It’s a good job I shave my hair so short because if it was any longer I’d be tearing it out on a far too frequent basis. Everything about Arsenal right now is painstakingly difficult; it’s a sad state of affairs. For every step forward there is another disaster lurking around the corner to bring us back down to earth with a bang.
On Wednesday night we made it three wins and three clean-sheets on the spin with victory over Southampton. From very early on it appeared a single goal would prove decisive, so it was great to see a measured and assured performance to ensure we’d be the beneficiaries. We controlled the game throughout, restricted the Saints to only one real effort on goal, while working Fraser Forster into a man of the match performance.
Unfortunately for him, but thankfully for us, a goal finally arrived. It was far from Alexis Sanchez’s best performance in an Arsenal shirt, but once again he was tireless and popped up in the right place at the right time to steer home Aaron Ramsey’s cut back for the 1-0 win.
Fast forward to Saturday and all the good work and promise from those three victories and three clean-sheets was wiped away with a diabolical display at the Britannia Stadium. 1-0 down after 19 seconds. 3-0 down by half-time. And what made it all the more depressing is that at no time did I think Stoke were particularly good or for that matter out-playing us.
Some will say that’s the view through my rose-tinted glasses, combined with my strong hatred for the Potters and their despicable manager. But I honestly feel we gifted them that victory, as opposed to them winning it. I’m certainly no fan of Stoke’s style, but I’ll hold my hands up and admit it’s been effective against us; there’s a reason we only have 1 win in 9 visits since their return to the top flight. But under Hughes their stereotype style has been replaced by an attempt to actually play football, as illustrated by the excellent Bojan.
It made for a more open game, for greater opportunities, for less set pieces being flung into the area. Yet three of the crosses that did make their way into our area led to goals. For the first Chambers should have headed clear, but missed the ball completely. For the second, Ramsey and Flamini inexplicably fail to track the run of Bojan. And the third, from a corner, saw five players challenge for the same header, leaving Walters unmarked at the back post. What was surprising was to hear that it’s Stoke’s first set-piece goal of the season. Not so surprising is that we’re the team who conceded it.
The lack of accountability is appalling. Arsene must take responsibility for leaving us ridiculously short of numbers in defence, for having such heavy reliance on Koscielny when he knew he wasn’t fit, and for the lack of midfield muscle. In turn, the players must take responsibility for their performances, the lack of consistency, and for both individual and collective mistakes.
There are far too many defensive errors, which are then compounded by missed opportunities. How did Wilshere fail to score against United? How did Giroud not make it 1-1 on Saturday? Why has it required a penalty for Cazorla to score a goal? This weekend even saw Alexis draw a blank; it’s cruel of me to comment, given how magical our Chilean marksman has been, but I’m still baffled as to how he hit the post after rounding Begovic.
Anthony Taylor gave the most incompetent refereeing performance I’ve seen in a long time. Chambers received two yellows for only two fouls, yet Crouch remained on the pitch despite two forearm smashes and numerous other offences, while Charlie Adam remained on the pitch despite trying to strangle Alexis. Normally such a refereeing performance would be the source of my frustration and blame, but this time we were so woeful ourselves we could have had the world’s greatest referee and would probably have still lost.
I’m usually glass half full. Through all our battles for fourth I’ve been able to see a silver lining or would look to identify why things would be ok. But with every passing game I’m left with more questions and concerns than answers:
Goalkeepers: Szczesny has been questionable on occasion compared to last season’s high standard. Ospina has barely been fit. Martinez is still a rookie.
Defenders: why do we have so few? Why is Mertesacker so poor without Koscielny? Gibbs and Monreal pick up injuries too often. Chambers is promising, but will continue to make mistakes. What level will Debuchy be after a significant injury?
Midfielders: where’s our Vieira, our Petit, our Gilberto? Arteta, Wilshere, and Diaby suffer too many injuries. Will Ramsey rekindle last season’s form? Can Özil have more of an impact on his return? Can Cazorla and Chamberlain provide greater consistency and end product?
Forwards: how much longer can Alexis be expected to carry this team? Will Giroud and Welbeck ever be prolific enough? Why are Podolski and Campbell taking up squad spaces and wages if Wenger doesn’t want to use them? When will Walcott return and can he stay fit?
Manager: why does he leave so many holes in an already thin squad? Why does he seem so content with déjà vu?
And these are just some of the questions regarding the players and the manager, there are many more. You then have questions about the back room staff, the board, club ownership, off field issues such as ticket pricing, and so on. The list of questions and number of doubts seem endless. I’m struggling to find the answers and the light at the end of my tunnel is fading, BUT…
The Arsenal is my club and Arsene is my manager, the greatest in our club’s proud history. So to challenge and question is one thing, but to fight and show disrespect is another. Whether its fans physically fighting amongst themselves or whether it be abuse towards Wenger, neither is acceptable. Call me cliché if you wish, but I believe in Victoria Concordia Crescit. I always have, I always will. The only way we’ll find the answers we’re all looking for is to stand together with our cannon facing out.