When Theo Walcott failed to convert the penalty kick I thought it was going to be one of those days. I don’t have the numbers to back it and I’m not sure this kind of data exists in a public source readily available, but I have this nagging feeling Arsenal rarely does well after scuffing the shot from 11 yards. Maybe the memories of Ozil’s tame shot vs Bayern Munich are too fresh, I don’t know.
I was all the more stunned when just a minute later Theo opened the scoring with a composed finish. I was elated. I was hoping we’ll finally break the vicious circle, be a normal team for once and win the first game without too much nerves. I was wrong, as I pretty much always am on these occasions.
See, that’s the thing about Arsenal. They give you just enough hope to start dreaming, start believing in something good. Then they sucker-punch you and you are left picking up the pieces and wondering why did you get fooled once again, how could you fall into the same trap. That’s the Arsenal I know.
The thing I hate most about our loss is familiarity. The finer details are different, yes, but the bigger picture remains the same. Last year we lacked a holding midfielder, this year we lacked a central defender. Last year we lost to West Ham, this year to Liverpool. And I’m pretty sure we’ll scrape a win vs Leicester next week, just like we scraped a win over Palace last year. To paper over the cracks.
Even the manner in which we lost is painfully familiar to anyone who’s been watching Arsenal for at least a couple of seasons. A promising start, a terrible period when we are dominated and punished and a heroic comeback, which isn’t enough still. People who watch Arsenal play football every season don’t laugh when viewing GroundHog Day.
Let’s try and make sense of at least some managerial decisions.
Petr Cech over David Ospina
I was never really expecting the Colombian to start, understandably too. Cech is a superior goalkeeper at the very least on crosses and when saving shots from inside the penalty box. However I brought it up because a healthy portion of our fanbase started blaming Cech for the loss. I’m not going to say he had a good game, occasions when a keeper manages to have a good game while conceding four are rare, but I don’t find him that badly at fault to lay the blame solely at his door.
In my opinion he could have done a better job on one goal only – the Lallana goal. Coutinho’s free-kick was marvellous, the tap-in he converted is much more a consequence of collective poor defending, while Mane’s strike was both powerful and taken from close range. He shouldn’t have been allowed to have a pop from that position, simple as. On top of that, Cech made at least one brilliant save from point blank range late in the game, compensating for any potential shaky moment during the 2nd goal.
Calum Chambers and Rob Holding
Before the game I’ve given my take on the prospect of these two starting together. I managed to find quite a few positive moments, the only negative boiling down to lack of experience. It cost us, but it just as well could have been alright, so I’m not going to say “Arsene should have started Monreal in central defense”. That’s hindsight, we are all good at it.
In fact, I think the pair did reasonably well given the circumstances. They’ve found themselves badly exposed by their midfield, which is true for our fullbacks too, by the way. More on that below.
The problem was fielding a trio both secure enough defensively and sound enough technically to see us through. Amazingly, Wenger failed to accomplish either, seeing as Coquelin, Elneny and Ramsey were just as bad in retaining possession as they were in shielding our inexperienced centre-back duo. Coquelin was the only guy who at least tried to offer some protection, while, amazingly, creating the only shooting opportunity between the three all game. In short, I’m not sure what Elneny and Ramsey were doing up until they got subbed off.
Which part of it functioned? Alexis got lost at centre-forward, Walcott got lost after scoring the goal, while Iwobi just got lost. Alright, after his assist. That Alex, a 19-year-old was probably the best of the 3 says it all. Our attack was utterly ineffective, disconnected from midfield (or was the midfield disconnected from attack?) and, on top of that, unwilling to track back and help out the fullbacks. It was my worry that starting Iwobi on the wing would already be enough to cause damage at the back, that’s why I was against starting Walcott on the other side. Compensating for one winger was doable, compensating for two (plus Ramsey) was not. Arsene started three lazy defensive workers, we paid the price for it.
The last word
On top of a home defeat in the opening game we got ourselves two injured players (Ramsey and Iwobi) and the highly demoralising effect of conceding 4 goals. And it’s hard to look past Arsene Wenger for the reasons we lost the game. He is in full control of the reasons he himself listed for the loss.
Bad preparation? You prepared the team. Lack of experience at centre-back? You didn’t buy the players in 2,5 months. Lacklustre display from Alexis? Why didn’t you buy a striker then?
We are where we are because of what Arsene Wenger did, or rather didn’t do. The fabled stability didn’t do us any favours in the opening game. And Liverpool isn’t even the strongest team we are going to face this season. I digress.
We are in a mess right now and I don’t see how, or why, it will suddenly change for the better. The new Premier League season has arrived. Get your validol out.