Outclassed. Need I say any more? (Don’t worry, I will – if I didn’t, it would be quite possibly the worst article ever written). Let’s be totally honest here, they’re arguably the best team in the world, and if the league table is anything to go by, we’re not even in the Top 4 best teams in our country. We weren’t going to walk all over them, but by the way some people have reacted on Twitter, you’d have thought that we’d lost to a Championship side!
Oh snap…we just did that. What is it with all the Bs this year? Bradford, Blackburn, Bayern…and we were lucky against Brighton too! Before you get too excited (or disinterested), I’m not going on some mad conspiracy theory about how teams beginning with B should be disqualified forever or something like that. I’m just saying it’s an odd coincidence.
Except I don’t think it is a coincidence at all. In fact, it extends to most if not all of our defeats this season. I can’t look at all of them, it would take too long, and I’d be crying into my keyboard if I spent that long writing it. But I’ll look at Blackburn and Bayern, because a) they’re fresh in my mind and b) they’re fresh in your minds too. Unless you sensibly wiped all memory of them, in which case I’m sorry for bringing them up.
Just before I move on, I’d like to draw your attention to the inaugural ‘Les Artilleurs Live’ show. It’s for iPhone users, and all you have to do is to download the 1Sport app for free, and then join my session on Sunday, 8:00 pm (UK time).
The defeat to Blackburn was inexcusable. Totally unjust too, but then again, I’d say we’re used to that now. How many times have teams come to The Emirates, snuck a simple goal, and then put 11 men behind the ball to hold out for a victory? It’s not a recent thing, but I’d say it’s become much more prominent since we moved to The Emirates. Is that to do with the stadium itself? Or is there something deeper down, that’s fundamentally vulnerable.
Yes, moving stadium can be a bit difficult, and our highest finish since the move has been 3rd. But people forget that whilst we didn’t do brilliantly in our first few seasons at The Grove, we were unbeaten at home for a long time (until April 2007 I think?). So that rules out the stadium as a cause of our vulnerability.
That really for me leaves only one possible answer. The players themselves – I don’t like to be too critical, because no matter what people say about them pissing around at training with ‘OxTV’ or ‘Wojcech versus’, they do devote themselves to football, and they are at one of the best teams in the world (we are that, it’s just that we’re further from the top than before). However, a lot is made of a ‘winning mentality’, or a lack thereof in the Arsenal squad. I don’t buy it, unfortunately.
Lots of our players know how to win games. Whether it’s for Arsenal, or for their previous employers (or they’re proving they can at their future employers…). Bacary Sagna, Gervinho and Giroud have all won trophies in France. Santi Cazorla is part of the all conquering Spanish national side. Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker’s German side has been consistently brilliant for the past 10 years or so. Walcott hasn’t won a trophy yet, but he’s won a truckload of games with Arsenal. As for Coquelin, Frimpong, Wilshere, Afobe etc. they all won the FA Youth Cup a few years back, which is a tricky cup to win. Even Vermaelen won accolades with Ajax. (Somewhat off topic, but having been to a fair few of the youth games this season, I really don’t see the hype around Kris Olsson. For me, he’s not strong enough, can’t shoot, and slows down the game. Conversely, our right side of Bellerin and Jeffrey was outstanding against Everton; both of those players have definitely won me over recently.)
And that brings me nicely onto the Bayern game. All three goals came from Vermaelen’s side. Okay fine, he’s playing at left back, but it’s not an entirely new position for him. He plays there for the Belgian national side, and has made a fair few appearances there for us over the past two years. Assuming Wenger already knew that Vermaelen was going to play at left back, presumably he was training there for the past few sessions. For me, he was the only viable choice for left back, with Monreal cup tied, Gibbs and Meade injured, and Santos on loan. People suggested Miquel, but he’s not a left back, he’s a left sided centre back, like Vermaelen. No difference there.
In this instance, I can understand playing Vermaelen out of position. But other than that, I don’t see why we played so many players out of their usual positions. Santi Cazorla is not a winger, certainly not in the way we needed him to be – in Spain, bar a few (see Navas), wingers are more like wide playmakers (see Iniesta). When at Malaga, playing him out wide didn’t stifle any of his creativity, but here it does. Massively. He didn’t do anything until he got moved centrally, and even that meant that Rosicky had to play out wide (although he was everywhere – in fact, he was a more convincing left back than Vermaelen was!)
I’ll leave Jack out of this, because I think he is genuinely capable of playing in the two positions he occupied last night (CAM and CM), but Santi wasn’t the only one. Walcott hasn’t played up front since he signed da ting, and whenever he did against top class opponents, he was marked out of the game. Podolski has been used as a winger all season, but surely it would have made sense to play him up top and let Lahm or even Alaba deal with Walcott’s pace?
Just going back for a minute to Santi and Rosicky, I don’t think for one minute that Santi should have started on the wing. That was a mistake in my eyes, and not just in terms of last night. Whenever he’s been played this season, he’s been our best player on the pitch by miles. The same can be said for the back end of last season. Against Blackburn, he was the only driving force in our team, and yet he still gets shafted by someone who is a) playing out of position and b) hasn’t hit top form for the past few months?
Ramsey (once again) played well in the middle of the park. Surprising? Not in the slightest. I’ve said it before, but he is a superb central midfielder. He filled in for Arteta when he was out, and did really well. But when Arteta came back, he (Ramsey) was put straight back on the bench. That’s not right, surely? Unfortunately for us, Arteta’s not the same player that he was last season, or even at the beginning of this one. He’s not as bad as Song was in terms of ill-discipline, but he’s finding it hard to play in a deeper role (once again, not his preferred position…)
This may seem contradictory to what I said about Santi and Tomas, but I do see the thinking behind it. Rosicky played 75 minutes on Saturday, and isn’t match fit. I just meant that he shouldn’t be shafted by someone who’s not comfortable playing out wide. Their wingers, Muller and Ribery, were superb defensively, but they didn’t necessarily track back that much. They just stayed out wide, and pressurised our full backs into going backwards. Simple, but effective.
But even so, both of our full backs were awful. I’ve spoken about Vermaelen, but for me it’s deeper than just playing out of position. He’s had two really good games this season that I can remember (Montpellier at home and Liverpool away), but other than that, I can’t recall a crucial performance from our captain. For me, he’s only picked because of his status, and he only got that because of his first season, where he scored screamers and went in hard on a few players. Okay, so he had a season out of the game – people say we missed him then, but they forget that Johan Djourou was actually phenomenal, and we conceded very few goals with him in the side. As for Sagna, well he just switched off towards the end of first half, and didn’t even want the ball. Poor commitment, but I’d like to see him tried at centre back occasionally, where he was excellent against Sunderland.
(I haven’t actually said how well Bayern played though, and to be honest, they totally deserved to win the game. We were ordinary, but only because we were made to look so by Bayern.)
Losing to Blackburn probably doesn’t hurt as much as the Bayern game, which is weird, given how much more understandable it is losing to the best team in the world (according to WhoScored anyway…). Yeah so the Blackburn game represented our last chance of winning any silverware this season (realistically anyway), but the Bayern game just showed how far we are from competing at the highest level. Jack outclassed Xavi and Iniesta a few years ago, but even he couldn’t compete with the much more dynamic Javi Martinez and Schweinsteiger. A lot has been said recently about whether or not Wenger has been overachieving since he arrived. Yes, in all honesty I think he has been. People say that they want their Arsenal back…I can only assume you mean the one before Wenger arrived, the one that was rarely consistently there or thereabouts?
Our expectations are too high, and that’s coming from someone who’s usually annoyingly optimistic. Arsenal’s clashes with Manchester United aren’t the same as they used to be. At the same time, the North London Derby isn’t the same as what it was, purely because it’s more competitive. The same with Everton. I am fairly confident that we’ll get Champions League football next season, and whilst that will once again show huge overachievement on Wenger’s part, it’ll also further strengthen our position as a Top 4 club. Over time, challengers have changed – Aston Villa, Liverpool, Bolton, Swansea, Newcastle, Spuds, Chelsea. They’ve all challenged us for a top 4 spot in the past, and we’ve always come out on top. I’ll reserve any judgements on Wenger’s position until May, and until then I’ll keep on supporting the team that we all love.
Thanks for reading, and sorry if it sounded a little too preachy towards the end! Hope you enjoyed it, and don’t forget Sunday at 8:00pm – feel free to tweet me (@andysternAFC) or email me (email@example.com) for any details!