Honestly? I haven’t got a clue anymore. There’s every chance I never had a clue, but I definitely don’t now. What else is there to say about this Arsenal side? I no longer understand the plan off the field, and if anything the performances on it are even more confusing and impenetrable. Not literally impenetrable, of course. Thanks to our defending we’re much like the most expensive colander ever created. But the night and day different performances from the players, often in the same game, now defies whatever limited analytical skill I ever brought to bear. I simply no longer understand anything to do with The Arsenal.
Instead, dear and constant reader, you must make do with these thoughts which have rolled free of my aching brain’s gravitational pull. Starting with…
- The first goal was like some sort of value-packed greatest hits collection of Arsenal cock-ups. Marvel as Sagna slips seemingly under little pressure! Gasp as the ball eludes our luckless captain in the centre! Swoon as Ramsey inexplicably attempts a roulette turn on the edge of his own box! Scream like a beached mermaid as the ball finds its way into the net with barely five minutes on the clock!
- The way we conceded tonight had similarities to the late Swansea goals we shipped at home. (You remember Jenko falling over right? Lol, etc.) It looked to me that Rodgers, sensibly, had aped his old side’s game plan of setting up compactly, passing neatly, and looking to hit on the break when we invariably had a brain freeze. This works for almost any side with positional discipline. The difference was this time we conceded the first goal stupidly early rather than stupidly late. Still stupid, but we had time to recover, even once two-nil down. And to the team’s credit they did, rightly, seem to believe they could get back in it. However…
- We can seemingly only cut loose once we’re behind. Prior to tonight, the aggregate scoreline in first halves over the last nine games is Arsenal 4-9 Opponents. Those goals have been conceded by a team that looks scared and slow. But once there’s a deficit to clawback, we up the tempo, take riskier runs into space, the crowd lifts and suddenly we look like, if not a vintage Arsenal side, at least like an Arsenal one of sorts. In the second halves of the same nine games, the aggregate scoreline reads Arsenal 17-5 Opponents. (Thanks to Gingers4Limpar, who cooked up that stat sandwich.) It’s only once they’re almost beaten that the team seems able to find the courage of its own abilities. I have some serious reservations about why the manager seems unable to change the pattern.
- Both our goals were very well taken, and I read that Theo and OG are now the most productive strike partnership, in terms of shared goal and assist stats, in the Premier League. Yay. I’d said beforehand that Giroud needed a goal against a ‘big’ team, to further cement his development, and sure enough he delivered. So no complaints, even though he also had chances to win it. I recommend checking out this excellent 7amkickoff piece, which argues that Giroud *will* hit the 20-goal mark this season, but also notes that on average he’s consistently taken around seven shots to score each goal in his career. That’s not a criticism, more an explanation that tonight was a decent return on the six he attempted, three of which hit the target. Just better than par essentially.
- I said recently on our podcast that Liverpool are still in the reckoning for fourth, and stand by that. Which isn’t for a second to say they’ll get it, but nor can we rule them out. In the first half they looked well prepared and well motivated. It’s easy – and, hey, fun! – to cast Rodgers as some Brent-ian middle management wonk, but I think they’re improving under him, and regardless of what you think of Sturridge and Coutinho, their squad looks better balanced with them in. Speaking of which…
- I highly doubt we’ll sign anyone. My feelings on what we need, and why we need it, are tediously well documented, so for now I will say no more. But if you’re after a brutal assessment of where we are as a club, and why being active in the transfer market is essential, allow me to direct you to our fellow podcaster YankeeGunner’s excellent post about the law of diminishing returns at Arsenal. I agree with every word, and of course the idea that there isn’t a single player in world football who we could 1) afford, 2) persuade to sign and 3) would improve our squad is, of course, fresh madness.
- Perhaps the greatest thing I no longer understand about the club, though, which is also touched on in the transfer piece, are the apologists for whom it can do no wrong. I swear to the non-existent wizard in the sky that there are some fans who if an Arsenal executive came round and burned their house down, they’d warm their hands on the embers and say “I was a bit cold anyway”.
- However, even the Kool Aid slurping apologists are preferable to the guy I stood near at the game tonight. It was as if the Tyrell corporation’s latest Nexus replicant had been created purely to moan about Arsenal. (They could market it with TalkSport branding.) Midway through the first half his programming glitched, and he just barked a constant stream of cliches and C-bombs. SECOND BALL! THEO YOU C! NOT LEFT, RIGHT! DON’T LET HIM BEAT YOU, YOU C! GET AT ‘EM! RAMSEY YOU C! SAGNA YOU C! Absolutely miserable stuff. Regular readers will know I err on the doomy side, but this was something else. My head contains enough Arsenal-related nonsense of my own without a lunatic with Tourette’s trying to forcibly incept weapons grade idiocy as well.
- Before the game a few people at work asked what I thought the score would be. “I dunno… 1-1 maybe, or either side could beat the other 3-0, they’re both so ridiculous and inconsistent.” After the game Arsene suggested much the same. We could easily have won or lost by several games tonight. He seemed to offer this observation as a curiosity, rather than what it actually is: a damning indictment of both our ruthlessness in front of goal and our defensive ineptitudes. Which brings us to…
- Andre. Oh Andre. After the Brighton game I reflected, in a manner I hope was fairly impassive, that I never wanted to see Santos again in an Arsenal shirt. Inevitably, I only had to wait a few days. He is not going to make it even as a backup Arsenal defender. In fact, I’m not convinced there’s a Premier League team in the country who could absorb his ineptitude, and his lack of fitness as with Arshavin’s, is inexcusable. However, none of that makes him a despicable person to be abused. Nor did he buy himself. In the press conference on Tuesday, Arsene lamented the risk of buying a player who’s average and ends up sat on the wage bill for years. But everyone knows we’ve got several of those right now, who he bought, and Santos must be added to the same list. The dreaded deadwood. Remember that this is a player bought for £6m - only £700k less than Newcastle have just paid for the promising French defender Yanga-Mbiwa, who will also command more of the resale value so beloved of the amateur accountants among our fanbase. With Gibbs due to be out for three weeks (actual time: anyone’s guess), I’d rather see almost anyone at left back now. Just a player who knows where to stand when would be a start. Meanwhile, Munich await.
- On the other flank, I’ve finally worked out the reason for Sagna’s awful crosses. Actually, I haven’t, the chap next to me has. Watch Bac address the ball before crossing and he invariably has a look and then takes an extra quarter of a second or so to set himself before striking it. In that time the nearest defender almost always closes the gap, reducing the angle he has to play with. Result: either straight into the opponent’s shin, or ballooned into the wrong part of the box. Have a look for it next time. It will send you mad. It’s okay, no need to thank me.
Right, that’s 11. Which is plenty. I would go so far as to describe it as my most complete list yet, full of points of exceptional quality. There’s more, but it’s all fairly moany. I’m getting properly worried about Jack and Giroud running out of gas. In fact, all the players looked shattered at the end. We only made one sub and play again in three days.
Except I’m also sort of not worried, because I’m coming to accept this for what it is. Without reinforcements, and unless we find a lost defensive coaching bible down the back of George Graham’s chaise longue, it’s hard not to see the rest of the season serving up more of the same. In which case we will finish somewhere between fourth and seventh, depending mostly I suspect on injuries.
The mood at the stadium is a proverbial powderkeg, as it has been for a while, and there isn’t any one thing that would fix it. My sense is the nerves, and patience, of many fans have been shot by what feels like years of the same mistakes on and off the pitch. The slightest setback sends some off. But again, I’m not sure there’s much else to add, so obvious are the problems we face. It is what is, and so on we all shuffle.
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- paucisverbis said:Good stuff
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