By Jack (@swgoonerafc)
So it seems that we enter another season defining game, which has seen the priority change from a title push, to the race for fourth. Disappointing to say the least, but could we have really expected any more from Arsenal this season?
I look back to last summer when I was a pretty vocal part of the #wengerout movement and without wishing to sound fickle, come December I had somewhat changed my tune. Slightly appeased by the signing of Ozil, thrilled by the way we were playing and astounded by Ramsey’s form the first 3rd of the season was the most enjoyable time as an Arsenal fan since 2005. However, again now it has changed. My opinion has never been one of Wenger knows best, it was once Wenger out, it’s now Wenger must learn.
I’ve backed off the Wenger out stuff as we did show, however briefly, despite at the wrong time of the season, he is capable of still building a stunning football team. But his team, this team, must be able to adapt, must have the ability to play in more than plan A, this must come from Wenger. If he is not capable of doing this, then I’m sorry he has to go. Not sacked, but gracefully step aside, let a fresher football mind take the reins that have been his, and help guide Arsenal onto the new road, as his old road is rapidly changing.
The diabolical losses at Liverpool, Manchester City and most recently Chelsea highlighted the gaps we need to fill, both tactically and in personnel. We’ve conceded 17 goals in those 3 away fixtures, and just 20 goals in the other 29 league games we’ve played, that’s unforgivable. They’re 3 of the most humiliating defeats I’ve known as an Arsenal fan, other than the odd cup upset, 2 of which came last year, Blackburn and Bradford respectively, the 8-2 and 6-1 Old Trafford hammering’s I’ve never known a Wenger side capitulate like we have done this year.
As Arsenal fans we can all bemoan the pundits who consistently said “Arsenal won’t do it”, “Arsenal will fall short” or “Arsenal will drop off as they always do”, but sadly they’ve been proved right.
It’s the tactics in those 9 dropped points that have really cost us a decent league title push, Liverpool, cut to ribbons in the first 20 minutes – embarrassing. Chelsea, bullied, battered and outwitted inside 15 minutes – woeful. Manchester City, slightly better, but naive tactics defensively set out by Wenger, exacerbated what the challenged these fixtures would’ve held anyway.
The primary example of this is the way out full backs play, with no natural width in the side, they’re out outlet in the wide areas in the opposition ½, so naturally they push forward, ahead of the centre 1/2 s and for the most part ahead of the defensive midfield pairing. Now with this the case, the better sides know that if you dominate the centre of the park, push their attackers into the flanks there will be space to exploit. The Liverpool and Chelsea games were the worst examples of this, despite them both playing slightly different systems.
Liverpool playing a diamond in midfield, Gerrard sitting, Henderson deep left, Stirling deep right and Coutinho at the fulcrum, they got their width from Saurez and Sturridge pulling wide, in behind Monreal and Sagna in the first 20 minutes and ripped into us. This consistently happened, over and over, there didn’t seem to be any call for them to sit, consolidate, get tight, be compact and weather the storm. 4-0 down after 20 minutes tells you all you need to know.
Chelsea playing with 2 sitting, Matic and David Luiz bullied our midfield, too small, too lightweight to mix it in there. Again Sagna and however briefly Gibbs were pushing on leaving huge gaps for Hazard and Schurrle to run into and exploit. 3-0 down after 17, 4-0 down at ½ time, again, tells you all you need to know.
How could Wenger not have learned, how can he expect this to work against, what is sadly, superior opposition. We’ve lacked the personnel to dominate the centre of the park for years, I like Arteta, but he’s never a defensive midfielder. Playing as a superb number 10 for Everton, he’s been pushed back, he doesn’t have the right attributes in games like these, he’s not strong enough, nowhere near quick enough and lacks the physicality to compete with natural players in this area of the pitch. I can’t blame him, he’s doing a job for us, a square peg in a round hole – but it’s not good enough. I remember the 4-0 to Milan in 2012 – he was woefully inept in that game, again not his fault he shouldn’t be in there in the first place.
I think he can take this approach against teams that we know we’ll be in the ascendancy against, not against those that will attack us. I understand the want and the need to impose your style on the game, but a modern manager must be able to be pragmatic about these decisions.
I look at Brendan Rogers, are Liverpool that good, all round as a team? No, but are they set up, game in, game out to win football matches using their best assets, yes. They’ve got a shoddy defence but currently the best striking partnership in the league, so Suarez and Sturridge pull wide, create the width and cut in and attack. Yes they’re lucky that they’re both in the form of their careers, but tactically they’re set up to worry teams and outscore the opposition, as they will concede goals. This may cost them in the games against City and Chelsea who will be capable of soaking up more pressure than any other team in the league.
If you look at our strength, passing and ball retention, against teams not as good as us we’re fine to set out as we do, but against the better teams we have to adjust. We have to build a platform for our players to get into a rhythm, get our passing going a move on from there. In all of those key away fixtures they’ve been lost almost before the game has settled down, the full backs have to sit and allow us to pass it, get a feel for the game and build upon it. Not what we’ve done this season and capitulate early and lose the games before they’ve barely begun.
Look at the mess Manchester United are in, 20 years under Ferguson, set out to win each and every game, 10 months under Moyes set out not to lose. A dire situation, hilarious, but dire. Look at Spurs under Sherwood, they’ve essentially got a P.E teacher trying to do a headmaster’s job, no clear direction, no clear tactics, he didn’t bother to leave the stands at Anfield as he thought he couldn’t influence the game. Great to see, but proves you have to be careful what you wish for as a fan, change doesn’t mean success. But Wenger needs to adapt our approach against the other top teams, if he can’t or won’t do this, this over more than any other factor is why it may be time for him to leave.
As for Sunday’s Everton game, more of a must not lose rather than a must win, get through that unscathed and I think top 4 is ours, they still have the Manchester sides to play, whereas our final 5 fixtures are all winnable. But our approach tactically will be key in installing a good performance, I predict a score draw and a strong finish to our league campaign. Belief and positivity is key, both in our team and our manager, without either we can forget fourth and the F.A Cup.
COYG – JR
You can follow him on twitter : Jack (@swgoonerafc)