Well, what can I write about this match that I haven’t written a hundred times before. Not a lot really. The same old failings were on show again as Wenger set up his team in exactly the same way he had for other difficult away fixtures. Net result — another humiliating hammering. We lose, regroup, play the same way again; lose, regroup, play the same way again… I’ve given up hoping that he might actually learn something from these defeats.
We had been ripped apart by Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City on the break as we cavalierly threw our full backs up the pitch and were picked off with ease when the move inevitably broke down. Today was the same. Given the importance not to lose today, a more astute manager might have told his full backs “Be a bit more conservative for the first 45 minutes, we don’t want to be out of this game by half time again.” Alas, Wenger is anything but astute.
This is the man who lined us up yet again with no pace anywhere in the team as Oxlade-Chamberlain sat helplessly on the bench. As soon as I saw the line-up I knew we would struggle. No pace means the opposition defence can play a high line, safe in the knowledge that Giroud cannot sprint away from them and that no midfield runners will dart in behind them. This means they can press our forwards and midfielders tenaciously, which they did very well as they controlled the match.
If you want an example of an astute manager, look no further than Roberto Martinez. Today was a perfect example of adjusting your tactics to suit the opposition, something Wenger openly admitted he doesn’t do. Martinez analysed the situation and identified Monreal as a weak link, shifting Lukaku wide right in an effort to isolate Monreal one on one against the pacey Belgian. It rendered the defensive qualities of Mertesacker and Vermaelen redundant with only Naismith to mark while Lukaku waited patiently to be played in on the break. It happened exactly as Martinez planned for the second goal as Lukaku collected the ball out wide, strolled past Monreal with ease and finished with aplomb, totally justifying his manger’s tactical tweak.
That’s how you do tactics. Wenger doesn’t — he tells his team to play the same way, in the same formation, over and over again, no matter which players are available to him or what the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses are. It is costing us dearly as he gets outsmarted time and again by clever managers like Martinez.
People often say to me “If we get rid of Wenger, who would replace him?” Well, how about Martinez? He’s a young, dynamic manager who understands the nuances of the game, rotates his squad well and tinkers with his tactics depending on the opposition. Martinez has taken a smaller, cheaper squad with a tiny wage bill compared to ours and is sitting just a point behind with a game in hand. He also consistently extracts the best from the players at his disposal which is something that can’t be said about our manager.
As we were getting our arses handed to us, Wenger sat passively. The game drifted away from us as 1-0 became 2-0, so what did Wenger do in response? Nothing. No tactical change, no personnel change. Halftime came and went, Arsenal played in the same way they’d done in the first half, the same way they played at Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City. The outcome was painfully obvious and inevitable — we fell further behind.
If something doesn’t work and you stubbornly persist with it, how can you expect any improvement?
So with the game out of reach at 3-0, Wenger finally tried to alter his side and injected some pace in the form of the Ox, who made an instant impact and hit the bar with a terrific shot. Five minutes later Sanogo was readied and I naively thought we were going to go 4-4-2 and have a real go, but no, Sanogo replaced Giroud. Heaven forbid you actually change formation Wenger!
“Hmmm, shall I make my substitution after 65 or 70 minutes this week?”
Everton were so superior that there was even time for Coleman to do some showboating and flick the ball around Cazorla — they were so comfortable that their full back was showing off his skills! This was a new low.
A couple of times during the commentary I heard the old excuses about injuries being bandied about. Yes we have some players out, but that is not a simple explanation for all our woes. Take the first goal as an example — Baines finds Lukaku in oceans of space, he fires in a shot which rebounds to Naismith and it’s tucked away. As that is happening, what does it matter whether Ozil or Cazorla is playing the number 10 role? Or whether Podolski or Walcott is out wide? The missing players had zero effect on that move and were not a factor in it. So you can’t explain away piss-poor defending (which leads to piss-poor defeats) by saying “Yes, but we miss Walcott and Ozil.” Maybe Koscielny’s presence might have prevented that goal, that’s a fair point. But then Koscielny played in the Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City humiliations, so his absence is not the reason we lost either.
Bottom line — our defeat today was NOT down to injuries. They don’t help of course, but you can’t simply ignore the glaring deficiencies on show just because we have a few men out.
Secondly, the idea of having a 25 man squad is so you can cope with the inevitable injuries that occur during a season. If you have five men out, don’t worry, you still have another 20 available. If your wage bill is £154m and you have £100m available to spend on players, you should be able to fill those 25 spaces with players good enough to do a job for the club when called upon.
If having a handful of players unavailable means your team goes from title contenders in February to desperately clinging on for fourth place in April, something is very wrong. Wenger has failed in his duty to assemble the best squad possible to cope with the rigours of a Premier League campaign given the vast resources available to him.
“Ah, but we always seem to have more injuries than most” cry the Wenger loyalists. Well, even more reason to spend some fucking money and assemble a squad with depth then! You can’t play £100m out wide when Walcott is injured, you actually have to spend that money on an able deputy. In fact, I would argue that Wenger has been exteremly lucky on the injury front this season because his only decent striker has managed to miss only one game all season. If Giroud was out as long as Walcott, Ramsey or Ozil, we’d be below Man Utd right now.
And finally, the fact we pick up these long term injuries year after year cannot be down to bad luck — it’s gone on for far too long with too many different players now. So if it’s not luck, it must be down to training, recuperation or conditioning. Wenger has admitted he has no idea why we get these injuries so often which worries me, because if he doesn’t know how to stop them they will continue season after season.
I said I can’t write the same old things every week but that’s exactly what I’ve ended up doing. I’ve moaned about Wenger’s lack of tactical nous, inability to assemble a balanced squad and our apalling injury record many times before, I’m well aware of that. But if Wenger is going to repeat the same mistakes game after game, year after year, I’ve no option but to keep highlighting them. I really hope he doesn’t sign that new contract because I can’t face writing the same stuff next April as well.