I normally try to be upbeat on a Monday, but after Saturday’s humiliating exit from the FA Cup I am lost for words.
The performance wasn’t even that bad (if you don’t believe we have been much, much worse this season then you should cast your mind back to the games where we were losing without even having an attempt on goal until after the 90th minute). We were unlucky; their ‘keeper made some great saves; they only had one attack yadda yadda yadda.
It was the grim predictability of it all that made it so depressing. Not predictable in the sense that many of us predicted we would lose; but in the sense that none of us are surprised that we did.
So in the spirit of general gloominess I would like to have a moan about some of our team’s habits. I am not out to slaughter them as players – I quite like most of them – but they have certain traits that are annoying on a regular basis and particularly so after a loss like Saturday’s.
- Ollie Giroud: Flicking Annoying: Clever flicks are part of OG’s game and they have led to him setting up some fine goals for his team mates this year. But someone needs to tell him that you don’t have to do the first-touch-flick EVERY time the ball comes to you with your back to goal. Against Rovers Ollie tried flicks with his first touch on every such occasion. None of them came off. Granted, it is difficult with two or three defenders up your jaxey, in which case he should have varied his repertoire by holding up the ball from time to time, taking extra touches and playing it back out to the support players if nothing more progressive was on. The coaches should sit him down with videos of Alan Smith in his prime (the Arsenal Alan Smith, that is, not the little toe-rag from Leeds).
- Backed Into A Corner: I watch every Arsenal game. I have never seen any team from any division or any country (or gender, including trans-sexuals) take corner kicks as consistently badly as we do. And this is not new. It is a problem we have had for at least three or four years. What’s mystifying about it is that we pride ourselves on having technically gifted players. Well, where are all their technical gifts when it comes to kicking a dead ball about 37 yards into the opposition six yard box? Now, I know it’s a skill that may not be valued at Arsenal because even if they did put in perfect crosses there would traditionally be no-one there to meet them, but even so. I would love a journalist to ask Arsene Wenger or Steve Bould why our corner-taking is so abysmal.
- Szczesny: The Gift That Keeps Giving: A week ago against Sunderland our young Pole in Goal pulled off a string of top saves to help secure the three points. On Saturday he parried a catchable shot (Seaman, Lehmann or Jennings would surely have held it) into the path of an opponent who duly scored (albeit with a ridiculously lucky shank). And that sums up Szcz. One week brilliant, the next making mistakes that cost points – or lead to us exiting a cup competition. I love his confidence and personality; I admire his passion but I really, really want him to start cutting out the avoidable errors.
- There’s No “I” In “Teamwork”: …but there is an “Ork,” not that has anything to do with anything. My point about teamwork is that some of our younger players seem to feel that when they get a chance in the team their best way of impressing the manager and supporters is to go for personal glory. This usually manifests itself by taking on near-impossible shots, attempting ridiculously ambitious dribbles and generally hogging the ball when better options are available. It has been a characteristic of Aaron Ramsey’s play at times – and it is noticeable how much better he has become since simplifying his game – and now Oxlade-Chamberlain is caught in the same trap. In a generally energetic performance against Blackburn he too often tried the more difficult “Hollywood moves” when simpler, better options were available – what you might call “Holyhead moves”. In the old days Tony Adams would have pinned him up against the wall after the game. Even if we don’t have to go that far, someone should have a word…
- Diaby Or Not Diaby – That Is The Question: I thought Diaby was poor against Blackburn. He had plenty of the ball, but too often seemed to slow the moves down or lose possession too easily. I honestly don’t know what to make of him. Against Liverpool early in the season he was unplayable – as good a midfield performance as I’ve seen from an Arsenal player whose first name did not begin with Cesc or Patrick. But at the weekend he seemed to not quite be anything: not a defensive midfielder (played too far forward); not a creative playmaker (he was too slow of thought and foot); not a “water carrier” (he spilled it). Maybe he’s still playing himself back into form after the latest injury or maybe being up against a park-the-bus team didn’t suit him, but if he is the phenomenon that we have been led to believe then he needs to start taking control of games like Saturday’s.
- Sub Standard: I can’t help feeling that if our manager had not made three midfield substitutions at once we would still be in the cup. We completely changed our midfield and within seconds, when Blackburn attacked, there was no midfield cover. Kazim-Richards was unmarked and unchallenged when Szczesny palmed the ball out to him. I have no doubt this was due to the confusion caused by the triple substitution. Sorry Arsene – that was a piece of really bad management.
OK, that’s my moan over. On the up side I still don’t feel we are a bad team, I still feel we can knock out Munich and I still expect a top four finish in the league.
Hopeless dreamer? Perhaps. Time will tell.