We’re now at the halfway stage of the league campaign and already we trail the leaders by twenty one points. Bizarrely, the mentality of some Arsenal supporters or perhaps I should say Arsene supporters, has been to focus on us being just a solitary point behind fourth place and discuss it in a way that suggests that it’s something to be proud of. Sorry but it’s not and in all honesty, it disappoints me that some members of our fanbase possess such losing mentalities.
I accept that a place in the top four is all we have to play for now, with Manchester City running away with the league title but being involved in the race for a Champions League qualification position at this stage, doesn’t compensate me in any way, for our lack of a title challenge. Certainly not now that it’s seemingly become our maximum ambition instead of our minimum expectation. I wouldn’t expect supporters of Manchester United or Chelsea to be content with competing for fourth and Arsenal supporters shouldn’t be either. Sadly some are.
In the past I’ve criticised Wenger for failing to learn from his mistakes but it’s apparent the players don’t either. Prior to Liverpool’s opening goal on Friday, they had twice gone close to scoring from similar positions to the one where Coutinho finally did. I said to the person sitting next to me that the next time they get in to that position, it would be a goal and unfortunately, I wasn’t wrong. If myself and others can see it coming, why can’t the players or the manager too and react to it?
With Wenger often having a blind spot when it comes to goalkeepers and defenders, I will also question whether he’s realised that he needs to replace Petr Cech and Laurent Koscielny in the not too distant future. Cech has lost a lot of his agility, as you’d expect him to in his mid thirties, and he’s recently developed a habit of looking to punch away crosses too, instead of catching them and taking the pressure off our defence. Which isn’t a good habit to develop in a league where aerial balls into the box are fairly common practice.
Koscielny’s form has been seriously affected by his injuries and now he’s started to lose some of his pace, I’m not convinced that he reads the game well enough to compensate for it. At thirty two he’s not going to get any better or quicker and pace has always been a huge part of his game. When you consider that many believed that we needed at least one new centre back prior to the start of the season and the form of Hector Bellerin so far this campaign, you could argue that we are now in need of almost an entire new back line.
Whilst Bellerin has been poor this season, I’m convinced that under a new manager, he could rediscover his form. Hector was dropped at the wrong time when he was made a scapegoat for our defeat at Crystal Palace last season. He wasn’t singled out by our supporters after that game, he just happened to be the one who came over when the whole team was being booed. Now that he deserves to be dropped for his poor form and replaced by Mathieu Debuchy, who has impressed when called up this season, Wenger keeps him in the team. It’s baffling.
It would appear that both Bellerin and Granit Xhaka will continue retain their places in the team, regardless of their form. It has been suggested by some supporters that Wenger is reluctant to drop Xhaka because it would point towards him having made an error of judgement in paying £35m for him. There is perhaps an element of truth in that when you consider that Arsene has long been known for his reluctance to acknowledge that he’s been wrong in the past. It’s usually the fault of the match officials or the fans after all.
I believe there is a useful player in Xhaka somewhere but it’s unlikely that we will ever see him flourish under Arsene. He’s certainly not the athletic and dynamic powerhouse defensive midfielder that we’ve been craving for. Sevilla’s Steven N’Zonzi isn’t world class but if the rumours of his imminent arrival are true, then he would at least give us some of the attributes that we lack and provide our defence with a better protective shield than any of our current midfield options.
Whilst everyone is entitled to their opinion, some of the views our supporters have on our players are simply ridiculous. I have seen the same people who rate Alex Iwobi, saying Alexis Sanchez, even when at his best, isn’t good enough for us. Iwobi has potential but he’s not anywhere near good enough to be a regular in our side yet, not if we want to be competing with the top teams. Of course he’s not alone in that respect. Sanchez on the other hand, was arguably our best player during his first three seasons. Yes, even despite his penchant for giving the ball away more often than most.
Although his head and heart are no longer at the club, it’s evident that some of our supporters have very short memories when it comes to remembering his contribution in previous seasons. Many of us now hope to see Alexis leave during the January transfer window, with a replacement coming in but with Manchester City currently looking unstoppable, it’s obviously far more likely that he’ll leave on a free in the summer. As for Wenger finding a January replacement, I’m not confident that we will be seeing that happen either. Fingers crossed for Julian Draxler though.
In my previous article, I mentioned noticing that Sead Kolasinac appeared to lack a bit of pace against Manchester United. However, he’s still a better option at left back than Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who may have more pace and have done well in a couple of games recently but he doesn’t have the positional sense or the physicality that Kolasinac does. He also appears more comfortable going forward and looks to be yet another example of Wenger playing someone out of their natural position.
Nacho Monreal has at times, impressed as the left sided central defender in a back three but he’s never been overly effective when he’s played centrally in a back four. So, you have to wonder why was he playing there against Liverpool in the first half, especially with Shkodran Mustafi available again? It seems Arsene will never learn and for him to come out after the game and say we defended well, quite frankly, is an insult to the intelligence of everyone who watched it.
At least the recent form of Mesut Ozil and the return of Jack Wilshere has provided us with some positives. Ozil has delivered more consistently and looked physically stronger. Whilst Wilshere has given us something we lacked with his willingness to be direct and go forward instead of the pointless sideways passing that we’ve become accustomed to in recent seasons. Let’s hope Mesut signs a new contract and keeps up his recent form and of course, that Jack somehow stays free from injury.
I’ve wanted Wenger gone since 2011 and we are surely getting closer to that happening but eighteen months is a long time and you have to worry about what mess he will leave behind. Perhaps I should just take comfort in the knowledge that some of our supporters aren’t being lined up as his successor….