Written by Rasp
I’ve had nearly a week to calm down from my anger at our ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory last Saturday. I still feel sick to the pit of my stomach, not so much because we lost, but because of the manner in which we lost. I wasn’t going to use this post, but after Tuesday’s hopeless performance against Braga, my ‘belief’ in this team/squad has been shot to pieces. This is not a knee-jerk reaction, but the accumulation of a growing frustration over the last few years that I can no longer suppress.
Why is our system so fragile?
Saturday’s game was the perfect example. We played the beautiful controlled football for which we are admired in the first half and then fell apart as soon as they scored their second goal. I can’t believe a single fan wouldn’t sacrifice 65% possession for winning a game. Arsène talks a lot about ‘belief’ but I don’t see that these players have the belief necessary to fight back when under pressure. This is borne from past experience when we’ve capitulated. Just review the final games of last season to illustrate the point.
Against Braga, we lacked ideas, penetration and energy. Most of the players (with the exception of Djourou and Gibbs) seemed to be caricatures of themselves, exhibiting all their worst traits. The Emirates crowd have come in for fair criticism for their inability to lift the team when needed, but the plague of anxiety that spreads through the stands is generated by the players and reflected by the fans – not vice verse.
Why do we have a policy of buying small players?
Let me qualify this; I don’t only mean small only in terms of stature but also in terms of presence, personality, guts and leadership. Of course size doesn’t matter when we’re in possession of the ball and are being allowed to play our way. Our problem is when we’re not in possession. Some players still do not work hard enough to regain position, track back and defend as a team.
We have been vulnerable to set pieces for years. Every opposition manager knows it. Chris Hughton knew it when he told Joey Barton to deliver the ball onto Andy Carrol’s head at every opportunity. Would Tony Adams or Keown have allowed Kaboul the header for the winning goal on Saturday? In hindsight, it would probably have been better to play Djourou rather than Koscielny against totnum – perhaps our CB may not have been out jumped by 5ft 7in Defoe?
The spine of the team is weak. Where are the leaders on the pitch? Who grabs the team by the scruff of the neck when we need to fight back? We don’t have a winning mentality. Vermaelen stands alone in the squad as the one player who has what it takes to be a future captain; he is being sorely missed.
Why do we coach the shooting instinct out of our players?
Once again we saw a player (Chamakh) shun shooting opportunities against totnum. This can’t be a coincidence. Maybe our training regimes are so ingrained in the player’s minds that they are ‘brainwashed’ into passing when shooting is the better option? We bought Tomas Rosicky as a player with a reputation for having a fantastic shot who could find the back of the net from way outside the box – I’ve never seen him do it for Arsenal.
Perhaps we should practice our ‘clever passing triangles’ on the edge of the box and someone has to shoot every 10th pass? Fabregas was the only player seemingly prepared to let loose against Braga and his efforts were as far off the mark as is his form of late. He, not RvP or Song, should have been rested – and rested several weeks ago when it was clear that he was being hampered by what must now be considered to be a long term injury.
Why can’t we motivate the players at half time?
I knew that ‘arry would send his players out fired up for the second half; he’s done it many times. Ours emerged from the tunnel looking relaxed and unconcerned, 20 minutes later they looked scared, unsure and vulnerable. Against Braga, our players needed an ‘arry-type rocket up them, but instead they just continued in the same lame lackadaisical vein in which they had laboured through the first half. No spark. No invention. No leadership. No balls.
We accept that Arsène Wenger is not a ‘hairdryer-style’ manager, but maybe he should transmit some of the venom he wastes on water bottles in the direction of his underperforming players at half time. Just once, I’d like to see him make a substitution at half time when a player is not performing.
Why don’t we ever learn from our mistakes?
For me, this is the most damming question, and it can only be directed at the manager. What will it take to shake him from the conviction that his way of playing and this group of players will eventually prove all the doubters wrong? It’s easy to dismiss the opinions of pundits who revel in our failure, but it would appear that Arsène is becoming an increasingly isolated figure, clinging to his principles whilst all around him shrink away in recognition that ‘it’ isn’t working. It has been said repeatedly and for many years that ‘this Arsenal team’ is only a couple of players short of getting back to the very top – I believe this is still the case.
The balance to the argument.
We’ve not had the luck. The free kick that led to the penalty for totnum should not have been given. The decision to book Vela instead of awarding a nailed on penalty against Braga was incomprehensible, but in both cases our performance for the 90 minutes was not good enough. We continue to suffer from injuries to key players – but don’t most teams? The good news is the emergence of Djourou as a big strong defender who can compete with powerful strikers and Nasri as our most effective midfielder and the imminent return of Vermaelen and Ramsey.
We’re 2 points off the top of the Premiership with 24 games left to play. We’re still in the Carling Cup, the FA Cup and we can still qualify for the knockout stage of the Champions League if we beat Partizan at home or as long as Shaktar beat Braga. Second in the group is the most likely scenario – unfortunately coming second in the group cost us dear last year; had we topped the group there is a good chance we would have made it to the final.
None of this gives me cause for optimism. We play an improving Villa side on Saturday who will be fighting to keep out of the relegation zone. It will be difficult and unless we can play with some fire in our bellies and overcome our fear of defeat, we will drop points and the familiar scenario of struggling to achieve 4th place in the Premiership will become the focus of our season once again.