the clubs history. How you choose to view his performance during this period is completely up to you. But for what it’s worth i personally do not believe there is another manager in world football that could have guided us through that period whilst keeping us within touching distance of the top position. I am never happy with settling for top four, when you’ve watched an arsenal team shine and dazzle before you always compare following squads to them. Everyone has their own opinions of why he’s been here so long. Some say the money. But having watched arsene wenger most of my life, i’ve made an educated guess that he’s here because he loves the club and it genuinely holds a place in his heart. I’ve watched this man stand infront of camera after camera and defend players and results over recent years to the point where he puts his own reputation on the line. Watch his post match conferences after barcelona and united and you’re telling me that’s a man who only cares about money?

    Call me an AKB all you want. I don’t care for all the name calling shite. But it’s black and white to me. We took a gamble that caused us to make sacrifices that has haulted are success on the pitch, but two seasons ago ivan gazidis for the first time announced that we could compete with the best again. Since then we’ve signed mesut ozil and alexis sanchez, breaking our club record transfer fee by £26m, and in the process winning two FA cups. When you take a step back and look at the big picture, as hard as it is for some to swallow there are signs of progression. The media and social network are very good at creating the idea of crisis that are not there. Yes the defeats against barcelona and united are hard to take but we’re 5 points off the leaders with ELEVEN matches to play. The lifespan of a football club is far greater than yours or mine.

    • Victor Thompson March 1, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

      I`m glad to see my son who I love dearly, make his maiden comment and just as with other pro Wenger supporters I respect his opinion.

      The final sentence says it all. Arsenal will be here long after I have gone. The time I am in now is all that I will get and I hope to see Arsenal win the Premiership and possibly The Championship before I die. I give full credit for what Arsene accomplished but he was grateful to come to Arsenal. David Dein must have encouraged him to do so and at a time before the Sugar Daddies appeared, we were a huge club. it was a move of mutual benefit and he made the most of it.

      The fans largely understood the financial problems he had whilst the Emirates was being built but those problems are behind us now. In his own words, “we are able to compete with the big clubs now and we have the money to sign players”. We should have won the premiership at least twice in the last two years but we haven`t and we are not going to win it this year.

      For many of our elder supporters, we may never see it happen. That is not acceptable. Incidentally, my son and I will be in the stand tomorrow night having travelled from Belfast. Neither of us would miss it. Despite our divergent opinions, we are both Arsenal Supporters!


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