Well before the game I knew we were the underdogs for the final. I’ve seen City play countless times this season, and I knew they can be a handful for just about anyone. Our only slim hopes of beating them rested on defensive discipline and piling pressure on their fullbacks.
Even so it was obvious we were not going to get a lot of chances, so when Aubameyang scuffed his shot in the opening exchanges I groaned. The replays showed it was far from straightforward. Walker’s last-ditch slide tackle prevented Auba from properly connecting with the ball, and there was little time to react to the rebound off Bravo.
It was nonetheless our moment to take the lead, the best we would have all game, and we didn’t take it. 1-0 up and we could have tried hanging on for dear lives. As it was, it remained 0-0 and soon after Aguero did what Aguero does.
“Abject” doesn’t even come close to describing how bad Mustafi was for their opener. He signalled to have been shoved in the back to the ref, saying the goal should be chalked off, but I disagree. Me, an Arsenal fan, having watched countless replays from different angles. The goal stood, as it should have. I knew I would be livid if such a goal was disallowed had an Arsenal player scored that, so fair’s fair.
A word on our German centre-back. He is a remarkable player, and I don’t mean that in a good sort of way. Even during his good spells he always seems to have a mistake in him. Right now he is not in one of his good spells. He was weak for the opener, he switched off, and we paid for it.
Funnily enough (it’s not funny in the slightest), I remember City scoring almost exactly such a goal in December 2016. It was a straightforward goal-kick, which led to a header, which led to a through ball to Sane. This time around we just skipped the header part altogether and let Bravo assist Aguero directly. Defending doesn’t get much worse than this.
But then again, take a closer look at our recent centre-backs. Only Koscielny prospered and developed into a truly world-class defender since joining. The Frenchman has tailed off this season, but this doesn’t diminish his overall achievement. He is unbelievably good and would have looked so much better in a team with some defensive organisation.
My point is not this, however. Or is it? We lack defensive organisation which makes our defenders look worse than they actually are. It even looks like some of them have gone backwards since joining. Think Calum Chambers and Rob Holding, exceptional in their debut months. Same goes for a much more experienced Mustafi. It applies to Gabriel, Vermaelen, Mertesacker… And on and on it goes.
Back to the game, and once we conceded I pretty much knew that was it. We showed the resolve we have shown all season after going down, which is to say exactly none. Our players visibly deflated in an instant after going down, they never picked it up and they didn’t deserve to get anything from the game. City were lucky with their second and somewhat fortunate with the third, but it doesn’t change how crap we have been for the duration of the match.
I’ve written countless times this season about the lack of guts and just about everything else (not) shown by this team. They play like a bunch of disinterested, unmotivated amateurs. Completely different players did this on Thursday. They were then benched, and a whole new set of footballers repeated the drill. And the depressing thing is, a lot of Arsenal fans could see this happening.
Personnel doesn’t matter, opposition doesn’t matter, venue doesn’t matter, occasion doesn’t matter. We just don’t play well, and we have actually gone backwards from last season. I wouldn’t have believed it possible same time last year, but boy oh boy it is.
The buck stops with the manager and I hate cliches like that, and I hate pinning everything on Arsene Wenger too, for that matter. He is a man that embodies so many qualities I like and it’s so easy to support him, had he been doing a better job.
I was watching the game at a pub yesterday and got up from my table the second the final whistle blew. I found myself not really caring, because I have been down that road so many times before, even this season. I also spent the evening in good company and a heavy loss couldn’t really spoil my mood entirely. However as I was putting on my coat I caught a glimpse of Arsene Wenger wandering around the pitch, looking lost.
That, somehow, felt much worse than the defeat itself. If only for a second, I saw the look of a man going through hell. An inherently decent man, who has given so much and is no doubt working harder the worse the situation becomes. But he seems unable to change it, and he knows it. The Frenchman looked broken, this realisation almost too heavy for him to bear.
I have no doubt he cares about Arsenal, he cares about winning and that he is not in it for the money. I also thinks he feels the responsibility for getting us into this mess last season, hence why he stayed and tried to put things right. That is the type of behavior you would expect from a conscientious man and Wenger certainly comes across as one.
However this season we have slumped even further. No amount of tinkering, new personnel or supporting structures changed that and we can only go back to the common denominator. Arsene Wenger, for whatever reason, can get this group of players to perform, and it’s not just a blip. We didn’t just have one or two bad games, we had a whole bunch of those, across all competitions. We are where we deserve to be, and maybe even a bit better off.
While the hysteria after defeats and calls for AW’s immediate sacking are as laughable as they are predictable, you can’t help but understand it’s not a mere reaction anymore. It’s a common stance expressed by huge numbers of fans, and they scream louder after defeats because there is a better chance they will be heard. It’s that simple.
I find it immensely hard to spot people who think Wenger is the man for the job. I’m not backing the immediate resignation, because we won’t be able to find a decent manager in March, but he should definitely leave after this season. He stayed at least one season longer than he should have, and a case could be made he should have left in 2014, on a victorious note after winning the cup and ending the trophy drought.
The situation is incredibly sad, and I hate that it had to come to that.
I will hopefully be here for the midweek league game against City.