Gunners show familiar frailties as Wenger fails to arrest the slide once more: #AFC0MCFC3

Well before the game I knew we were the underdogs for the final. I’ve seen City play countless times this season, and I knew they can be a handful for just about anyone. Our only slim hopes of beating them rested on defensive discipline and piling pressure on their fullbacks.

Even so it was obvious we were not going to get a lot of chances, so when Aubameyang scuffed his shot in the opening exchanges I groaned. The replays showed it was far from straightforward. Walker’s last-ditch slide tackle prevented Auba from properly connecting with the ball, and there was little time to react to the rebound off Bravo.

It was nonetheless our moment to take the lead, the best we would have all game, and we didn’t take it. 1-0 up and we could have tried hanging on for dear lives. As it was, it remained 0-0 and soon after Aguero did what Aguero does.

“Abject” doesn’t even come close to describing how bad Mustafi was for their opener. He signalled to have been shoved in the back to the ref, saying the goal should be chalked off, but I disagree. Me, an Arsenal fan, having watched countless replays from different angles. The goal stood, as it should have. I knew I would be livid if such a goal was disallowed had an Arsenal player scored that, so fair’s fair.

No, mate, it wasn’t a foul

A word on our German centre-back. He is a remarkable player, and I don’t mean that in a good sort of way. Even during his good spells he always seems to have a mistake in him. Right now he is not in one of his good spells. He was weak for the opener, he switched off, and we paid for it.

Funnily enough (it’s not funny in the slightest), I remember City scoring almost exactly such a goal in December 2016. It was a straightforward goal-kick, which led to a header, which led to a through ball to Sane. This time around we just skipped the header part altogether and let Bravo assist Aguero directly. Defending doesn’t get much worse than this.

But then again, take a closer look at our recent centre-backs. Only Koscielny prospered and developed into a truly world-class defender since joining. The Frenchman has tailed off this season, but this doesn’t diminish his overall achievement. He is unbelievably good and would have looked so much better in a team with some defensive organisation.

The only CB to have improved since joining

My point is not this, however. Or is it? We lack defensive organisation which makes our defenders look worse than they actually are. It even looks like some of them have gone backwards since joining. Think Calum Chambers and Rob Holding, exceptional in their debut months. Same goes for a much more experienced Mustafi. It applies to Gabriel, Vermaelen, Mertesacker… And on and on it goes.

Back to the game, and once we conceded I pretty much knew that was it. We showed the resolve we have shown all season after going down, which is to say exactly none. Our players visibly deflated in an instant after going down, they never picked it up and they didn’t deserve to get anything from the game. City were lucky with their second and somewhat fortunate with the third, but it doesn’t change how crap we have been for the duration of the match.

I’ve written countless times this season about the lack of guts and just about everything else (not) shown by this team. They play like a bunch of disinterested, unmotivated amateurs. Completely different players did this on Thursday. They were then benched, and a whole new set of footballers repeated the drill. And the depressing thing is, a lot of Arsenal fans could see this happening.

Personnel doesn’t matter, opposition doesn’t matter, venue doesn’t matter, occasion doesn’t matter. We just don’t play well, and we have actually gone backwards from last season. I wouldn’t have believed it possible same time last year, but boy oh boy it is.

Same sh*t, different season

The buck stops with the manager and I hate cliches like that, and I hate pinning everything on Arsene Wenger too, for that matter. He is a man that embodies so many qualities I like and it’s so easy to support him, had he been doing a better job.

I was watching the game at a pub yesterday and got up from my table the second the final whistle blew. I found myself not really caring, because I have been down that road so many times before, even this season. I also spent the evening in good company and a heavy loss couldn’t really spoil my mood entirely. However as I was putting on my coat I caught a glimpse of Arsene Wenger wandering around the pitch, looking lost.

That, somehow, felt much worse than the defeat itself. If only for a second, I saw the look of a man going through hell. An inherently decent man, who has given so much and is no doubt working harder the worse the situation becomes. But he seems unable to change it, and he knows it. The Frenchman looked broken, this realisation almost too heavy for him to bear.

You can’t not feel for him

I have no doubt he cares about Arsenal, he cares about winning and that he is not in it for the money. I also thinks he feels the responsibility for getting us into this mess last season, hence why he stayed and tried to put things right. That is the type of behavior you would expect from a conscientious man and Wenger certainly comes across as one.

However this season we have slumped even further. No amount of tinkering, new personnel or supporting structures changed that and we can only go back to the common denominator. Arsene Wenger, for whatever reason, can get this group of players to perform, and it’s not just a blip. We didn’t just have one or two bad games, we had a whole bunch of those, across all competitions. We are where we deserve to be, and maybe even a bit better off.

While the hysteria after defeats and calls for AW’s immediate sacking are as laughable as they are predictable, you can’t help but understand it’s not a mere reaction anymore. It’s a common stance expressed by huge numbers of fans, and they scream louder after defeats because there is a better chance they will be heard. It’s that simple.

I find it immensely hard to spot people who think Wenger is the man for the job. I’m not backing the immediate resignation, because we won’t be able to find a decent manager in March, but he should definitely leave after this season. He stayed at least one season longer than he should have, and a case could be made he should have left in 2014, on a victorious note after winning the cup and ending the trophy drought.

The situation is incredibly sad, and I hate that it had to come to that.

I will hopefully be here for the midweek league game against City.

Until then


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3 Responses to Gunners show familiar frailties as Wenger fails to arrest the slide once more: #AFC0MCFC3

  1. Victor Thompson February 27, 2018 at 12:34 pm #

    As always Alex, I looked forward to your piece after the humiliation against City. I agree that the complaints now are depressingly constant and it has all been heard before. However, in relation to the points you made about our defensive frailties and the regression of so many apparently good defenders who have failed to make the grade with us the following occurs;

    I was listening to Butch Wilkins this morning and a remark that was made that Steve Bould doesn`t seem to have much influence with the defence. He commented that “Bould doesn`t have any input anyway”. Later he confided that Wenger takes all of the coaching himself. I assume that he had personal knowledge of that or he would not have said it. That would explain a lot of what you say because nearly all of those whom you mentioned came to us as good players and then regressed. It also explains why the same mistakes are perpetrated across the board and across competitions. The lack of communication between defenders and the space between the two CB.s is a constant.

    The marauding full backs, especially Bellerin, and their failures to run back when they lose the ball are all ingrained and all the other managers exploit those mistakes ad nauseum. Wenger`s inadequacies have destroyed the careers of good players and deprived the fans of the successes that have been so frequently promised by Wenger.

    If Wilkins was telling the truth, then it is imperative that Wenger departs asap and a more switched on Coach/Manager is found.

    As to what we owe him, it is becoming more obvious all the time that he would not have had his original successes had he not inherited the best defence in Europe. Martin Keown revealed that Wenger did not tinker with it because Adams, Vieria, Petit and he, sorted matters out on the field. Pat Rice and Kenny Sansom were also part of a very talented squad who were there when Vieria and Petit arrived. That obviously affected their “run through brick walls” approach which has never been replaced.

    Taking all things into consideration, I am reminded that at a recent event, Wenger came face to face with the man who is the groundsman of his estate. He didn`t know who he was. I understand that it is a large estate, so He was obviously well rewarded for his services for 8 years of success at a time when there were no sugar daddy owners with bottomless coffers.

    After “The Invincibles”, I too looked at Wenger with rose-tinted glasses, but the rosiness wears off after 14 years of failure and the true picture appears. The reality is that Arsenal FC is now being systematically destroyed by an egotistically deluded man who passed his sell by time years ago. Whatever his personal principles may be, Arsenal owes him nothing apart from the glorious memories of his first eight years.

    • Alex February 27, 2018 at 1:22 pm #

      Thanks, Victor.

      I think the rumblings about Bould not really making an impact have been going on for a while now, so it will not surprise me if he indeed has his hands tied. This is what I don’t like about Wenger, he seems unable to concede he might need help and that he makes mistakes.

      My only hope is that he will go end of the season, because I can’t see the situation improving until he leaves. God knows what will happen to the rest of this campaign, but there is not much left to fight for, in truth. And like I said, we won’t be able to find a good manager in March. Though the idea of hiring an interim one, like Benitez at Chelsea, or even handing Bouldie the reigns might be worth contemplating.

  2. Victor Thompson February 27, 2018 at 2:00 pm #

    I agree Alex. I think any new manager will want to start with a blank canvas. Ancelotti might be a good interim one but I don`t think Bould can be considered at any level. He has not been strong enough to stand up to Wenger , so he would not have the strength of his own convictions for me.

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