My old mum used to say “If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” (That’s totally untrue. When I was 14 we were at a North London derby together and she nudged me, nodded towards Teddy Sheringham and said, “It’s ok. You can call him a wanker.”) It’s very difficult to find anything nice to say about two games in which we haven’t created a chance of note. It’s very un-Arsenal. Even in our most abject performances, we ordinarily construct something in the final third.
So why is it happening? It’s very easy, tempting and kind of comforting to simply lash out. At times like this, people will dig out their favourite hobby horses and apportion blame. They’ll use phrases such as “no passion, no spirit or desire” or “poor tactics” without going into any specifics. It’s all totally understandable. They’re phrases that manifest our frustration, but don’t force us to confess our bafflement.
You hear this kind of meandering call to arms all the time inside the stadium. “Want the ball!” or “Get hold of it!” Well-meaning phrases that don’t provide much in the way of substance. The truth is, I don’t really understand what has gone wrong either. But a plaintive shrug isn’t going to satisfy my word limit and spare me a horse whipping from the landlord of this here site. So I shall venture into the realms of theory.
I think we are missing some players that had begun to give us a pleasing balance in the side. I have been lukewarm towards Gibbs and Diaby in the past but think we miss both. Gibbs had struck up a potent understanding with Podolski on the left hand side. Gibbs stretches the pitch because he likes his footwear chalky, allowing Podolski to move inside slightly, where he is more effective.
As illustrated quite brilliantly in this piece by Gingers4Limpar, Santos prefers to raid the channels, which has forced Podolski wider than he likes to be. Neither Santos nor Podolski have become useless overnight, they just haven’t played together before and don’t have an appreciation of one another’s games. One of the biggest problems with Arsenal’s large churn of players each summer isn’t just replacing the departed, but it means each season we have to rewire the understanding in the team. Every successful side has great partnerships all over the pitch.
Arsenal have missed a cluster of their most direct players, which has led to us becoming predictable and static. The midfield and forwards have looked as though they’d need a distress flare to find one another. This is where we’ve missed our ‘ball carriers.’ Diaby would certainly have been capable of ‘taking the mountain to Mohammed’ with a striding run and breaking the opposition’s carefully constructed defensive lines.
The only midfielders we have who come close to replicating that quality are Wilshere and Rosicky. Both of course, unavailable at present. The lack of direct options from the centre has been exacerbated by the unavailability of Chamberlain and Walcott on the flanks. Norwich and Schalke have erected solid banks of midfielders in front of us and at times when we could probably have used a battering ram, we’ve been trying to tickle the door open with a feather duster. This explains the emergence of Serge Gnabry as a go to substitute, because he has those direct qualities.
But of course it’s impossible to ignore the scenario we have upfront. There are only two recognised central strikers in our entire squad and the manager doesn’t much fancy either of them. (Arsene is possibly the only person on earth that doesn’t fancy Giroud). We have no injuries upfront in our squad at the moment, yet we didn’t have a striker on the bench at Norwich. For the second season in a row we have completely neglected this area of the team in terms of quality and personnel. (I’m still unconvinced we’d be able to cover a long term injury to Arteta too).
So in summary, in an attacking sense, on the left we have Santos and Podolski unwittingly neutralising one another’s attacking strengths. On the right, we’ve lost our two preferred attackers for that wing. In the centre, our first choice appears to be a 27 year old that has spent his entire career on the flanks. Arsene has enjoyed great success in his career at altering a player’s position, but you can’t tell me Gervinho’s elevation to centre forward is anything other than hastily applied polyfilla to an area with seeping cracks.
We have goalkeeping issues too. It’s probably foolhardy to expect your third choice to be much above Championship level. I had rather hoped a spell of regular football at Hull had added to Mannone’s game, but it’s painfully clear that this level is above his capabilities. It’s obvious that the players think so too. Even when he comes to claim a cross and gives an accompanying shout, our defenders have elected to deal with it themselves – perfectly elucidating the lack of trust they hold in him.
It’s widely thought that Wenger would not have offered much resistance in the event of an offer for Fabianski or Mannone this summer. The fact that offers weren’t forthcoming is telling in itself, but spaces in the squad are being taken up by players that Arsene clearly doesn’t trust. It’s difficult not to wonder why. You get away with Mannone in goal for a game or two, but over a longer period of time you just don’t. I guess this ramble is a roundabout way of saying that the lack of depth in our squad in certain areas is being exposed.
I was unable to attend Thursday morning’s AGM for work reasons and, in truth; I’m not overly bothered that I missed it. It all feels circular to the point of weariness. The same questions, followed by the same statements which beget the same old arguments. Arsene was right to indicate his discomfort with talking at such an event when his and his players’ job is to deliver performances, not rhetoric.
For all the squabbles about boardroom composition, the grass is always green and the ball is always clean. Nobody gives a monkey’s chuff what Ivan Gazidis says or does when we win football games. Nobody cares whether the players chartered a plane or danced the Wa Tootsie all the way up the A12 to an away match when the team win the game.
The only way Arsenal can make life easier for themselves in this respect is to use all means available to them to compete. When I look at the composition of the squad, it’s impossible to convince me that Arsenal are trying to win the league. The players that we don’t sign tend to dominate conversation, but it’s as much the players we do sign that suggest to me that the top 4 is the benchmark the club sets itself.
It’s not really to my tastes to single out individuals, but in a private moment, look over the names of the players we have signed in the last 4-5 years and ask if most were purchased as potential league winners, or simply as a top 4 vintage. Make do and mend has been a squad building policy for so long I’m beginning to wonder whether we should copyright the phrase ‘Habent Tantem et Mendare’ and stick it under our crest. (Thanks Google translate).
We’ve had all of these conversations before and doubtless we will have them again before long. So I sign off now in weary repetition. Until next week. LD.
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