Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Our Worst Night in Europe? 10 Thoughts on A.C. Milan 4 Arsenal 0
Well, that wasn't much fun was it. A few thoughts as follows:
* In some respects, I disagree with Arsene when he said that tonight was 'our worst night in Europe'. There have been much more painful defeats than this during his tenure: Chelsea in 2004, Liverpool in 2008, Barca in 2006. But today was painful for a different reason - we were completely outclassed. This was no agonizing near miss. This was a painful, extended dissection, in which Milan managed to expose almost all the weaknesses of this current Arsenal side. The only comparable European defeat I can think of (during Wenger's reign) was the 3-1 defeat against United in the CL semi in 2009. On that night, just like today, we came in to the match with much hope, but were soundly and emphatically defeated.
* But even that defeat didn't have the fin de siecle air to it that tonight's game did. Even more than the 8-2 earlier in the season, the game tonight seemed like a rubicon moment - appropriately enough as we were in Italy. The decline that this club has been in for at least four years was laid bare for all to see. After all, we started the game with what many consider to be our first-choice back five. Players we all thought might be good enough were shown not to be when put to the test. Arsene clearly recognised this to when he laid into the side with both barrels in his post-match interview. You can't help but feel that a massive clear-out is on the way this summer, and the only real question is whether Wenger will remain to oversee it or not. I think that's why Arsene called it our worst night in Europe - this wasn't a valiant defeat by a team which was fundamentally going in the right direction; this was the demolition of a side who are not really all that good.
* So, I suppose we should analyse the game itself. We were never really in it. Milan put themselves into a relatively early lead and never looked back. Zlatan was phenomenal and tore us to shreds. Every time he was on the ball you could see our players panicking, and with good reason. For some reason, Zlatan is still not rated by much of the English media. But tonight he had 5 key passes, 2 assists and a goal. Those are incredible statistics, and proof of a world class player.
* I hate to get on Szczesny's back after his two marvellous saves on the weekend, but I felt he could have done a bit more tonight. Boateng's goal did come at him suddenly, but if Almunia had let that in then I think there would have been questions. Milan scored with 3 of their 5 shots on target today. I think he needs to make more saves, and he also needs to work on his kicking.
* But, our woes were not really down to Woj - they were due to the shambolic back-four in front of him, who put in one of the worst defensive displays you will see in the Champions League this season. Vermaelen's reputation as a supposedly world-class CB must now surely come under the microscope. I maintain that his stature at the club lies in the glut of goals he produced when he first arrived at the club. Every time he has been up against world-class opposition, he has been found wanting. Sagna turned off for the second goal, and Koscielny looked all at sea (and is now probably injured). Gibbs did better than I expected, but I personally cannot wait for Santos to return. As for Djourou - maybe he's good enough to be our fourth-choice CB, but anyone who resorts to rugby-tackling in the Champions League is either not very good or not very clever. I also thought tonight was a very clear indicator of the stability that Mertesacker gave the defence, which we sorely missed.
* I think we handed Milan the initiative with our team selection. It many ways it reminded me of when Wenger dropped Arshavin for the FA Cup semi in 2009. Yes, the Ox is young, but the fact Milan doubled up on him as soon as he came on showed that they feared him. He also had more key passes in 25 mins than Rosicky, Walcott, Song and Arteta did in their entire time on the field. Indeed, can we please put the Rosicky myth to bed? He is fundamentally a very, very average player. At 80 minutes, when we were desperate for a goal, he mis-hit a shot so badly at the edge of the area that it literally hit the corner flag. I don't mean that in the Jamie Redknapp sense of the word 'literally'. I mean the ball actually hit the corner flag. 0 key passes for Rosicky, and 0 successful through balls from 5 attempts. I will say this again - running around a lot does not make you a good player. This is the Rosicky myth. Please get rid of him in the summer, and buy an attacking midfielder who actually contributes assists and goals. Lest I be accused of favouritism, Ramsey was also poor. But he can and will get better. Rosicky will not.
* Speaking of players who will not get better: Theo Walcott. Hopefully the ignominy of being hauled off at half-time will begin the end to his Arsenal career. He is a fundamentally limited player, who regularly goes missing. How Arsene can justify starting him after his car-crash performance at Sunderland on the weekend, only he knows. Walcott has been given his chance and he has been found wanting. Let's sell and move on.
* Despite being isolated up-front, RvP still managed to make 3 key passes, and was one of only 2 players, along with the Ox, to make a successful cross. (Sagna made 0 successful crosses from 6 attempts, by-the-by.) On another day, one of his three shots-on-target would have gone in, and we would have come away with maybe a 2 or 3-1 defeat - bloodied, but still standing. Unfortunately, when Robin doesn't score, then the team usually doesn't either. To be this reliant on the goals of one player is crazy, and it will only get worse, with Chamakh and Park set to return to the fold. If Robin gets injured, we're done. If he were to be ruled out tomorrow until the end of the season, I think we'd end up finishing 9th or 10th, at best.
* Let's get this out the way - yes, the pitch was terrible. But Milan played on it too, so no excuses, please. Wenger didn't try to claim it as an excuse, and neither should we.
* Ultimately, Dennis's criticisms of the club in the interview he recently gave with The Telegraph ring painfully true. We have too many similar players. We don't have a winning mentality at the club (and by winning, I mean actually winning trophies, not just winning the odd league game). Our manner of play is boring and predictable. We don't have enough players who can change a game and score a goal.
Frankly, I don't know when any of that is going to change. But tonight's performance, showed, yet again, that there's needs to be significant change at Arsenal this summer. Whether it's an overhaul in the playing or coaching staff, or changes at the boardroom, something needs to give. Because we are dangerously close, at present, to losing our position among Europe's elite clubs. That is why tonight may well be our worst night in Europe under Wenger.