This was a bad day at office, a really really bad day at the office. There’s just no scope available to defend it. We were terrible from the first whistle to the end and can have no complaints about the final result. We are out of the FA Cup; we started the day talking about going for number 15 and ended it wondering when we will break this 2022 New Year’s resolution of losing every game.
We had the luxury of the game being beamed free and to all on national television. No subscriptions needed, this was on ITV and the whole nation had the chance to witness the new Arsenal being formed in Mikel Arteta’s vision. The new Arsenal that went toe to toe with Manchester City and but for an awful referee’s performance should have walked away with all three points.
We spent the last couple days applauding the club for their bold and inspiring No More Red campaign which meant we would be donning the unique white only kit in the aid of awareness and support for an end to knife crime violence. Unfortunately what was an amazing gesture was then left tainted by a performance that didn’t allow the shirts and the cause a result it warranted. The campaign hasn’t fallen on deaf ears and I’m sure it will result in so many positives for the youth of today, it’s just sad that on the pitch there was nothing memorable to recall.
So, one of the biggest problems with yesterday’s game was the personnel that were available to be utilised. We went into the game with an absolute threadbare squad and questions have to be asked why we put ourselves into such a position?
We all are excited by the talent that is being churned out with such regularity these days from Hale End but the bench we had for the game yesterday was a worry. Filled with a majority of youngsters who haven’t played for a single minute in the first team is not ideal in the worst case scenario where we need to chase the game.
Yes, the argument is due to AFCON call ups, Injuries and Covid-19 this forced the hand of Mikel Arteta and we had to hope the quality on the pitch was enough to do the job asked of the manager so that we wouldn’t be in desperate measures.
This is where I argue why we have made the move to loan out players without adequate replacements signed or available within? Now I’m not saying having Ainsley Maitland Niles and Forlarin Balogun would have single handily won us the tie but you cannot deny these are players of first team experience which could have been options.
At what point do we honour the wishes of an unhappy player over the needs for the club at that very moment in time. Could we not have decided to loan out AMN until after the FA Cup game? At the end of the day we are making a loan deal here, not a multi million pound sale with the risk of losing a big fee due to a potential injury. Whilst we were struggling to get a foothold in the game at the City Ground Ainsley Maitland Niles was in action for Roma against Juventus.
The AFCON that has reduced the availability of Thomas Partey, Elneny and Pepe, all players that would make a difference for us yesterday was not a surprise competition that came out of the blue. The loss of these players has been anticipated well in advance so why hasn’t any potential cover/replacement been acquired in preparation?
Names have been mentioned but nothing has materialised at what could be a make or break week for our season. The first hurdle of the FA Cup is now gone, we face a testing trip to Anfield this Thursday for the Carabao Cup Semi Final followed but a battle against our North London rivals Tottenham on Sunday. We need personnel, personnel that can hit the ground running because at this stage it would be massively unfair to now burden our untried youngsters with the responsibility to salvage our hopes for a top 4 finish and any last remaining chance of silverware.
As it stands we are left with Xhaka and Emile Smith-Rowe returning to bolster our options. I just don’t think it’s enough to rely on because we would be making a massive assumption no other injuries or Covid-19 infections will occur between now and when/if anyone comes in.
I know Forlarin Balogun has had a lukewarm impact this season so far but he still would have been a viable option starting or from the bench yesterday. Eddie Nketiah lacked any impact for the frontline yesterday and it would have been more reassuring if Balogun was available in addition to Lacazette. Like I said we have a three game week and should have been in a position to have some players afforded minutes only in emergency and not a self inflicted emergency due to some questionable decisions on transfers/loans.
I had mentioned in my blog yesterday that I didn’t think Mikel Arteta would start Charlie Patino yesterday due to the fact that we were playing away. That’s not to say Charlie wouldn’t be able to handle pressure but more to fact youngsters have usually been afforded starts with a home crowd behind them to ease them into a game. The belief is there in Charlie and it’s hoped the start for him was more to do with faith and not down to lack of options.
I’m not a football manager and never have been but I would question blooding any young starlet it would be beneficial to have an experienced partner next to them to help guide them. In such a game Xhaka would have been a good partner but as we know he is out with Covid-19. So what we ended up with yesterday was Patino partnered with Sambi Lokonga. Sambi has had a great start to his Arsenal career but he is still technically in his integration phase into the Arsenal midfield. He’s very young and still developing his game, he then had the added responsibility to look out for a younger more inexperienced partner in Charlie.
Now this is not to say the midfield was overrun by any means but my point is it’s not the ideal scenario to partner such limited collective experience in the middle of the park. And this is what takes you back to the question why did we have no other alternative options when we knew so many numbers would be missing for that position of the field?
We have had Jack Wilshere training with the club for the last few months; can you tell me registering him as a player even as cover for this month is such a terrible idea? The issue with Jack has always been the injuries not the ability. Having Jack Wilshere rather than nobody is not a crazy, ludicrous idea. He has been training with the club, would know the plays and would fill in instantly if needed.
I just struggle to get my head around the decision to let bodies go and not have cover especially when you have one literally on your doorstep.
One thing we as a club suffer from is doing things the right way at detriment to our advantages. We often used to hear the term the team is too soft, you need a nasty, dirty bastard on the pitch to do the horrible things that benefit the team. The same almost applies in off field actions; you want the club to act in best possible way to achieve the end goals.
Look at Liverpool for example, to determine they had the best chance of advancing past us in the Semi Final of the Carabao Cup they ensured the game for the first leg was postponed to benefit their cause in order to have availability of their stronger players. We all know their Covid-19 outbreak excuse was very suspect but they used every sneaky tactic within the rulebook to gain their advantage. They ensured they could do whatever they had in their power to work for them rather than face a beating at the Emirates. That’s the mindset we need to incorporate at times to ensure Arsenal comes out on top. It’s fine being sneaky and have a dirty streak on the pitch but you need that off the pitch to maximise your chances to win things.
This is where as I mentioned earlier we have sent out Ainsley Maitland Niles and soon Forlarin Balogun on loan because they need the loan rather than stopping to assess, “wait, we may need these players this week, lets delay the loan deal and use them”.
So back to the game (although right now I’d rather forget it) lets touch briefly on the Tavares incident. We are all likely in agreement that the young Portuguese was not having the best of games. The passes and decision making were not quite coming off and Mikel Arteta decided in all his wisdom the best action was to hook the player after 30 odd minutes. Not only can that cause a potential disruption in the dressing room but it also provided great embarrassment to a player in a week where we need to make the most of the limited bodies we have available for some massive games.
He wasn’t having the best game as I mentioned but Mikel had the added advantage of being able to coach and provide instructions to the player as he was situated on the same side as the manager. This was the perfect opportunity to coach the player out of a bad patch of form on the pitch. Instead Arteta chose to substitute him rather than seeing out until half time. Now there may have been an exchange of dissent from the player not picked up by the cameras which could have played a part in the decision but I personally felt the 34th minute wasn’t the best time to flex the non-negotiable muscles. Plenty Arsenal players were misplacing passes and not performing to the best of their ability so it just felt bizarre given the limited options we already had available. I hope this moment didn’t lead to any backlash in the dressing room which could result in some disciplinary action because at this moment in time we cannot afford to cut off our nose to spite our face. We need every available player fighting for the team in harmony right now.
Now despite what seems to be coming off as a bit of a rant (I am writing this article immediately after the final whistle), I am not calling for the managers head. We are moving in the right direction, the players acquired match the DNA of how he wants to play and the team will hit inevitable bumps along the way. Yesterday I have to state he got things wrong, the team were lethargic and stale, his in game decisions could have been better and whether it is in his control or not the transfer business should have been timed to not leave us short in numbers especially for the competitions we have realistic chances of winning.
Right now it seems we are going to have to fumble our way through next few weeks with just plan A on the pitch as we have no alternatives to offer a Plan B or C. Our opponents will be able to telegraph in what team we play as we have limited options, I just hope we can ride that storm and our plan A team can do the business in the remainder of our make or break week and/or month.
Born a stone’s throw (and a 271 bus ride) away from Highbury. Arsenal is my life, I celebrate every win and I suffer every defeat, it’s all about taking the good with the bad. Writing and sharing about everything Arsenal certainly keeps me sane!