Saturday, December 3, 2022

Watford 2-1 Arsenal: A defeat in the perfect image of the manager

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Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there were three little pigs and … what …? You’ve heard it? Ok.

A long time ago, Cinderella was … huh .. you’ve heard that one too? Right.

It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking … oh … thirteen! You know it! Fair enough.

Did you ever hear the one about the ugly duckling? You did. Little red riding hood? Understood. Here’s one about a raven by Edgar Allan … doh. You’ve heard them all.

What about Arsenal? Have you heard the one about Arsenal throwing away a lead away from home against a team they should beat in which we could rage against a poor refereeing decision but the reality is that this has happened so often so many times before that it would be ridiculous to simply point the finger at the officials for our inability to close out a game despite having lots of chances to do exactly that?

Ah balls. You have heard that one. I know. I’ve heard it too. I’ve watched it. I’ve lived it. I’ve written about it. And here we are again. From a position where we should have taken three points, we end up with none and there’s just no point lambasting Richarlison for his obvious dive or the referee for falling for it, because we had this win in our hands and we let it slip.

Make no mistake, it was a dive and the referee fell for it, but rather than spark any kind of angry, we’ll show you, kinda reaction from Arsenal, it made our precious little violets shrink. It hadn’t been a great game or performance until then, but we were ahead thanks to Per Mertesacker’s thumping header in the first half. The skipper was one of the few players who could come off that pitch with his head held high, sadly too few of his teammates could do the same.

Our decision making was poor on the pitch, and it would fair to say it was matched by the decisions made off it by the manager. Mesut Ozil for Danny Welbeck after the England man picked up another injury wasn’t a bad one, and the German showed what he can do setting up Alex Iwobi almost immediately. The Nigerian international’s shot was saved well but it was a missed opportunity to extend the lead.

When Iwobi returned the favour a few minutes later, Ozil should have scored. There are no two ways about it but his attempted finish was poor and Gomes made the save. Within seconds Watford went up the other end, Richarlison dived under a challenge from Hector Bellerin, and Troy Deeney stepped up to equalise from the spot.

It was annoying but there were still 20 minutes or so to play. The manager had swapped Alexandre Lacazette for Olivier Giroud just before the penalty, but even if the former had been quiet, the latter couldn’t get into the game at all, and it was telling that in the final few minutes he ended up playing as a kind of auxiillary right back such was the pressure we were under.

And we were under that pressure because we buckled. As a team we went to pieces. There was no reaction to their equaliser other than one of fear. Of timidity. Nobody took responsibility, we sat deep, invited pressure, and inevitably that resulted in a winning goal for Watford.

They had come close beforehand, a shot deflecting off Mertesacker and off the post, but in injury time, as the ball ricocheted around the box and off the chest off the captain – one of the few who at least looked like he was trying – it fell to Tom Cleverly who slammed it home to give Watford the win. The fact that Granit Xhaka stood there watching, without even thinking to try and get in to snuff out the danger, made it all the more maddening, but it was symbolic from the Swiss international.

He could see what was happening, the danger was obvious, what he had to do was obvious, but he simply couldn’t be bothered do anything about it. It was like a metaphor for Arsenal as a club.

Arsene Wenger called the penalty decision ‘scandalous’, and he might well be right, but what’s even more so is the fact that we’re being asked to witness this same story again and again and again. It shouldn’t be a surprise. If Arsenal are a stick of rock, the manager is the writing all the way through it. As long as he is the manager we will get games like this, performances like this, failures like this.

This is us. It’s in our DNA. There’s just no escaping it. It doesn’t matter who we buy, who we play, what formation we use, who we add to the backroom staff, or anything else. This was not so much an Arsenal defeat, as an Arsene Wenger defeat. It is in inescapable fact of life, and it’s little wonder that people are fed up.

How many more times will we have to endure games like this? I don’t know, but my guess is some more times because once Arsene remains in charge his team will capitulate the way they did yesterday. And there’s little point forensically analysing the quality of the players, or urging the club to spend big to improve the team.

We’ve done that. The financial shackles came off years ago. We’ve spent £200m+ in the last three years. We’ve splashed out, spent big, but the song remains the same. Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before. And so it goes.

So, instead of carrying on our reasonably decent run, we end up with nothing – which is about as much as we deserve for being so wasteful and then so careless. We have taken 1 point from 12 away from home this season, and there’s nothing we can do beyond sitting and watching car crash after car crash with very slight variations on a theme.

All I can say is get your seat belt on, because this is going to happen again, and I’m not going through the windscreen for these guys.

Have a good Sunday, back tomorrow with an Arsecast Extra.

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