Video, interviews and highlights (if you can bear it)
They say the darkest hour is just before the dawn. Let’s hope they’re right about that. They have a tendency to say a lot of shit which doesn’t make a lot of sense, unfortunately.
I said yesterday I was fearful of facing United with the squad in the state it was in. I wasn’t expecting to win the game. I thought, with a huge performance, we might be capable of nicking a draw. But I never thought I’d see an Arsenal side managed by Arsene Wenger get pummeled like that. It was painful, embarrassing, humbling and, in a strange, perverse way in the cold light of day, it almost feels necessary.
After this there can be no doubt in anybody’s mind that our squad is in serious need of reinforcement. Not just the addition of one or two players, but we need wholesale changes from front to back and we need them before Wednesday. There are players who were out there yesterday who really shouldn’t have been. From the ones who just aren’t ready for this level of football yet and are being done a disservice by the manager, to the ones who have never been good enough but because of our inaction in the transfer window are all we’ve got, to the ones who should be good enough but have underperformed time and time again during their Arsenal career.
That was a motley bunch of players out there and while it would be easy to go town on some of them, what’s the point? They don’t get up the day of a match and pick themselves to play for Arsenal Football Club. Arsene Wenger picks them. If these were the only players available to him then that’s his fault. Since the end of last season this team has been crying out for the addition of quality and experience and Gervinho aside it has had none. In fact, it has lost more quality and experience than it has gained, and frankly that’s unforgivable.
I’m not inclined to go over the match in any great detail. Maybe if we’d scored the penalty things might have been different. Maybe if Arshavin had scored to make it 3-2 when clean through it might have different. Maybe if Arsene had left on Coquelin who was doing a decent enough job in midfield we might not have been as overrun as we were in the final half an hour. But we didn’t, and he didn’t, and the only thing we can look at is the scoreline.
Defensively our performance was abject. I felt for Carl Jenkinson, a young man being asked to make a huge step up with nobody to help him. Theo Walcott shouting at him just before their goal was hardly the kind of positive encouragement he needed and coming from Theo it must have been hard to take. Johan Djourou’s slow descent continues, alongside him Koscielny was ok but his refusal to put his head where it might get hurt for the opening goal was telling, while if you need any more evidence that we need a left back than the sight of the carefree, gum chewing, smiling-at-the-final-whistle Armand Traore in an Arsenal shirt there’s something wrong with you.
Yet as I said, it’s not their fault they’re out there. Sure, we had players missing yesterday through injury and suspension but all that did is highlight the shallowness of our squad. Arsene said after the game he couldn’t expect Gibbs to be out, Diaby to be out, Vermaelen to be out (amongst others). Really? Two of the most injury prone players at the club and a guy who spent 90% of last season injured and you can’t make contingency plans better than what we had yesterday?
The youth of our side is no excuse either. United’s average age was younger than ours yesterday. What they’ve got though is a decent mix of youth and experience and back-up players who can step up. Remember, there was no Ferdinand or Vidic yesterday. They had Johnny Evans and Phil Jones at centre-half with another centre-half at right back who, time and time again, found time and space down our left hand side.
Our squad was ruthlessly exposed yesterday. A couple of players aside that was a Carling Cup side out there for Arsenal. Fringe players forced into action because throughout this summer both the manager and the board have neglected their duties to the point where Arsenal Football Club found themselves on the wrong end of an 8-2 scoreline at Old Trafford. Remember when we used to go there, compete, battle, scrap and fight with players of similar quality to theirs? They were lambs to the slaughter yesterday. I’ve got sympathy for some of them and I hope the youngsters who tried hard but found it beyond them aren’t too damaged by it. Others, well, it’s hard to feel anything for them at all, as they clearly feel little for the shirt they are privileged to wear.
Ultimately though the buck stops with the manager and the board. The summer has been a huge disappointment and it’s impossible to look at it now and not think we haven’t mismanaged it completely. Deals that should have been done early dragged on and on, yet even with those situations hanging over us we were inactive. As I said yesterday, we all knew Cesc and Nasri were leaving. The sensible thing to do is line up replacements and get them in before, or just after, the sale of the players you know are on the way out.
Instead, we’ve let our captain and best player go and thus far replaced him with nobody. Such is the state of our midfield we’re having to throw in a young guy like Francis Coquelin for a debut at Old Trafford. We sold our flawed but highly experienced left back and failed to replace him. That we’re forced into playing a guy Wenger has wanted rid of for over a year and who he overlooked on Wednesday, preferring to play our first choice right back there, says it all. Reliance on Gibbs was always going to be a gamble. Three games into the season, that gamble has failed.
What must Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have thought of his Arsenal debut yesterday? Wasn’t it asking far too much of this kid to have any influence at this stage? He comes on, we ship a further 5 goals. That’s going to do him the world of good, at 17 years of age, eh?
And the crux of it is this – even if Cesc and Samir Nasri had stayed at the club, Arsenal needed players to improve a squad that was close last season but ultimately found wanting. That they have left and we haven’t already spent the money their sales generated is just pitiful management. Everybody knew this squad needed to be strengthened, yet we seem to have been content to go through the summer, biding our time, playing games of brinkmanship with other clubs over their players, until we get within sight of the transfer window close when we can play our favourite game of ‘How cheap can we get a player?’
Even now, if we buy players before the deadline, doesn’t it feel like panic shopping rather than part of a well thought out plan to improve the squad this summer? We have three days left when we’ve had all summer. If Arsene had faith that his squad could step up and was strong enough, then he’s got it badly wrong. The evidence of that was the result yesterday. There was no gulf in age, only a gulf in quality and if he can’t see that then it’s bad news indeed. A shift in policy is needed and needed now.
Yet for all the criticism of Arsene, much of it warranted, what of our new owner, Mr Kroenke? Silent Stan, haha. Not. Silence is not good enough any more. Since he took over he looks less and less like the custodian Danny Fiszman hoped he’d be and more like an asset stripper. Arsenal is a club on the verge of making an £80m+ profit in a transfer window when the team needed investment. Where is the leadership? Where is the demand for the highest standards on the pitch? Why has a situation been allowed whereby we went to Old Trafford with the kind of squad we saw yesterday?
Since Kroenke took over he has presided over a footballing collapse and neither he, nor his management team, seem capable, or willing, of doing anything about it. Since the Carling Cup final Arsenal’s league form is: DDDWDDLWLLDDLL
By any standards, let alone the ones set by Arsene Wenger down the years at this football club, that’s atrocious. We hear from Ivan and Arsene that “we’re working very hard” on transfers. If that’s the case then you have to question the people doing that work. If this is the state we’re in after a summer of working very hard then we need some new people to do it, some better people. Or maybe we’re just not working that hard, who knows?
There’s a very real danger that this defeat could precipitate further problems but there’s also the possibility that it’s a wake up call. Overdue and all as it might be, it must tell those at the top, especially the ones who make the footballing decisions at Arsenal, that things need to change. And quickly.
The whole club needs a lift. The first job now is to do that by spending the money we have available to us. If it proves more difficult to sign players after taking an 8-2 pounding then that’s our own fault, it doesn’t make it impossible though. We must add quality throughout the squad. At least one centre-half, a left back is as essential, a couple of midfielders and even if the Korean guy from Monaco arrives we could do with another striker.
I’m not generally one for ‘marquee’ signings, the quality of a player is far more important than the name, but a big player with a big reputation would do far more than lift the spirits of the fans, it would lift the team. It would lift the players, signal some ambition, and improve our squad. That, above all else, is the most important thing right now. Arsene says he’s open to signing players as long as he can find ones better than the ones he has. On the evidence of yesterday that gives him plenty to choose from.
The clock is ticking. We can either go back into our shells, play the ‘we worked hard but couldn’t find super quality’ card, or take yesterday on the chin and come out fighting, using all the resources available to us to make us better. So, Arsene, Ivan, Slovenly Stan, what is to be? Do you continue to oversee the demise of this Arsenal team or do you do something about it? And you realise, of course, that question is rhetorical. Tick-tock, gentlemen. Tick-tock.
Finally for today, a word for the Arsenal fans who went to Old Trafford yesterday, sang their hearts out and showed the real spirit of this football club. You, at least, did us proud. Hats off.