Leicester 0-0 Arsenal: Centre-halves shine but post-match Wenger frustrates again

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I’m going to start with the positives. A clean sheet after letting in four goals the week before was nice. And at the centre of our defence the return of Laurent Koscielny was vital. The Frenchman was superb, and that rubbed off on new boy Rob Holding who had an excellent performance alongside him. I thought in general the keeper and the two full backs were grand – even if Hector got a bit lucky late on – but beyond that we didn’t look anything above ordinary.

The two defences sat deep, knowing that the pace on offer at both ends would be dangerous, so we had this kind of midfield war of attrition. We did ok, they did ok, but there wasn’t much happening to bother either keeper. Late in the first half Cech made a good save and Koscielny’s vital intervention on Drinkwater had Leicester screaming for a penalty but Clattenburg got the decision right.

The second period was more of the same, lots of midfield huff and puff but little end product. Things did open up a bit in the last 15-20 minutes. The introduction of Mesut Ozil made us look much better, almost as if when you have really, really good players to choose from you play better football. Late on Walcott should have played in Giroud but chose to go it alone and saw his shot blocked, and when Musa roasted past Bellerin in the area I think we were lucky to get away without conceding a penalty.

Leicester’s injury time free kick from the edge of the box felt very much like one of those ‘oh-oh’ moments but ultimately it came to nothing, summing up a game between two teams who really looked like they were trying harder to avoid defeat than to take three points.

Arsene Wenger’s view was somewhat different, telling BT Sport after the match:

It was a game of high intensity where both teams gave absolutely everything. On that front, I believe when you conceded four goals last week we’ve shown a great defensive performance. Overall, we created the chances to win it. But you could see that they were not champions for no reason last year. It’s a team that’s well organised and it’s difficult to create chances.

And look, there is some truth to that. Objectively a point away from home against the champions is generally a good point, but again it’s impossible to look at the performance – both collectively and in relation to certain individuals – and not think it’s a consequence of how undercooked we were going into the season.

Before the game the manager was talking up the ability of Alexis Sanchez to play striker to help solve what is an obvious problem for the team – one that he seems reluctant to address in the transfer market. On the evidence of the two performances we’ve seen this season he is a long, long way from being able to do that. For a start he doesn’t look anywhere close to being match fit, and the front three we fielded yesterday were far too static, with nobody even close to being on the same wavelength.

Alexis doesn’t look like he believes he can play there, he spent more time drifting wide to pick up the ball to play ineffective triangles, leaving us with nobody in the middle. We put in crosses he could never get to, and by the time we’d put Olivier Giroud on, we’d decided this was a poor tactic despite having somebody capable of making those crosses into something more.

That we need a striker goes without saying at this point. That we struggled to score is certainly in part down to the fact we haven’t brought anyone in. Afterwards, his comments about transfers and spending money have caused some consternation, and when you look at them in black and white it’s understandable. What I would say is look at the video for the full context.

He spoke about the club having a responsibility to the 600 employees, which is so irrelevant to anything. Staff aren’t paid out of the transfer budget, and not a single person with an ounce of common sense is saying that we should spend all the money we have on new players, then worry about paying the bills afterwards.

Asked about finding the right players, he said:

Look, we are a whole team working on strengthening the team. I am not the only one and unfortunately nobody speaks about the performance of Rob Holding today. You should be happy, he’s English, he’s 20 years old, but I am sorry, he did not cost £55m so he cannot be good and that is for me what is most disappointing for me.

Again, a straw man. I don’t think fans really care what a player costs as long as he’s a good player. And using a 20 year old rookie making only his second Premier League start to highlight the unasked for benefits of value doesn’t really sit right with me. Yes, Holding was very good yesterday and if we’ve unearthed a gem for that price then my cap is doffed, bravo and all that, but he’s only played two games for us and he’s just 20. Will he be as rigorous in his defence of him if/when he goes through a difficult period?

Then he asked about what fans were chanting at the end of the game about spending money. On the Arsenal website his response is:

We are highly influenced by the media so that’s part of the process today.

What he actually said was:

They are highly influenced by the media so that’s part of the process today.

If anything, I would say sections of the media – particularly those who are always looking for a juicy headline or something to twist the knife – are more influenced by fans. But to say people who want the team to improve, to be more competitive, to be better, are only doing so because the media run stories about Arsenal spending money is ridiculous.

I can only speak for myself, but my opinion on the team is based entirely on what I see happen on the pitch. When I see a team that has needed a striker look toothless and impotent in attack, I’m highly influenced by that. When I see a team that needs the centre of its defence strengthened concede four goals at home on the opening day, I’m highly influenced by that. When I see a league table that shows us with one point from six; when I see the Arsenal accounts that leave us in no doubt there is a lot of money to invest in the team; when I see a title challenge fall apart in a season we should have won the league; I’m highly influenced by that.

I don’t need newspapers, pundits, commentators or anybody else to tell me what needs to be done at Arsenal. All I want is for the team to be as good as it can be, for the club to show a genuine ambition and desire to win, and for the resources we’ve worked hard for and sacrificed so much to generate to be used to that end. If we fall short at that point, I’d be a lot more understanding.

It’s when we procrastinate, when we go into a season underprepared and drop points, when we don’t address key issues that we know must be addressed, and then afterwards make excuses or try and deflect from the fact we’ve been basically hapless throughout the summer of 2016 that frustrates so much. You might even say I’m highly influenced by that. And not in a positive way.

This idea that fans are only interested in spending money is absurd. Fans want the club to spend money to make the football better, because right now the football we’re playing is dour, insipid and ineffective far too often. It’s simply about making the team better, and if Arsene Wenger, his scouts, chief negotiator, chief executive and this whole ‘team’ he has working on things can’t do that, then our problems run far deeper than we think.

Till tomorrow.


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