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.


Anonymous said...

Its only arsenal fans that think vermalen is world class! I'd like to ask what this is based on?! Because he scored a few goals?! Because he plays for arsenal your team?! In his position he is an average defender with an eye for goal! That's all. He aint world class - what a deluded bunch of arsenal fans you are!! You lot do make me laugh. Arsenal have one decent player who could be considered world class and that's RVP!

Anonymous said...

anon 0.03 which team do you support mate?

Anonymous said...

+1 for Mertesacker ref. I think without him the entrie defence was like a headless chicken. He may be as big as a house(and slow) but he brings order to the back four. As for Djourou, I would rather see Song and Coqueline in defence than him on ANY day.
The bigger problem is that with Kos and Per out, the defence will be in shambles and get exposed by Spurs, Liverpool and Newcastle and this will certainly dump us lower in the Prem. Maybe Arsenal need to let go of fad of finishing fourth, regroup and begin next season anew without some of the existing players

galboy_ledge said...

At no point in your article do you mention the man at the base of all of this.
Arsene was wonderful for 8 years for us. Adding an attractive, attacking style to an already imperious defence, he brought in powerful, dynamic players that fit his style.
Then for some unknown reason, he changed tack. Tiny, tricky players, replaced the experienced powerhouses. Time and again, fans were left wondering why we did not buy the 1 or 2 players we could all see would bring us back into contention for trophies.
Now we are left with a shambles. Mediocrity is over rewarded. Excellence is ( relatively, for this day and age), under rewarded, leading average to stay, and world class players to leave.
Promising players see us as a stepping stone to greater things, and only one man has caused this. Arsene Wenger.
Before anyone takes up the AKB's favourite cry of "it's the board", tell me this. If AW came out, and stated clearly that there were no funds available, what would happen?
The board are not strong enough to sack him, the fans would at least stop dreaming of Gotze, Hazard and Vertonghen, and we could stop deluding ourselves that we are a big club at the moment. Because he does not stand with us, he is complicity, and needs to be held accountable.

Anonymous said...

I still remain at a loss as to why there is so much hype around Song; he is an appalling defender who thiks he is an attacking midfieder and who is nowhere near good enough to fill that role. His passing, tackling and positional play are just awful; coupled with the fact that last night he was seen jogging back to cover the defense on at least 5 occassions by my count.

Then we come to Arteta - surely the best player in English football when his team are in the ascendant but is nowhere to be seen when the going gets tough - a luxury we just cannot afford.

The comments about Walcott are so obvious it makes me wonder if Wenger is watching a different player

As much as it will be painful some 14 players need to be moved on in the summer and Wenger should be told by the board he is not commentating on the Euros for Frenchtv

Time for Park (what did we buy him for?) Chamakh, Bendtner and Vela to go up front. Walcott, Rosicky, Song, Arshavin, Benayoun and Denilson need to be sold from the midfield squad - Ramsey and Arteta get one more year. Djourou, Gibbs Almunia and Mannone all need to go as well.

Build around RvP (if he stays) AOC and Gervinho up front maybe make Mertesacker and Koscielny our defensive pairig with Vermaelen in defensive midfield Santos and Sagna

Diaby gets another year so do Miguel and Bartley. Miyachi needs to come back too

Anonymous said...

our squad 2011- 2012:

almunia- out
djourou- out (3m)
squillachi- out
diaby- out (4-5m)
arsahvin- out (6-7m)
rosicky- out (3m)
ramsay- loan
park- out (2m)
chamak- out (6-7m)
walcott- out (15m)
bartley- loan
frimpong- loan
lansbury- loan
campbell- loan
vito- out (1m)
mayachi- loan
nikki b- out (6-7m)
denielson- out (2m)


17 players:
strikers: 11+ 1
mids:1111+ 2
wingers:11+ 2
wing backs:1111
def:111+ 2
gk: 2

neymar- 40m (Chamak+ nikki b)
hazard- 30m (walcott+ rosicky)
hoilet- free (denielson)
mvilla- 20m (diaby+ vito)
moltalivo- free (arshavin+ park)
bartley- free
samba- 10m (djouru+ squillachi)
plus we have almunias wages to rener RVP contract.

sagna samba vremy santos
wilsahre(h) mvilla
gerviniho RVP/Neymar hazard

442 we will be next to unbetable.
sagna mert kozzer santos
AOC(h) mavilla moltalivo hazard
RVP neymar

arteta, hoilet(h), gibbs(h), jenkinson(h), bartley(h), vela, song(h), flappy, coquelin. these are our bench and FA cup squad.

and our 8 home grown players will be:

Andy Blair said...

I agree with your analysis of the players. I despair over the performances of Rosicky and Walcott, there is no end product with either player. However, the main problem is with Wenger. He has always been lacking tactically. He never alters the team's style of play to suit the opposition. Our full backs always play too high up the pitch which results in our center backs being pulled across the pitch leaving huge gaps. United exploited the weakness in CL Semi Final, Barca did it two years in a row and even Swansea spotted it recently.
The squad is decent and I think other managers could do a better job with the players we have. Look how O'Neill turned Sunderland's fortunes around with good man management of players none of whom would make the Arsenal first 11.Ferguson and Mourinho have had so much success because they are tactically very astute unlike Wenger unfortunately.
It has been a season of worsts. Worst start for 58 years, 3 games lost on the trot, worst defeat 2-8 since the dark ages, probably the worst exodus of quality players, worst CL defeat. Wenger's project over the last 7 years has failed. Time to give someone else an opportunity.
Finally - if it wasn't for the fortunate set up that allows 4 English teams to qualify for a "Champions" tournament, Arsene would have lost his job a long time ago.

Anonymous said...

Actually it is not all doom and gloom. These people are not world class but they are certainly not third class (except Djourou and Walcott) as they were made out to be yesterday. Same for Milan who may be a very good team but are not the best. It was one of those nights when the WHOLE team failed to click as a unit as well as individually.
The only way forward for them is to pick themselves up and dust themselves for the next meeting. The team (no matter how well or how bad it performs) needs the support of its fans.
Paens were sung last year when we defeated Barca at this stage at Emirates (turns out we were the only ones who could defeat them during the entrire CL last year). This year we are at the other end. Lets hope the boys don't lose their confidence and can take on Sunderland on Saturday.