On a beautiful august day Arsenals premier league charge began, and after a block buster 90 minutes cautious optimism gave way to full scale meltdown. A four three defeat against Liverpool left the long suffering emirates faithful with an all too familiar feeling. Let down by a side underprepared, undercooked and undermanned. The disappointment comes from the result and performance but the anger comes from the familiarity of the charade. Let’s hope our season is a case of what starts bitter ends sweet, but let’s not hold our breath.
Before I vent my every frustration with our loveable band of choir boys let’s look at a couple of positives because there was actually some. First even though I had reservations about the line-up, which I’ll get into later, I was impressed with Wenger’s efforts to protect the two youngsters at centre back by playing Coquelin and Elneny in front of them. He’s a manager who’s often accused of not being flexible tactically and that certainly can’t be levelled at him on this occasion. The only other positive was the cameos of the freshly turned 23 Ox. Who came on scored a goal and looked to carry on his excellent pre-season form. Also it’s always a pleasure to see the ambidextrous Andalusian grace the pitch providing two assists in our late fruitless rally.
Now why can’t this side learn to batten down the hatches? You’ve come out at half time gone 2:1 down and are on the floor. Now what should happen is your full backs tuck in, your wingers go within ten yards of the full backs and your two central midfielder’s squeeze the space making two banks of four. Like a boxer who’s been knocked down in the middle of a round, put your guard up and defend till you hear the bell. Maybe break up there rhythm a bit by throwing out a few jabs from behind your guard, so rotational fouling in a football sense. But instead Arsenal get up off the canvas and start swinging on spaghetti legs which always ends one way, 8:2 and 3:2 at Old Trafford, 6:3 at City, 5:1 and 3:3 at Anfield, 6:0 at Chelsea, 4:0 at Southampton and so on I’m not going to punish your memories any longer. It’s defending as a team and it’s why good teams don’t batter littler team’s week in week out. If it was a one off or even a two off you could blame the players but it’s not. So Le Prof why can’t you teach these lads to retreat and have a natural defensive setting when the tide turns in games?
I was also left bewildered by the starting 11 for two reasons. First was the exclusion of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, I know I have a soft for the boy but still in pre-season he was our stand out performer. So why not ride out his arc by starting him and setting him loose on Moreno? But more alarmingly was his central midfield pairing, now I understand the reasoning for playing the two to protect Chambers and Holding but the way to beat a pressing side is with the ball. Quick accurate balls over and through the press is what beats a pressing side. Watch Bayern vs Dortmund last year, Bayern killed BVB with long balls from deep because your essentially taking a way there biggest attacking threat by missing out the middle third of the pitch, which is the third where Elneny plays in popping off little retaining passes which against Liverpool rendered him more a hindrance.
The two men who could have given us that incision were sat on the bench twiddling their thumbs. We watched Santi paralyse Man Utd doing that very job last season and it’s what our 30m new midfielder does for a pass time, look at his long ball stats from last season. He was the perfect man for the job yesterday a deep lying defensively astute central midfielder, who passes vertically up the pitch. Yet both were introduced when the game was gone and I’m sure both would have kept sending the ball down the right wing we were getting so much joy against Moreno but stopped in the second half for reasons unknown. Why not turn the screw on the opposition’s weak link, déjà vu from the opener against West Ham last season when we didn’t target Tomkins at right back.
Déjà vu leads me into the ugly part which is questioning what’s going on at the Arsenal. For being under prepared were already three points behind Man U, Liverpool and City. It doesn’t matter at what point of the season it is. A deficit is a deficit and we’ve already got to make up ground. Why did our players look so physically below Liverpool? You literally have months to prepare your players to be ready for the opening day so there’s absolutely no excuse for not being physically prepared and why have we only played 5 friendlies? Liverpool played 9 and the proof was in the pudding. These short term issues are fixable though and Ozil, Giroud and Koscielny will come back into the side and the ship will steady but were still three points down.
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The longer term issues however leave me with so much angst I could spontaneously combust with rage. When are we going to start acting like the big club we claim to be and buy the players to own the pitch we play on? Revenue streams, fan base and stadia mean absolutely nothing if you don’t buy the players you need to compete. Big clubs are predators in the transfer market and buy the players they want by all means necessary. We’ve watched Man City and Chelsea surpass us on the pitch and make giant strides off it by buying big in the transfer market over the last ten years and now it’s are time do the same but we don’t. Why aren’t we acting like a big club and putting the money down to get the players we need. It’s inexcusable to be going in to your first game with one recognised striker and two rookie centre backs. It wouldn’t happen to United, City, Chelsea, Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern or Juve. The clubs Ivan said we can compete with.
To be a BIG club act like a big club and it’s time to choose. Does Arsene want to run with wolves or become a sheep? Because the next two weeks his legacy is on a knife edge, its time waken the beast you’ve created and shake this culture of accepting coming short or just buck the disappointing trend of being two players short for another season. And if it’s the latter you’re not fit to run our football club anymore. Please be a wolf not a sheep Arsene because I love you.