Couldn’t escape if I wanted to

Tim Stillman 2012-13

Chapman had Walsall. Mee had Swindon. Neill had Walsall. Don Howe had York City. George Graham had Wrexham. Now Arsene Wenger has Bradford City. Chapman privately confided in Tom Whittaker, Joe Shaw and Bob Wall that the Walsall cup defeat was a sign that he should rebuild his all-conquering side. His premature death meant that he never got to see that intention through himself, but probably did so vicariously through the aforementioned backroom staff that remained.

Mee used the motivation of the Swindon humiliation to forge the embers of a team spirit that would carry his side to future glory. For Howe and Neill in particular, their chastening giant slayings were the death knell for their respective reigns. Neill resigned hours after the Walsall defeat, Howe never really recovered from York and resigned a year later. Graham wasn’t unduly affected by Wrexham – the defeat to Benfica a few months earlier arguably left a much more indelible mark on his reign.

The question now is what does Bradford, Wenger’s Waterloo moment, mean for the current manager? The pressure on him will build, that’s for sure. Though it’s important to point out that a chorus of “One Arsene Wenger” did resonate in the away end at Bradford, in response to the home fans mocking cry of “You’re getting sacked in the morning.” The question as to whether or not he should go is always asked the wrong way around in my opinion.

I have no desire to impose the popular “who do you replace him with then?” doublethink on you. Afterall, very few of us would have answered “what about Grampus Eight’s manager?” to the same question when Rioch was sacked. But the debate has to be distilled a tad. Sacking him would have to presume that there is somebody that is a) better and b) available to replace him. That should always be the position regardless of how the team is performing. Change for change’s sake or sacking him simply to “punish” him won’t do anybody any favours.

Personally, I have my doubts but would be open minded to suggestions on the contrary. If this person does exist, as he might well do, I’d be very much in favour of getting him. Just as I would be in favour of replacing Jack Wilshere or Bacary Sagna or Marouane Chamakh (!) if there are better players in their positions available to us. It’s not a matter that needs to be considered as tempestuously or as demonstratively as it has been.

What is clear is that the season so far has been distinctly underwhelming, bad or indifferent performances have vastly outnumbered impressive ones. In the past I’ve alluded to the competitive landscape in defence of the sustained criticism the club has received. But at the moment, we’re not even “about where we should be.” If we’re going to point to the resources of those above us as mitigation for falling behind them, it’s only fair we point out that we dwarf the resources available to the likes of West Brom, Everton, Stoke and Swansea.

Because that’s the clique of clubs we are sharing air space with at this moment in time. I maintain what I have said since September 1st, that this squad looks so unbalanced that it’s no wonder it keeps falling over. But it’s better than the distinctly mid-table fare we have served up so far. It’s certainly good enough to beat Bradford City and to cause them more problems than we did.

Very strangely for an Arsene Wenger side, almost all of its current issues are creative and attacking ones. The defence is the one area of the team that has actually showed improvement. Even a League Two side can erect two banks of four against us and we struggle to conjure an answer. Arsenal enjoyed 71% of the possession on Tuesday evening. That means they had the ball for over 85 minutes. Yet we so seldom hurt Bradford with it.

I wrote last week that I thought a creative player was as much of a priority as a striker in January and I’m more convinced of that than ever. Cazorla is a wonderful player, but he’s not the creative catalyst some suggest. His dive against West Brom on Saturday left him with a second assist in a period of twelve matches. He has many qualities that are of great benefit to the side but he’s not really a playmaker. Jack is a wonderful dribbler and a great passer, but he’s more in the “fetch and carry” mould and not a genuine defence splitter. We don’t really have that sort of player in the squad.

The return of Rosicky has added a little more spark. He made a huge difference against Bradford. Wilshere and Cazorla instantly became more influential with the Czech buzzing around them. Neither Jack nor Santi were nearly as involved in the game before he came off the bench. Rosicky has such a simple style that acts as a sounding board, a point of reference for our ball movers. Pass ball, move arse, get in position to receive it again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Until January at least, I would work Rosicky into this team because he makes other players play, which is an otherwise absent ingredient in our side. Whether that involves him playing in one of the wide positions, or whether Cazorla moves out wide with Rosicky in the centre I’m not entirely sure. But he plays between the lines of attack and midfield in a way that’s so valuable.

I’ve spoken in recent weeks about the poisonous cloud of atmosphere that has permeated away matches. At Aston Villa and Everton the environment became frenzied and noxious. I was bracing myself for much of the same as another insipid performance (and result) unfolded in front of us at Bradford. It didn’t seem to materialise. The acid rain clouds didn’t really form as I had expected. The air was much more one of resignation.

In many ways, that’s more worrying for Arsenal. I’m not sure if the manner of the defeat – a penalty shootout loss – contributed to a less volatile reaction. The disappointment doesn’t store and build in quite the same way as it is when the final whistle sounds on a one or two nil defeat. I suppose it takes time to process the hurt before it’s detonated and you angrily try to eject it from the system. But even during the game I didn’t quite sense the same anger that I have heard prior.

Supporter apathy is usually the final straw in terms of relations between a manager and the fans. Because it ultimately means a complete loss of faith and soon enough, translates into bums not filling seats. I hope I’m reading too much into too little and that we’re not quite there yet. The club is in dire need of a spark on and off the pitch. A run of wins and a couple of essential new purchases are the only way that will be achieved. Let’s hope we’re not disappointed. Till next week. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA


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