Sunday, November 11, 2012

Four more Years? 11 Thoughts on Arsenal 3 Fulham 3

So, there was no post after the Schalke game on Tuesday because I flipped straight from watching the game to the results of the US election as they started to come in. Thankfully, my newly adopted country decided to not elect a sociopath - but more on that in a bit. Thoughts on Fulham as follows:

* As in Germany, we started well, racing into a two goal lead. The first was a brilliant bullet header from Giroud, from an equally great corner from Theo. Podolski then managed to get himself into the right place at the right time to put us two up. It was an important goal for him, and only his second in the league this season.Things seemed good, right?

* Well actually, no. Seeing us go two goals up with such apparent ease was bizarre  and felt undeserved. But, in the immortal words of Mr Eastwood, "deserve ain't got nothing to do with it" - if we'd somehow eaked out a two goal win, I doubt anyone would have cared. But when Fulham pulled one, then two goals back, it didn't feel like an epic collapse. It just felt, well, normal. Painfully normal. That it would have been a bigger surprise to see us protect a two goal lead at home, rather than collapse in such a manner, is incredibly dispiriting, and a profound indictment of where the club is at the moment.

* The Fulham goals themselves show what a shambles our defence currently is. Surprise, surprise, dropping Santos has not led to use suddenly tightening up at the back - with TV at left-back, we've conceded five goals in the last two games. The corner was, AGAIN, an occasion on which a player had, basically, a free header in the six-yard box. The second goal saw Berbatov tear Podolski and Vermaelen apart, before somebody headed home, again, under virtually no pressure inside our box. Personally, I think Mannone should keep the second out, and you could make an argument that he could have dominated his area for the first goal. But our defensive problems are now systemic - I truly believe that they are down to coaching, and tactical philosophy at this point, and even if we picked up Lev Yashin on a free transfer tomorrow, he'd struggle behind our back line.

* Having conceded two, it always felt like we had the capacity to concede a third, and so it proved. Arteta produced a crazy tackle in the area, and Berbatov swept home the penalty so cooly that I'm surprised he didn't spark-up a cigar during his run-up. It seemed like we had, yet again, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Against Fulham. At home.

* I tweeted at this point that it seemed like the current side had no team spirit, and I stand by that point despite what happened next. Giroud and Podolski both seem to spend most of their time on the pitch throwing anguished shapes in the penalty area each time they don't get the ball. Now, if you're Henry, or even van Persie, you can do this. After a couple of months at The Arsenal, you can't. And even if we did score a third, a team with a real fighting spirit doesn't concede three goals after going two goals up. If you think that statement is unfair, you have incredibly low expectations for one of the biggest clubs in world football.

* Giroud dragged us back into the game with another header, after he had failed to finish with his initial chance. Fair play to him, he was a handful all match, even if I could do without the dramatic moments of anguish. It was also hard to know what to make of his celebration. If I scored for Arsenal, even if we were 10-0 down, I'd probably run fifty victory laps until I was hauled off the field. But when Giroud got our third, it should have been the classic scooping the ball out of the net, and sprinting back to the centre-circle routine. Again, this is Fulham at home.

* As others have said, it's hard to concede to Theo's demands for a central striker position when he's so good on the flanks. I've never been a huge Theo fan, but I feel he's done enough to earn a new contract at this stage, especially because I don't trust the club to replace him with anyone approaching a comparable level of ability. It has also struck me this season that Theo could be on the verge on gaining the consistency that he's struggled to find for so long. Maybe a stint on the bench has done him good.

* Without wanting to be harsh, a quick word on Chamberlain. Can anyone remember the last time he played well? It's been a while.

* People complain about rubbish referees, but rubbish referees have frequently benefited us in the past. The penalty we were awarded at the end was a total joke, and Fulham probably didn't deserve to lose, but who cares? Big teams win games they don't deserve to win. Yet, there was almost instantly a bad vibe about the whole affair. No one wanted to take it about from Santi, and then Arteta snatched it from his hands. He had a good record from the spot for Everton, so fair enough. But this really felt like we were stealing something we didn't deserve, and Arteta's fairly meek penalty was saved by Schwarzer. It didn't really feel like a calamity - just another moment of farce.

* In the end, a draw was the right result, and I wouldn't have argued against a Fulham win. They were excellent, and in Ruiz and Berbatov they have two brilliant attacking players. One might wonder why we weren't in for Berbatov over the summer, but, then again, I suppose this would "kill" Chamakh's career. When you see players like him play so well, who were signed so cheaply, it's hard to argue that the club has got a full handle on our transfer policy.

We, on the other hand, produced another clown car performance. Yes, there were thrills and spills and goals, but it was all a bit embarrassing. I play in defence (badly), and was brought up under the George Graham regime, where defence was considered an important part of the game. It genuinely seems an afterthought for us on days like this, and against Schalke. Seeing a bang average goalkeeper behind a ropy defence just doesn't seem like something a top club should have to put up with - at least not year, after year, after year. Does anyone still think we can win the title?

* And so, back to the beginning of my post, where I talked about the American elections. After FDR was elected to the presidency an unprecedented four times during the 1930s and 1940s, a constitutional amendment was passed in 1947 that stated that a person could only serve as president for a maximum of two terms. There have been a number of presidents since then who could have served for more than two terms - Reagan, Clinton, maybe even Eisenhower. But the US decided it was unhealthy for any person, no matter how popular they were, to hold the office of president for more than eight years.

Sometimes, this seems unfair. If a person is good in a job, why remove them? If it wasn't for this amendment, we might not have the total disaster that was the administration led by George W. Bush. But, generally, I like it. It recognizes the fact that change is a necessary part of life. More specifically, it recognizes that it can be unhealthy for any one person in a position of power to hold an office for too long.

My point is this - it is now abundantly clear that we need change at Arsenal. I don't know the exact nature of the change required, but we can't go on like this. The same mistakes happen week after week, but, if anything, they seem to have gotten worse over the last year or so. We seem stuck, caught in an endless loop of bad, predictable tactics, and inadequate replacements for top players. Where the fault lies for this, I don't know. Having an absentee owner doesn't help, nor does the fact that we have an enormously well-paid CEO who seems incredibly naive about the world of football finance. But some of the blame now has to rest at Arsene's door. Could someone do a better job than him? I would now say "probably" rather than "possibly". And, most pertinently, does Arsene deserve a new deal? Should he sign on for "four more years", as it were. Again, I'm not sure. All I am sure about is that new ideas and new people are needed at Arsenal football club - and, for the first time, I have to say not just on the field, but off it as well.



sube said...

It is not about individual on and off the field in my opinion. It is the system as a whole. Our system is based on attacking(or so they say) and right now we are absolutely neglecting defensive priorities. We must be capable enough to keep clean sheets.Any team in the world right now is capable of scoring against Arsenal.This gives confidence to opponents that they can get a result against Arsenal.The results....are clear to be seen by all.

Anonymous said...

* Had Steve Bould not been a fans favourite, but was known merely as an ex-central defender turned coach, questions about his competence would have grown very loud by now.

* AO-C. Yes I agree, I cannot remember him having a really decent match for us. Rose-tinted specs maybe, too early to judge maybe, needs games maybe. But not yet the star we think he is.

* I am still supporting AW, and I 100% believe he will see out his contract (ends 2014 I think) but I can see a gathering of dissenters growing daily.