In my almost 13 years of supporting Arsenal I’ve witnessed a lot of defeats. Yesterday’s 3-1 surrender to Chelsea was by no means the worst. In fact, I can think of a handful of draws much more painful than some defeats Arsenal suffered down the line. Before you shout “any draw is better than any defeat”, let me politely disagree. I’d take a league cup loss in the early stages over a Champions League draw stripping us of qualifying chances. Everything has to be contextualised.
Yesterday’s loss wasn’t the loss that ended our title hopes. While a win would have lit a dim fire under our title charge, a loss was just the last straw to break the camel’s back. We lost the title in January by dropping points vs Bournemouth and Watford. A case could be made we lost it in December with those back-to-back defeats.
And barring the last 20 minutes vs Bournemouth, there’s a common theme to how we played in these games. I’ll start with it.
We were simply mentally not ready going into the games. Not only did we not look like wanting to win at any point, we looked like we didn’t even want to be on the pitch. We didn’t try, we lost second balls, there was no fluidity or purpose to our play and our defense limped on both legs.
Whatever way you look at it, the manager comes in at some point. He’s got to be able to fire up his players. To give them a kick up the backside before the game, not after we lost it. Arsene Wenger seems to be incapable of doing that.
I love Arsene for a great many things. I love the fact he represents the club, stands for its values. I love his intelligence which stretches far beyond drawing diagrams on the board. I love how he holds himself with dignity and I can understand, and sympathise with, the occasions on which he goes overboard. In short, I love him as a man.
But despite all that I think his time as an Arsenal manager should come to an end after this season. Barring a miracle the size of the Champions League cup there’s nothing Arsene can do from now until May to convince me he is the man to lead Arsenal forward.
Because when it comes right down to it, he is not able to motivate his players anymore. Every season you see us turn in listless, insipid performances which invariably cost us, when it matters most. We are kings with the pressure off. We can come back from a 3-goal deficit. We can beat Bayern away from home. We can dismantle Chelsea when no one expects us to. But when the chips are down, we crack, buckle and fall apart, a few exceptions notwithstanding.
I believe, I truly do, that this group of players is capable of better performances and results. But we are unlikely to see them achieve either with Arsene Wenger in charge.
Alexis and Ozil were not any better than the others, by the way
In fact, I can think of a handful of players who at least looked bothered. Neither Alexis nor Ozil did. I do not remember Alexis Sanchez, our second-highest earner and top goalscorer, taking a shot or creating one for a teammate. Or doing anything of note, for that matter.
Ozil was only marginally better. I vaguely remember him teeing up Mustafi from a corner and having a tame shot saved by Cortois, but that was it.
I can understand both were affected by an unusual central midfield pairing, however I’d still expect our two stars and top earners with a view of landing fat new deals to be a little more arsed in a make-or-break game. Neither were, so don’t you dare say they should leave because they deserve better. They are part of the team, and hence part of the problem.
We should drop Cech
See? It’s easy, you can say that. I’m also going to explain why. Why we should drop him, not why we can say that.
In short, yesterday Cech cost us at least one goal, and there are legitimate questions to be asked of him for the first. In short, I wasn’t overly impressed with Cech even in his debut season, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, not the least because he represented an immediate improvement on Wojciech Szczesny.
However this season, while some were proposing to play Cech in even more games (giving him the minutes in some Champions League matches), I was quietly but gradually coming to the conclusion we should in fact drop him for the league games instead. At least to see how much of a difference Ospina can make.
If the Colombian passed the audition, brilliant, offer him a new contract and keep him as number one. If not, well, we could always revert to Cech at least, or scout the market, or give Szczesny another shot.
However I still have not explained why Cech should be dropped in my view. In simple terms, I’m not sure he’s saving us points all that often, and certainly not enough to offset the damage he inflicts at times. He is too prone to conceding at the near post, he’s not any good at saving penalties (it is a factor, because we have conceded quite a few this season) and I’m still edgy whenever there’s a free-kick awarded against us.
Cech can pull off some spectacular saves on the line, he is very good on crosses and he is still an improvement on Woj in terms of general attitude, but that’s it. In simple terms, he is a very, very good goalkeeper, but not a top one anymore. We should accept that, and either find a top one or find one with potential to be top in a couple of years.
The last word
We are now facing an almighty scrap for a top four finish. There are five teams and only three places, so our job for the remaining 14 games is to pick up enough points to not be among the other two (weeps).
What I suggest we do now, is focus on the cup and Champions League. We should obviously get into the last 8 in the cup and after we do that we can take it from there. As with the Champions League, we must take a better shot at seeing off Bayern this time. We’ve played them a lot recently, we know their players and we have better personnel to deal with them than even last season.
Above all, I think we have arrived at the point when we just want to watch some beautiful football and Arsene should find a combination of players that will at least give us that, and not some horrendous, slow and uninspired mess. We obviously still have a job to do in the league, but the scale of it has changed, so we might as well adapt a bit.
Happy Groundhog Day everyone.