Ok, I think the first thing to do this morning is to say how utterly delighted I am with the win. Under the circumstances, as the game went into the final few minutes, I wasn’t expecting us to snatch a point, let alone all three, so do that is really very enjoyable.
The goals themselves were fantastic. Calum Chambers put in the best cross of his life and Kieran Gibbs finish was so good I thought it was Podolski at first. Then the German did get on the scoresheet after tireless work from the incredible Alexis. His first touch and finish belied the fact he’s hardly played this season and Anderlecht must have wondered what the hell just happened to them. It was, by any standards, an incredible finish to the game and whether you like to or not, you have to give us credit for that small portion of last night – simply because it had such an impact on the game.
Now, here’s the but, or the however, or whatever qualifier you wish to use: for the previous 89 minutes we were little short of terrible. Shaky at the back, ineffective and wasteful in midfield, and just not threatening in attack. We stunk the place out, and there’s no denying it. Being happy with the win doesn’t mean we can’t analyse our performance and it was worryingly bad against a team who really aren’t that good at all.
If there’s credit to be given to the opposition then I’m always happy to do that but all they did is what anyone would do when the team they’re playing makes it easy for them. Indeed, we can be thankful that they weren’t good enough to take advantage of the ten minute spell after they scored when we were simply all over the place, lost any kind of defensive shape and players who know better just switched off and allowed things to happen.
At the back I felt sorry for Per Mertesacker who did his best to hold things together but was flanked by two players who had poor nights. Quite why Arsene Wenger ever thought Nacho Monreal could play centre-half is beyond me. The Spaniard just doesn’t look comfortable there, and why should he? He’s a left-back, has always been a left-back and always will be a left-back. He was exposed for their goal, took a tumble which almost gave them a second, and looked like a man who just doesn’t understand how to play centre-half.
The reason for this is quite simple: it’s because he’s a left-back and has never played centre-half in his life until this season. Arsene Wenger has a great track record of making a success of players who don’t believe they can play in a certain position, but I’d put good money on this not being one of those feel-good stories. If you want to criticise the player, fine, but the issue is the fact he’s being picked there in the first place.
Outside him, Calum Chambers (despite the fine cross), had the kind of game a rookie 19 year old will have from time to time. Whether it was over-eagerness I don’t know, but too often he was nowhere to be seen and great big expanses of Arsenal space on our right hand side were exploited by Anderlecht. Again, I come back to the fact they were too crap to make the most of those moments, but this happened all night long and better teams would have punished us.
The midfield trio of Flamini, Wilshere and Ramsey just didn’t do it at all. Santi Cazorla had a couple of moments, Welbeck got no service and found it hard to get involved, while Alexis, wonderful, wonderful, Alexis, put in the kind of effort that should have the rest of his teammates staring embarrassed at their shoes if they’re made watch a video of this one together (and they should be). He is a non-stop trying machine, at both ends. At one point in the second period he lost the ball high up the pitch but chased back to help snuff out the danger and was taking the ball away from inside our area. Relentless and brilliant, once again the silver lining to our increasingly thundery cloud.
Their goal: terrible defending. Mertesacker had to go with the man as they played a ball inside the channel, Monreal then came over to cover and the cross was allowed far too easily. It was two v two in the area with Flamini and Chambers marking the Anderlecht men, Chambers misjudged it horribly allowing Najar to head firmly past debutant Martinez.
Ok, it happens, but let’s see Arsenal respond. Again the worry for me was how much the goal took out of us. Like the game against Hull, we didn’t come firing out of the blocks to put pressure on them. Instead we practically crumbled and were lucky not to be further behind. There was the chance I mentioned when Monreal stumbled and Suarez went through, but a combination of a poor touch and Martinez coming out to make a save stopped him.
But when they hit the bar I felt genuinely worried that certain players had just given up or switched off. Watching Jack Wilshere just standing still in our box as the bloke who hit the bar ran past him, that’s just not good enough. I like Jack Wilshere but if there was something to do that was the wrong thing to do last night, he did it. Overrunning the ball, dribbling into crowds, looking for the most difficult pass when there was an easier option, you name it. To just stand there as they almost score again, well somebody needs to have a word.
We were lucky that they couldn’t make the most of it and I think what frustrated me most was the fact we were reactive to the fear of losing the game rather than proactive about trying to win it. It was obvious even 15 minutes into that second half that we weren’t doing any better than in the first, so why not make a change to try and alter the rhythm of our performance? Instead the manager sat tight, literally just hoping that the players who were playing so poorly would spark into life.
If there’s some credit to be given for the fact that one of his subs scored the winner then equally you have to say that the inaction from the bench before that was a contributory factor in us behind behind. It wasn’t working, we didn’t do anything about that and found ourselves losing.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell and, eventually, Podolski were thrown on and as I said above, you can’t do anything other than enjoy two late goals like that. Even if you have serious concerns over the performance, which I do, you need to be dead inside not to love when something like that happens. It was so ludicrously not what we deserved, but then the shoe has been on the other foot so many times I’m not going to complain about the end result.
If you want to be glass half-full this morning you could hope that this rather fortuitous win is one which becomes a catalyst for better performances and further good results. Sometimes it happens like that. A team gets a luck of the bounce, so to speak, and it provides some much needed confidence and belief. I hope that’s the case.
On the other hand, it’s very difficult to be anything other than really worried about how poorly we played, what a mess we are at the back, how the manager didn’t see fit to change things before he did, and the fact that a team as poor as Anderlecht gave us so much trouble. If we play like that against anyone half-decent we are going to get a spanking.
Questions about the system and formation remain – we just don’t look comfortable at all and we’re not getting anything close to what we should be getting from a group of players who have far more potential than we’re seeing right now. I think we’ve got to seriously think about whether Ramsey and Wilshere can play in the same team at the same time, and the manager just doesn’t seem to be able to find the right balance with the players he has available to him.
I also think that the team’s struggles this season have been such that very few have played well or shown any kind of consistency and we have to ask why that is. Is it simply that we’ve been unlucky to have so many players suffer a slump in form? Or is it because the formation or the way they’re being asked to play is the root cause? There’s always the need for a scapegoat, and we saw that earlier in the season with Mesut Ozil, but the problems lie much, much deeper than that, in my opinion. There’s a fundamental problem with the set-up, it’s not getting the best out of anybody and until that changes the struggles will continue.
Anyway, I am thankful and very happy about the three points – in the context of the group they were hugely important – but at the same time it’s impossible not to be worried about the next game, regardless of who we’re playing.
Finally for today, congratulations to Sarah Hearnden who was the winner of the Huawei Ascend P7 Arsenal Edition smartphone competition. Well done to you, I’ll be in touch to get your details. Thanks for all the entries.
Right, that’s that. Back tomorrow with an Arsecast. Until then.