The dust has finally settled on what felt like was an atomic bomb planted on our title aspirations, a bomb, placed by ourselves. It is hard to even make out the words on what to write after that, it is just an absolute aberration, and I can only wonder what is going through the heads of the players and the manager.
First off, we must address this disturbing pattern. In a title race where, until yesterday, all four teams were in with a good shot at the title, one of the tightest races in years, turned into a three horse race. Let’s not beat around the bush. Yes certainly the other teams will surely drop points between now and the end, and stranger things have happened, but I refuse to even let myself begin to believe any title challenge is possible, not after that. The outsiders looking in will point to the 8-2 defeat at Manchester United as our worst in the Premier League, but I believe this was worse. We scored two goals that day and if you remember, there was a missed penalty, and guilt edged chances for us as well. It was a dark day, but this Chelsea defeat was so much worse, given there was nothing positive about this. Even when you scrape the barrel, there’s nothing to scrape.
So 17 goals have been conceded at the homes of our three rivals for the title. In three games we’ve conceded 50% of all goals conceded in the Premier League this season. Let that sink in for a bit.
What is going on? We aren’t so abject against the big teams at home, indeed we haven’t lost to a big name at home, except Bayern. How can we manage to beat Liverpool twice at home, yet be walloped at Anfield? How can we get a respectable draw against Chelsea in December yet lose 6-0 like that?
There is a pattern emerging, and I can see from all the goals conceded from each of those games that the players aren’t mentally able to rise to the occasion. Each of those games was a chance to really make a statement in the title race, yet nothing happened. What happened for almost each of the 17 goals was careless losing the ball in midfield, careless misplaced passes which allowed our world class opposition an easy path to goal. It is disturbing to think what mental and physical capacity our players are in, that they aren’t sharp enough to do the basics in midfield, to be motivated enough to get themselves pumped up for such big games, games that mean so much. Why can’t they rise to the occasion?
The manager is one I also want to question. The buck ultimately stops with him. He is responsible for motivating the players and ensuring they are physically and mentally ready for these big occasions. While Wenger cannot be directly responsible for stupid errors in midfield made by the Ox and Cazorla which led to goals, he is indirectly responsible for the reasons stated above. It is an absolute tragedy for the great man to ‘celebrate’ his 1000th game like this. One thing I want to say about him is he’s done some wonderful things for our club no doubt about it, and his stubborn style and philosophy, is just brilliant, most of the time. There are times where it simply doesn’t work, and this is where Wenger’s stubbornness really lets him down.
It just baffles me, that when he knows that the opposition is going to press high up the park and put tremendous pressure on the midfield, that he insists we play a risky tiki-taka style. The 17 goals we conceded were down to this, whether it was Ozil, Ox, Cazorla, Wilshere, in each of those three games our midfielders were told to attack attack attack, and got dispossessed. We weren’t allowed the patience on the ball, and so we were playing Russian roulette by insisting that we take that on. In this game in particular against Chelsea, a game where we were missing our big three of Wilshere, Ramsey and Ozil, it was almost suicidal to think we would have the guile to take them on. The Ox as good as he is, is too raw to be able to rip Chelsea apart in central midfield and dictate terms. It was never going to happen, not without a bit of help, which never came.
The result was we were caught on the counter, time and again, and the scoreline was ugly. I just cannot understand that after years and years of the same tactics employed by the big boys that Wenger has not adjusted. It just hurts me to see us being sucker punched the same way again and again. Press, counter attack, score. Repeat. Simple formula for beating Arsenal. Why can’t Wenger adjust? I’m not suggesting we park the bus or anything, but there’s ways to adjust the play and not be stupid enough to play right into their hands. Our insistence on passing the ball forward and trying to find that killer pass very quickly led to our downfall. I think simply slowing the play down, passing the ball around the back four for a few seconds before attacking would have made a world of difference, little changes. Allowing our attacking players more space to move around, whilst at the same time making the opposition tired as they try to press higher up the park. All I saw was fast, frantic, almost panicky style attacking play, insisting that we must score NOW, rather than having any sort of patience. It just doesn’t work like that, not against quality opposition, and it pains me to see why Wenger hasn’t realised this after years and years of the same tactics from quality opposition.
Everybody is talking about our ‘big chance’ in the FA Cup. Rather than that being a refuge of comfort for us, a chance to redeem ourselves, performances in the league as abject as this only make me worry. Who’s to say we won’t bottle the FA Cup? We have bounced back very well from these big defeats this season, so I can only hold on to that hope, but it really shouldn’t be happening in the first place.
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