As far as opening days of the season go, I can’t
remember an Arsenal one quite as disastrous as this. Whilst it would be fair to
point the finger at referee Anthony Taylor for a host of decisions that went
against us and favoured Aston Villa, the 3-1 defeat we suffered was a result of
our own making, on the back of a summer of inactivity in the transfer market
that has left us with a depleted squad, several of whom didn’t look ready for
Premier League football yesterday.
I was in a confident mood before the game as well. We
were playing against an Aston Villa side that finished 15th in the
League last season, some 30 points behind us, and despite our limited options I
still fully believed it would be enough to get us up and running in the new
campaign. Achieving the bare minimum with the bare minimum. Kind of a blueprint
to Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal sides of recent years.
And it all started so well, too. We opened the
scoring after six minutes when Olivier Giroud tucked away Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s
well timed cross, after Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky worked quickly to move
us from box to box in a move that had our fans purring like we did to the
classic counter attacks of the early Wenger days.
That provided the sole reason to cheer though as an
overcast and rainy afternoon back at the Emirates Stadium quickly turned to
gloom, as Taylor mismanaged the game and the aforementioned poor decisions
began to take their toll.
Villa’s first penalty came from a penetrative run by
Gabriel Agbonlahor, who surged through holes in our midfield and defence,
before Wojciech Szczesny upended him. A blatant foul and penalty, but Taylor
allowed an advantage that saw Villa get a free shot at an open goal before
pointing to the spot after they missed. I don’t know the official ruling on it,
but to me that’s advantage played. Taylor saw differently, gave the penalty,
booked Szczesny when he probably should’ve seen red, and despite the Pole
stopping Christian Benteke’s feeble penalty attempt, the follow up went in and
the scores were level.
The second penalty was far more debatable as Laurent
Koscielny definitely got some of the ball as he slid in on Agbonlahor inside
the area, but Taylor again saw it otherwise. He appeared to look over at his
assistant on the touchline who made no gestures to suggest a penalty should be
given (although he may have said differently of course), but Taylor awarded the
penalty and Benteke this time converted it first time.
Koscielny was booked in the process and was harshly
sent off not long after for sort of halting a Villa break, resulting in Arsenal
playing out the match with ten men. This is where the squad depletion really
showed at it’s ugliest; Aaron Ramsey (one of our better players on the day) was
forced to slot into the centre back position, with our only defender on the
bench, Carl Jenkinson, already playing after our only fit left back Kieran
Gibbs went off injured in the first half with a bad looking cut. To add further
defensive woes, Bacary Sagna, who received a string of knocks throughout the
match, endured a bad fall late on meaning he could also not carry on, and on
the face of it it appears we might only have two first team defenders available
for our next League fixture.
Arsenal then pushed forward and began to play some
better football despite being a man down. Two good chances fell to Rosicky; one
he skied over the bar and the other forced a great save from Brad Guzan. Guzan
also pushed a deflected shot from second half sub Santi Cazorla onto the bar,
before the game was concluded with a breakaway Villa third, coolly slotted home
by debutant (what’s one of those?) Antonio Luna.
Cries of “Spend Some Fucking Money” erupted around
the Emirates, and the stadium was all but empty as the match finished to
further boos and jeers, and it’s tough to argue against any of it being
My issue isn’t with the players. I was glad they got
applauded off at full time (by the few that were still around) to show, as much
is possible, that the booing wasn’t directed at them. It wasn’t a great
performance obviously, and yes it was a starting eleven that should have beaten
the opposition that they faced. But the issues we have aren’t because of them.
I like the squad we have, the nucleus of it is strong and, assuming full
fitness, we have a decent set of players capable of playing good and organised
football. But they need help. They’ve been saying it themselves all summer.
here and here.
Several of our key players have been calling out for new faces to improve the
side and give the dressing room a lift. It’s one thing when it’s just the fans shouting
for improvements to the side, but when the players have so publicly made the
same claims it beggars belief that we find ourselves in the situation we are in
I don’t even have a massive issue with Ivan Gazidis
either. Whilst there are questions over his power and ability to manage Arsene
Wenger, he has done his job in terms of bolstering the commercial side of our
Club and providing the increase in revenue and the “war chest” (urgh) we sit
on, literally, today.
The issue, for me, is with the manager. I love Arsene
Wenger for everything he’s done for the Club. But his abject stubbornness is
holding us back when we should be pushing on, making the most of the resources
we have, and aiming to compete at the top of the Premier League and in Europe,
rather than the position we AGAIN find ourselves in which is doing late
business in the transfer window to sort out what’s been a total nonsense of a summer.
It was the summer for us to make a statement of
intent, to flex our financial muscle, and build on our fantastic achievement of
remaining competitive (to an extent) whilst we self-financed a move to a brand
new 60,000 seated stadium. And doing that is probably what’ll go down as
Wenger’s greatest achievement. But I cannot comprehend for a second why we have
failed to improve a squad that limped over the line to finish fourth in the
League for a second year running, when our nearest rivals have all improved
admirably, and in the process proving that there are good players available in
the market. How on earth did Wenger think he’d get away with that?!
Yesterday, the squad wasn’t ready. Theo Walcott and
Sagna didn’t look fit. Walcott was off pace on several occasions, and Sagna was
constantly receiving treatment before eventually being forced off.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was fantastic in the first half, went off at half time
and his replacement Cazorla was no where near ready to play competitive football,
having been back in the country less than 48 hours after a long and pointless
trip to Ecuador with the Spanish National side.
Our creativity was reliant on Jack Wilshere and Tomas
Rosicky, both of who played well in parts, but they’re both injury prone and we
can’t expect either to go a full campaign without sitting any period of time
out. Then up top we have Giroud, Lukas Podolski, who wasn’t brought on until
the closing seconds despite us needing added impetus in the final third as we
chased the game, and poor old Yaya Sanogo who I feel sorry for more than
Szczesny was wild in goal, Fabianski I don’t think
really wants to be at the club, and as mentioned previously we now only have a
handful of defenders to pick from. I’m sure Wenger will buy some players before
the window closes, he always claims we’re active in the market, but his
activity now is purely responsive to the shit heap of a position we’ve been
left in, on the eve of a huge Champions League qualifier against Fenerbache on
Wednesday who will be no walk in the park.
We had the opportunity to go out and make a
statement, but again we’re facing a summer of last minute panic buys. Wenger’s
impressions of the transfer window are fundamentally flawed; his own valuations
of what players are worth, his idea of holding out till the end of the window
to get better deals for players (this can work, but it wasn’t much use to us
yesterday), and we’re now in a position whereby it’s fair to ask why would any
world class player in the Rooney or Suarez calibre actually want to come and play for us?
If the manager is going to persist with this
philosophy, then I’m afraid he’s done. This is the final year of his current
deal, and I can’t think for a second that it’s in the clubs best interest to
offer him a new one. I’d be genuinely stunned if they did. Even if we make a
few signings, we pick up some form, and heck, even if we finish fourth again
this season (we won’t finish higher), we’re a club that needs new ideas and new
personnel in order to progress forward.
He’s got an awful lot of work to do, and the clock is
ticking. Towards both the transfer window deadline, and his time as the Arsenal