Coming out of the ground on Saturday I heard one disgruntled Arsenal fan behind me say “You know, if it were up to me I’d drop the whole fucking lot of them and play the kids on Tuesday”.
Knee-jerk reactions to defeats like Saturday’s are normal but it was easy to see where he was coming from. By all accounts the Carling Cup team played with energy, enthusiasm and commitment, three things sadly lacking from the ‘first’ team’s performance against Hull. Worryingly it’s the second time that’s happened this season and just as we thought the lessons of the Fulham game had been learned too.
I think Tom’s blog yesterday summed it up perfectly so I don’t want to go over old ground too much but it was painful viewing at times. The manager’s post game interview with the BBC makes for interesting viewing, mostly because it’s clear Arsene is quite bewildered. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look quite so down in the dumps after a defeat, and I include losses in finals and really important games in that (not that the Hull game wasn’t important, but you know what I mean).
If we thought the performance of the kids would keep the more senior players on their toes we were wrong. Adebayor and van Persie responded to the threat of Bendtner and Vela by looking as if they couldn’t really be bothered at times. It strikes me there’s a bit of complacency among some of the players who feel their places in the team are assured no matter what. I think that’s perfectly illustrated by William Gallas whose form this season has been very poor and whose leadership skills are non-existent. Yes, it was a great header by Cousin but Gallas was at fault against Fulham too and against Bolton.
When your team needs leadership and authority he goes missing and while I appreciate the fact he has a knack of getting late goals to salvage something from games I’d rather he was better at doing his job at the other end. It’s time for the manager to make a point to some of the senior players, to show them that they’re not undroppable. Gallas should be dropped. Get Djourou in to provide to height and physical presence to the back four. Adebayor and van Persie can count themselves lucky if they start against Porto. The manager is promising changes, you wonder how much of that is his ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to what happened against Hull.
There’s a great quote from John Toshack from when he was manager of Real Madrid. After a defeat he said (and I’m paraphrasing here) ‘On Monday you’re going to drop all 11, then by Thursday it’s 5 or 6, then on Saturday you play the same 11 cunts as last week’. I can understand the manager’s desire to drop players but realistically he can’t do too much. The game on Saturday was crying out for a midfielder to come on and change the game but we didn’t have that player on the bench. Alex Song is not going to come on and do that job and the closest we have is 16 year old Jack Wilshere.
Had we the depth you’d be asking serious questions about Toure too who I believe struggles alongside Gallas yet thrives when playing with a more traditional stopper, someone like Sol Campbell or even Philippe Senderos. Cesc has not got going yet this season either, he looks leggy and not up to speed yet. Of course his pre-season was disrupted by Spain’s Euro success and we have to keep playing him. We just don’t have anyone else and hopefully with more games under his belt he can recapture some form.
I suppose the most worrying thing though was the way the team on Saturday was outfought by Hull. I know they’re new to the league and full of vim and vigour but it was apparent in the first half we needed to step it up. That we didn’t, or couldn’t, in the second is concerning. Without wishing to harp on about it too much the team lacks leadership. During games like this you look to your captain for inspiration, you look to your ‘star’ players for a spark but nothing happened. In isolation you can write it off as a bad day but twice in the first six games of the season is not isolated.
Gallas says it’s hard to accept losing to Hull and has warned against being complacent. I think Tom’s suggestion of Clichy punching him in the snout was most sound indeed and I think the wake-up call he needs is to warm the bench for a few games. I truly, truly, truly, really and utterly think the manager needs to the rethink the captaincy too. It might be a hard thing to do but the longer it goes unaddressed then the more we’re going to suffer for it. Three times this season the captain has either not tried or not tried hard enough and three times we’ve conceded.
I’m not saying all our defensive woes are down to him either but when it looks like the captain of your team can’t be arsed then it must have an effect on the rest of the players, no matter how professional they are. When that same player is then lecturing you before a game it must be maddening. Perhaps individually Kolo and Gallas are the two best central-defenders at the club (and that’s very debatable) but how much more time will Arsene give the partnership when it clearly does not work?
I suppose the main issue is one we’ve all spoken about at length over the last couple of seasons and that’s consistency. We’re capable of incredible performances and good results, but equally capable of serving up phlegm covered gruel like on Saturday. There was an air of expectation before the Hull game, fans were buzzing after the midweek 6-0 and the good response since the Fulham defeat, and some of the reaction since has been somewhat over the top. There’s a tendency to get carried away when we win and when we lose.
You get scolded for not being positive enough when we win but I think defeats like Saturday’s show that there are still some issues in the team. Yes, we should be positive when we win but the danger of getting too carried away is that when things go wrong then it becomes all too painful. The manager said that the test now is to see how we respond. We seemed to have learned from the Fulham game but the same kind of attitude against Hull cost us. How many times do we need to touch the electrified food before we stop going back for a nibble?
So Porto should be interesting on Tuesday. Not just because it’s a European night and they’re always good but to see how the manager reacts to what he saw on Saturday and how the players react to the way they played. Apparently Arsene kept them in the dressing room for an hour afterwards and I have no doubt some harsh words were spoken. Let’s see what happens on Tuesday but let’s remember that Tuesday will only be one small step, there’s the whole rest of the season to get on with too.
Leaving football aside for a moment the rest of the weekend in London was great fun though. Thanks to Tom for keeping the blogging going and it was, as always, a pleasure to meet up with so many of you. I never fail to be touched by the generosity and decency of Arsebloggers and even though what happened for the 90 minutes was about as much fun as a swimming pool party with Michael Barrymore the rest of the weekend was brilliant, thank you all for that. My liver does not thank you but my liver can go kiss my hairy Mick arse.
Right, there was plenty to say yesterday. No doubt today will be the same. More tomorrow.