Some time into the second half I had not so much a distinct feeling of deja vu, but rather an impression of an unending nightmare. You know how sometimes you have a very vivid and highly unpleasant dream, wake up in the middle of the night, go back to sleep, and are treated to the second part of that same dream?
Well, that was me yesterday. Southampton was the first part. West Ham was the second. Despite us waking up in the middle, saying all the right words and even changing the bed linen and taking a sleeping pill, we were still let down by our own brain. Deeply unpleasant, let me tell you that.
Arsene Wenger probably did all he could within reason. He changed the
linen formation, he threw in some new players, and he clearly thought more about crossing to Giroud by fielding Maitland-Niles. You can’t deny Kolasinac is more of a cutback type of player, preferring to keep the ball on the ground 9 times out of 10. AMN was a breath of fresh air in this regard.
However it made no difference whatsoever. His desire to cross petered out relatively early, never to return again and everything else we already tried against Southampton to no avail. West Ham, dare I say, had a comfortable game yesterday. The Hammers kept their shape, pulled men behind the ball and voila! We didn’t look remotely threatening.
Even worse, we could have conceded several times throughout the match. Xhaka nearly played Arnautovic onside for the early header, the Austrian was allowed time to mercifully scuffle his shot over the bar in the second half and then Chicharito crashed an effort against the underside of the woodwork in the dying moments. I thought this was going in for sure.
And let’s face, had it gone in, would it have been a gross injustice given the way we played? What exactly did we have to show for all the possession? Wilshere’s scythed effort and Iwobi hitting the outside of the post? Against a team fighting to stay up? Really?
The last two games have made me profoundly disillusioned about the quality of this side. They have also made me highly skeptical about securing the top 4. If teams such as Southampton and West Ham can shut up shop this effectively and even almost beat us at their grounds, what message does it send to the rest of the league?
I’ll tell you what message. That we are easy to defend against and can be picked off on the counter. We were supposed to lay down a marker yesterday, show we can get the job done against the lesser sides. We did exactly the opposite. No team is going to be afraid when we come knocking and why should they?
Look at the numbers. We have won two games out of nine on the road. Everton notwithstanding (let’s not forget they had a player sent off before we went on a rampage), we have scored just four goals away from home. We actually have a negative goal difference.
I went and looked at the numbers, and we are behind all the big guns in the league in key metrics away from home. Big chances, number of shots, goals scored – you name it. In some cases we are also behind teams like Watford and Leicester. In the table we are behind Burnley and Spurs, two sides we have recently beaten.
I don’t know where the improvement can come from. Sanchez is badly out of form and I won’t be surprised if he’s sold in January, Ozil can’t do it alone. With the German we also have no guarantees he’ll stay beyond the next transfer window.
Apart from that who do we have to make a difference? You can probably name only two footballers here: Alexandre Lacazette and Jack Wilshere. The former knows how to put the ball into the back of the net, the latter can provide at least some incisiveness and penetration with his dribbling and passing. That’s about it.
Welbeck? He actually made us look worse yesterday after he came on, that’s some achievement given how bad we looked. Giroud? He got no service and no runners in-behind. He needs help to flourish, but we seem utterly incapable of providing it. Iwobi? Psst. He is a bright young lad, but he can’t carry a team.
I’ve been scrutinizing Alexis yesterday and you know what I think? For all his wastefulness, the Chilean at least tries to make something happen. Let’s look at his wastefulness another way. Take him out of yesterday’s team. Put in Welbeck. Do you see us playing any better? Yes? Well, you are a dreamer then.
Sanchez is capable of doing things no one else in this team can do, or even has the nuts to try. The cost for that is a shedload of turnovers, yes, but Alexis can at least find a good pass or break the lines with his dribbling, or pop off an unexpected shot. No one else will do this.
We look utterly lethargic and out of ideas away from home. We can’t do anything and it seems we don’t even want to try. We are just not arsed enough. To what extent is this Arsene Wenger’s fault? Can he do any better, or is he stuck with a group of average players whom he has taken to the maximum already?
What I know for sure is whatever plan he had for yesterday and against Southampton didn’t work. At all. It very nearly didn’t work against Burnley too. We were a poor penalty from Alexis Sanchez (not inconceivable by any stretch of imagination) away from dropping a further two points, thus amassing just 7 from the possible 27. Abysmal.
We need to have the urgency to our game, we need the quick one-twos and little exchanges on the edge of the box to break opposition down, not pass it from side to side waiting for the sun to appear. If this group of players can’t be bothered (which they clearly can’t be), clean them out and start again. Play kids like AMN with a point to prove and the understanding of what it means to wear a cannon on your chest.
But I do not expect anything to change, and that is killing me. Wenger will stay on for at least another 18 months. He won’t learn new tricks, he’ll coach and set up his team the same way and we’ll get the same results. Because that’s the way it works everywhere, not just in football.
We’ll now probably win a couple of games (as we are playing at home), maybe grind out a draw against Liverpool on the 22nd and then another away trip will come. It doesn’t even have to be a big team anymore to stop us, and now everyone knows that. Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows. Pathetic.
Will someone please wake me up when this nightmare ends.