I watched the Arsenal match on Saturday and a feeling of Deja Vu came over me. Can you have multiple Deja Vu?
It is November, we are away to Man Utd, we are playing well and we are reasonably confident of the result. The teams came out and Wenger and Mourinho touched hands and ignored each other at the same time. The game started and for the next 90 minutes our players were like rabbits caught in the headlights. Does this sound familiar, dear reader?
I was concerned to see Jenkinson playing at right back because Bellerin has become a vital part in our defence. He teams up so well with Walcott and they have each shared the opportunities of creating havoc from the wing. I also noted that Martial was playing left wing, so Jenkinson was going to be well occupied with his defensive duties. On the other wing Monreal was faced with United`s answer to Bellerin, in Valencia. All that was needed was for them to field a solid midfield and get the balls to either flank. They had Carrick and Pogba reinforced by Mata which meant that they had a degree of creativity and defence there. They had Rashford and Martial in attack so both our fullbacks were confronted with genuine pace. I feared for the outcome but then I considered the situation. We had a solid central partnership in Kos and Mustafi with Coquelin as the enforcer in midfield. To assist Coquelin, we had Elneny who, since he arrived with us has demonstrated that he has a very good engine, is efficient on the ball and generally quickly converts possession into attack with crisp forward passing.
In attack we had Sanchez. Even 80% fit, he is better than anyone they have. Walcott has been on fire and Ozil must surely pick their defence apart seeing that Jones and Rojo were at the heart of it. Herrera and Darmian are not names that would inspire terror.
During the course of the game, it became obvious that both teams were following the norm of playing two banks of 4 across the park when they were defending. The difference was that Man U also gave their front 4 the responsibility of supporting Rashford and Martial which they had little difficulty with, since our front 4 were static. They stood regimentally in their allotted positions and rarely moved. Coquelin is excempted from that criticism as he put in a full shift in defending and trying to generate attacks. Sadly, Ozil was out of form and almost isolated when he got the ball. Instead of playing Sanchez on the left and Giroud in the middle he picked Ramsey to play on the left wing. Had he done so, it is almost certain that Sanchez would have curtailed Valencia from charging up-field.
The result was that every time we had the ball and attempted to attack we had no one who could actually pass the ball and Ramsey in particular had problems controlling it and finding a team mate. Our attacks broke down and the ball was gratefully snapped up by their defenders. Pogba and Carrick were constantly left in open space by our defenders who were still rooted to the spot leaving them to pick their passes at leisure. They were spoiled for choice because the runners for United swarmed all over them and Valencia was fed the ball unopposed time after time because Monreal was dividing his time from being in his static position at the fringe of the penalty box. When he did venture towards Valencia he was left flat footed or brushed aside. He twisted and turned so many times that he was on the floor more often than standing.
Jenkinson was out of position most of the time, so Mustafi and Koscelny were like Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie at the Alamo. After the first 20 minutes the pattern of the game was set and as we have seen countless times before, we failed to turn up or we fielded a team which was not equipped to deal with what was in front of them. Mata was able to control everything from the half way line to our box, ably assisted by Pogba who simply ignored Elneny`s attempts to stop him. Have I seen this scenario before? Only about 15 times! We had a loyal and vociferous support from our travelling fans that did their best to stimulate some form of resistance but it was in vain.
We receded into our usual vices of playing at walking speed and playing the ball sideways and backwards, taking 5 minutes to progress 10 yards and allowing the home defence to marshal themselves and shut us out. The central pairing of Jones and Rojo never had to be more than a few metres apart and were never really tested. Had it not been for Petr Cech we would have been 2 or 3 down at half time. Mata scored when once again there were wide open spaces on the right which they exploited by when Valencia passed to Rojo who had managed to get to the wing unopposed and pick a pass for Mata to gleefully run on to and bury the ball in the net.
The weaknesses in our team were obvious but we reached half time with no further damage. Surely there would be changes at the interval. We could not continue with this debacle. Have you seen this before? Sadly it did and the same 11 lined up for the second half. Nothing changed and whilst United didn`t actually improve, they didn`t have to, they felt comfortable enough to sub Mata in the 63rd minute and they continued blissfully to dominate the game. I remember thinking to myself “here comes the 70th minute substitutions again”. I wasn`t far wrong because in the 73rd minute Elneny was mercifully taken out of his misery and Ramsey dropped back into his position. Giroud came on and there was a sign of some concern by Jones & Co. There was no immediate improvement and Coquelin was replaced by Xhaka and then surprisingly and then Jenkinson was replaced by the Ox.
We all know what happened. With 5 minutes to go Ox made a determined run up the right wing and sent over a superb cross which Giroud buried. We came away with the luckiest point we will ever earn but if this is an example of what we are going to see when we face the big teams, we have been there before. This is November again and it seems that we are cursed again to throw away our chance of winning the championship. If we had been beaten by a good team it would be a bit easier to take but frankly, a better team would have beaten us by 3 or 4 goals. If United had been a good team and taken advantage of their superiority that is what we would have suffered once again.
So, once again Mr. Wenger it’s over to you. Is it not possible to eradicate the complete abdication of these players every season? Can you not impress upon them the need to stop playing at walking speed and passing backwards and forwards? I believe Cech had more passes to him than any other player; such was the desire to play backwards. Can you not acquire the tactical nous to realise that substitutes should be made at the time when they are needed, not at the time your body clock tells you they are?
A sophisticated, articulate Arsenal Man of Mystery. Aged 70 and a bit.