As the game petered out towards its inevitable conclusion, I was fuming. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening. I was sitting in an empty sports bar in Greece in the middle of nowhere in smoldering heat and wished dearly I hadn’t made it to the game.
Arsenal produced a shambles of a performance. During the 90 minutes I’ve seen Arsenal at its collective – and individual – worst since that loss to Monaco. Like on that night in February we weren’t outmuscled by a better team: we were the agents of our own downfall. We just didn’t turn up for the game, simple as that. At no point in the game did we actually seem interested in winning it. We just let the game pass us by, content to continue knocking the ball around West Ham’s box as the clock was ticking away.
I remember one phrase said by Arséne Wenger after the Monaco loss: “If you can’t win the game, you don’t lose it”. On such occasions you look at your defense and your goalkeeper to deliver and keep the scores level. Unfortunately for us, neither were up for it yesterday.
However, there was a marked difference compared to that game against Monaco: our goalkeeper let us down much more than our defense did. Of course we can say Mertesacker failed to organize a defensive line to prevent the 1st; we can even blame Oxlade for losing it on the edge on the box for the 2nd: but ultimately it was Cech’s debacle. He shoulders most of the blame for both goals conceded.
Petr completely missed the cross for the 1st. He should have either played till the end and try to punch the ball away or hold his ground and wait for the incoming shot. Instead, he chose a half-measure and gave Kuyate a free header.
As for the 2nd, well … Cech conceded at the near post. A goalkeeper of his stature and experience was caught napping with a shot from outside the box, wrong-footed and at the near post. You can scream yourself hoarse that Oxlade was wasteful, but you will never convince me Cech is not to blame for letting in a goal at the near post.
Do I mean to blame Cech for losing the game? No. It was a collective failure, during which I’ve seen it all: Cazorla dispossessed, Ramsey glory-hunting in attack, Koscielny blown past by Payet, Walcott getting completely lost in the half an hour he got. But that doesn’t excuse Cech. It doesn’t mean we should close our eyes to his performance just because everyone else was shit.
Cech has two mitigating circumstances in my view, the ones which should see him avoid the drop come the next game:
1) he is still getting used to a new team
2) dropping him after one bad game will send a wrong message to both keepers. If Arséne drops Cech, both Cech and Ospina will know one bad game can ensure they get benched. As a result, both will play with the fear of making a mistake, something that will increase the likelihood of making a mistake tenfold. In short, dropping Cech will be both a horrific display of man-management and a showing Wenger doesn’t trust his players to get over their mistakes and move on.
Right now, however, the Frenchman has a much more serious problem on his hands than a simple (in comparison) goalkeeper dilemma: he needs to figure out what the bloody hell has happened with the rest of the team. He also may have other selection choices to ponder.
With regards to the second problem, I think Arséne will be better off by adopting the formula “Don’t fix what isn’t broken”, namely: field the players that can deliver consistently. That means Bellerin at right-back (a slight thigh injury kept him out yesterday), Cazorla alongside Coquelin and Oxlade on the right. Even that would be making two changes to the side that was largely successful during the 2015 calendar year: Cech for Ospina and Oxlade for Ramsey. I’ve already explained why Cech should keep his place; as for Oxlade, well, he is just a much better winger than Ramsey and should play on the right when fit.
Will Arséne really do that? We’ll see next week. He probably won’t and will be right: he can pick a team much better than I can – for one because my reaction is emotional. I’ve seen a team which worked, seen a team which didn’t, compared the personnel and jumped to the simple conclusion that certain individuals were to blame just because they didn’t feature in the successful side and featured in the less successful one. Arséne has a much better understanding of what works and what doesn’t: as such his decision will be better informed than mine in any case.
However, as I’ve stated above, I don’t think certain players are more guilty than others: after all Wenger started almost exactly the same team that defeated Chelsea a week ago, with the exceptions of Bellerin and Walcott. So I see two possible explanations of why things didn’t work out yesterday:
1) psychological problem
2) shit happens.
Maybe it is the case West Ham were physically better prepared for the game, seeing as their season began 5 weeks ago? It might, but that doesn’t excuse our own dire performance.
In the heat of the moment yesterday I suggested on Twitter we might have a psychological problem: we were in good shape after pre-season and the weight of expectation got to us. However, this seemed less likely to me today morning after I’ve read Arseblog’s post-mortem. Why did we turn up at Wembley last May and fail to do so yesterday? Surely the game at Wembley had more riding on it?
So I’m going to say this: shit happens.
There is no logical explanation to what transpired yesterday. Sometimes things happen which are out of our control: it’s part and parcel not only of football but of life in general. Football is a game of chance. Having a better manager and a better team gives you a better chance of winning, but it doesn’t give you an absolute chance of winning. Say, we would have beaten West Ham 9 times out of 10: yesterday was that one occasion when we didn’t.
What next? A response. In a way, defeats can be beneficial. They keep you on your toes. Arsenal always does things the hard way; we always need a kick up our arses to get going. Consider yesterday was such a kick up the arse. Whether it had the desired effect we’ll find out next Sunday come 3:15 p.m.