Tragically, I just accidentally typed the scoreline above as a one nil Arsenal win and had to delete it before embarking on the rest of this miserable screed. Right, where to start? It’s getting harder to know what to add, beyond this, each time Arsenal serves up another of these ‘spectaculars’. (I mean that in the Al-Qaeda sense of the word, rather than the West End show one.)
The truth is that going into the game I wasn’t particularly worried by the team selection. As I wrote on the official site, both Gervinho and the Ox were players who needed a goal to re-start their seasons. With hindsight, I should have noted that the Ox struggles to score full stop, and Gervinho has well-documented issues of his own in front of goal. Both played wastefully, with Gervinho in particular picking right up where he left off before the African Cup of Nations. Chamberlain really is suffering from second season syndrome, too.
So, with little from the wings, what goal-scoring threat could this Arsenal side offer? Giroud has been in decent form, and I dare say is a good striker, but shorn of his usual supply lines – Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski and Wilshere – it’s little surprise he also struggled. Of the midfielders behind him, Rosicky looked rusty until a late flurry, during which he hit the bar, and was substituted, while Diaby might as well have been dipped in a blend of treacle and quicksand. Time and again moves ground to a halt while the spindly maestro surveyed his options, found them wanting, and shunted the ball harmlessly on.
Which pretty much left set pieces as the most likely route to goal country. Or at least so you might think if you had never seen us take a corner. Blackburn clearly had. Their defenders were largely content to boot the ball out, so little did they fear us from them. In fact, they even left two players up on the halfway line to counter attack. Contrast that with our entire team staying moored to the box when defending Blackburn’s corners.
So, having ruled out the forwards, midfielders, and set pieces, that only leaves the full backs as an obvious source of menace. Both played okay defensively, but Monreal’s shots and crosses didn’t come off and Coquelin, admittedly playing out of position, looked to pass tamely back inside far too often for me. I still don’t really see the obsession some seem to have with him. What precisely does he offer beyond a willingness to run about? Let’s face it, that should be an entry level requirement. And yet it does still seem to elude some of our players, who turn up apparently expecting to shuffle the ball around a bit and then be granted free passage into the next round.
The game at Brighton ought to have told the team how hard you have to work against motivated, even moderately organised, Championship sides. But if they didn’t learn the lesson from being dumped out of the League Cup by Bradford, I suppose it’s naive to expect anything else. It is also worth noting that in that defeat, and when the goal was conceded today, we had close to our strongest possible XI on the pitch. I’m told it was Theo who lost his man today, but honestly can’t recall what happened (I think because the situation looked so innocuous) until Szcz parried the resultant shot straight in front of him. Again, I feel no need to protect players, however popular: As brilliant as he was in the Sunderland game, overall the keeper hasn’t been great this season, and we have no viable alternative to him. None.
Even with the cavalry already deployed in the form of Theo, Jack and Santi, I didn’t feel confident of turning the result around. We certainly created more, and passed much better, but time felt too short. It was also telling that the one option we didn’t have on the bench was a natural replacement for Giroud. I really like Podolski as a player, and he’s arguably got the best shot at the club, but for whatever reason Arsene doesn’t see him as a central striker. Fair enough. But then who is the cover? It’s at this point we have to consider the manager’s role in today’s debacle…
The game was crying out for Giroud to either be replaced or supported by another frontline centre forward, but we don’t have one on the books. And regardless of which flavour of conspiracy theory you subscribe to about the lack of spending, it’s surely now impossible to absolve Arsene of blame. It was remiss to rely on a single striker last season, regardless of how brilliant the feckless bastard was. At any point a serious injury to him would have derailed our entire season. Now we’re in the same situation, but with a striker who’s new to the league and, with the best will in the world, not as eye-wateringly brilliant as the feckless bastard was.
Nonetheless, even putting aside the glaring, inarguable, utterly maddening deficiencies in the squad, these players should have enough ability to best the Bradford and Blackburns (at home!) we come up against. Or at least they should, if they’re correctly motivated and organised. That isn’t to say the players don’t share the blame, but today’s result is part of a pattern of underperformance against supposedly lesser sides in the Premier League. The difference this season is we’ve begun failing against teams from the lower league in the cups.
Before kickoff, the OptaJoe Twitter account noted that Arsenal were unbeaten in 34 FA Cup ties against lower league teams. Nicely jinxed. Still, I suppose this side does like to set new standards. Here’s another stat, which I’ve stolen from Gingers4Limpar: Today was our ninth defeat of the season. The record reads W18 D12 L9 – a win ratio of 46%. Last season our win ratio was 57%, and even then we only qualified for the Champions League by the grace of ever-loving Fulop. In short, the statistical omens of a top four finish are not good. And I can’t say that will hurt me any more than today does.
I love the FA Cup, was excited to be in the draw after the Brighton game, and felt optimistic having got Blackburn at home. But I don’t think it’s unfair to describe the way the team failed as embarrassing. I can recognise the benefit to finishing fourth in terms of the balance sheet, but you can no longer tell me it’s crucial to keeping star players or signing new ones. Because we’ve failed on both counts over the past couple of seasons.
As for winning ol’ big ears, it feels absurd to even type it let alone try to envisage it. And before you use the C-word, remind yourself of how they had to defend and ask yourself if you can see our lot doing the same? We’ll find out soon enough I guess. After today, maybe stick a couple of quid on us winning the first leg – https://sports.bwin.com/en/sports/4/betting/football – the odds ought to be decent now.
Finally, a big thanks to Tim Dodge for ferrying me to the game today. This is being written in the back of his car, and I just said to him: “I’ve read the post back and it basically amounts to me whining like a baby, but there weren’t any positives were there?”
His reply: “No.”
- savvygooner reblogged this from arse2mouse
- kablamm said: I punched my wall pretty hard today…I feel like it was justified. The team selection certainly bothered me, even with Bayern looming.
- arse2mouse posted this