After digesting this weekend’s match that gave more stock to the munitions of the Wenger Out Brigade, it was no surprise to hear of the bust up between Alexis and the Boss (and later, teammates) after the match. He looked way too normal sitting on the bench in the first half. As if someone said “pull a face and the dogs are off to the Vietnamese restaurant” beforehand. And the applause as he started to warm up? I’ve seen more sincere speeches before elections.
I’m still not impressed with the defensive organization by Steve Bould. It looked way too much like he was setting up the side circa 1995. You cannot have such a compact back line when your midfielders have proven all season to be incapable of marking back on the widest overlapping attackers. How many goals have we seen this year after the whole team scrambles to mark a man after the ball is switched out wide on the break? Surely enough times to change. The fullbacks need to be pushed wider, in my opinion, and instead of stretching the midfield so wide to compensate, use the physical presence of Xhaka and Coquelin to help bolster support in the middle. Arsenal is getting diced in defence since the calendar turned over to the new year. New solutions need to be explored this summer tactically as well as perhaps the coaching staff itself.
Iwobi needs a break. The lad looks so tired out there. His sly nutmegs and quick chops have been figured out and are on film now, so he needs some time on the practice pitch and perhaps out of the XI to get readjusted, as well as some work on his defensive technique. His inclusion over Lucas Perez made more sense earlier in the year as the Spaniard was acclimating, But the winter months have seen his form drop off, and too often opposition goals have come from players he has been slow to mark coming back on defense. He was a far greater creative influence on the side earlier in the year, and looks in danger of burning out this season. He is still young, and has a tremendous amount of potential, but it is clear that he has probably already offered the best of what he has for the team this season.
The question of le Coq. What has happened to our midfield enforcer? In addition to still having never scored (or even come close come to think) in an Arsenal shirt, his passing stats are also misleading, given his limited range and vision. He too often looks happy to give it up to a more skilled teammate, as if he just doesn’t want to be the one to lose it. He does not pair well with Xhaka it seems, given their combined aggression and lack of presence in the final third. They are possibly the least dynamic pairing Arsenal possess. Coquelin and Ramsey cannot play together either, given neither are particularly adept positionally and play with a certain chaotic edge. It seems Coquelin needs his Cazorla, which is unfortunate given the 32 year old Spaniard’s injury situation.
The tragedy that is Aaron Ramsey’s post 2013 Arsenal career is painful to witness. It is a perfect storm of almost, nearly, ouch, ohhh, and what on earth is that lad thinking?! Like many of my overly optimistic viewpoints, I keep the faith. Such a talented lad. I always thought that he suffers from being the perfect Fergie midfielder in a Wenger world. Good at everything, but really a specialist in nothing, perhaps nearly pulling off spectacular skills and then not. In a classic English 4-4-2 side of the 90s he could have flourished in a box to box role. Ironic, really that he turned down Fergie and United in order to learn under Wenger.
Hard to say if Ozil would have made a difference in this one or not. My heart and head both lean towards yes because he usually comes back fresh and quick from longer rest periods, and one has to think that the criticism must burn him inside a little. Whatever the case may be, the Gunners need their conductor back at his best. If only because he has the most depressing sad expression when struggling. A joy to watch when he is playing well.
Waiting for that moment that shows me that Petr Cech is so much better than our tobacco keen Polish stopper currently on loan in Rome. It has been almost two seasons. Still waiting…
Liverpool and Arsenal are built very similarly with skill and quickness favored often over size in many positions, but where the differ is without the ball. Under Klopp, the Reds have a clear defensive gameplan. They press high and they press in packs. Klopp’s energy in these marquee games seems to be infectious in the dressing room, with the Gunners also taking after their manager. Each game is started with a fragile, reconstructed confidence from the weeks training that either flourishes if Arsenal gain a rhythm early on in the game, or collapses if they relinquish and early goal. Wenger must be feeling the pressure now. Be told you are going soft and the game is passing you by enough times, it just might creep in to even the most confident man’s thoughts in a quiet moment. Arsenal need to figure out, as a group, how to overcome this mental hurdle.
Outside of uber pragmatic Jose Mourinho, how many managers are successful when they change their philosophy before going into a big game? When Arsenal try and come out with a larger, more direct lineup, as in the Liverpool match, or try a 4-3-3 to surprise their opponents (Chelsea), Wenger is telling his own team, the supporters and the opposition that he does not believe they can win. Arsenal are built to hold on to the ball, build up methodically and creatively before unleashing total improvisational mayhem in the final third. So when Wenger tells his players midweek, all of a sudden, to change what they do, they cannot possibly play their best. Most players struggle when asked to do what they can’t do best. Wenger should be applauded for trying a plan B, something he has been accused of lacking for a long time, but errrr…it might be time for plan C, eh mate?
All and all it certainly was not Arsenal’s best performance. The effort was far better in the second half, but it was not enough. The fight is going to be to hold on to a Champions League place in the run up to the end, with the title already out of reach. Arsenal have a lot of unanswered questions for the close season, but right now the best thing the players and the manager can do is put their heads down and keep working towards being the best team possible. There are changes ahead for the club, and the next few months will show just how radical those might be.