Saturday, December 01, 2012

Black Scarfs and a Dire Performance: 9 Thoughts on Arsenal 0 Swansea 2

A historic defeat, or the new normal? Thoughts as follows:

* Whether we had won or lost, this match would have generated headlines of "Arsenal in crisis", owing to the Black Scarf march (or "walk", or whatever) that preceded it. Judging from photos, a fairly sizable amount of people joined the Black Scarf leadership as they walked to the ground, and it's clear that their views can no longer be ascribed to a lunatic fringe. I may write about them in more length as and when they grow further in size, but I have to say that I agree with a large number of their aims. Ticket prices should be cheaper, whether we are winning or losing, and there should be a wider variety of options available to supporters to help them pay for their season tickets. And Kroenke should be made to make a firm commitment that he will not take money from the club. Some of their other aims are ill-conceived, however. If they are opposed to greed in football, why are they so keen to get another billionaire on board, especially one who has a somewhat less than transparent past, shall we say. And while I understand the notion of a "season ticket lite", whereby season ticket holders wouldn't be forced to pay for tickets for cup games, could we then blame the team for not taking these games as seriously as those in the league, if the supporters themselves openly claim them to be a lower priority? To sum up, I see the Black Scarf movement exists because of legitimate grievances, but they need to think through some of their stated aims a little more clearly before I can give them my full backing.

* It was pretty obvious from early on in this game that we were going to struggle to win. I tweeted at half-time that Swansea had almost completely outplayed us in the first-half, and that we would need to substantially up our game in the second if we were going to come away with a victory. Angel Rangel and Nathan Dyer both had golden opportunities to put the Swans ahead, owing to defensive mistakes on our part, and only a decent double-save and a last ditch block from Vermaelen saved us from going in behind at the half.

* Indeed, Szczesny had an excellent game in goals - perhaps helped by not having to save shots taken from outside the area - and was the only reason we weren't trailing at the break. While I am still unsure about Szcz, on days like this it's hard to argue against his potential to become a really top keeper. 

* We upped our game a little bit in the second half but not enough. Swansea weathered a period of pressure from us, and then promptly turned the screw again. Whether Arsene had blasted the team or not at half-time, it was disappointing that we only really looked like the better team for a perhaps 10-15 minute period of the entire game.

* As the game sloped towards its conclusion, I thought that the game did not "feel" like a 0-0. It was a far cry from the dull, uninspired fare that had been served up at Villa Park last Saturday, and, if anything, we were the team who were luckier not to be behind. 

*So, of course, Swansea scored almost immediately. Michu - who is surely the signing of the season, given his immediate impact and price - took advantage of the total chaos in our defence caused by a reasonably straightforward through-ball, took his time, and expertly put the ball in the net. Watching the replay of the goal is cringe-inducing. Vermaelen and Mertesacker appear to be playing for different teams, such was the total lack of coordination between the two over whether the line was stepping up or not. Tim at 7am Kickoff remarked that our high-line is now becoming a major defensive liability, and it's hard to argue otherwise, especially if we're not even going to get the offensive benefits that such a tactical deployment should bring. Until we can regain some defensive solidity, perhaps it's better to sit a little deeper, and prevent the chaos that seems to occur every time we try and play the offside trap (oh for a new Tony Adams...).

* The second goal said a lot about the problems we currently have. Jenkinson couldn't find a forward pass, and so was harried backwards, where he was dispossessed, allowing Michu to easily finish. Only one Arsenal player bothered to try and make it back and stop him, Rosicky. I.e., problems arise when you throw a still inexperienced, young defender into the Premier League, and when the rest of your team is so knackered from over-playing that they don't even attempt to track back. 

* Speaking of the final point, the extent to which Arteta and Cazorla are not being overplayed is now verging on the ridiculous, and this was a problem that could be foreseen back in August. Whatever quality our first xi has is being frittered away by a lack of options in the squad. Aside from his demolition of 10 man spurs, cazorla has recently looked like a shadow of the player who lit up the league in August and September.

* At the final whistle, there was a huge amount of booing, coming just seven days after Wenger was subjected to "you don't know what you're doing" chants at Villa Park. 

This is all terribly sad, but Wenger's future as manager is now a question that is legitimately up for discussion. We are enduring our worst start to a season for almost twenty years, and you have to wonder, leaving everything else aside, whether a different manager could get more out of this set of players than Arsene. Our tactics seems stale, and trying to pigeonhole players into a 4-3-3 that doesn't seem to benefit very many of them is increasingly maddening. 

Moreover, there is the issue of the January transfer window. Even if we assume that we have the proverbial "warchest" of funds to spend (why always the military metaphors?) should wenger be the one to spend it? At the moment, his success rate with transfers is hardly dazzling - do we want another 20-30m wasted on the likes of Chamakh, Park, Santos, Squillaci, Gervinho, etc.? And if the money isn't there, for one reason or another, now is surely the moment for Wenger to go public, and stop fronting for a board that don't deserve him.

All I will say is that things are probably going to get worse before they get better. How we're possibly going to cope with the density of games that we're going to face over the Christmas period is truly worrying. We may be relying on the January transfer window to save our season, but how much damage could be done before then? All in all, worrying times. 


Anonymous said...

The idea of a season ticket lite has nothing to do with supporters perceived lack of importance of the cup competitions.

The reasons are 2 fold
1) most cup games are week nights, Arsenal are a big club with supporters with STs all over the country. Some supporters can't or struggle to make the week games due to for example work commitments.

2) Arsenal ST's are expensive. The majority of people are skint. We are forced to buy 7 cup games. You could feasibly save £35-70 per game depending on the price of the ST which in these tough times is alot of money.

Anonymous said...

If we lose to Bradford I seriously think Wenger would have to go. Love the man, but theres no star players there, no commitment to the team. All very sad.

Anonymous said...

There is a self-fulfilling prophecy risk here.

Fans are too easily swayed in both positive and negative directions. We could very easily have won some recent games (including Swansea) but we have not had the rub of the green. This is partly due to the galloping lack of confidence that courses through the team and results in chronic indecision. Players have visibly lost that 'I Am Better Than You' spirit that takes them past a man or lets them see that pass or fire that shot.

This leads to a loudening frustration from the home crowd that makes that indecision and lack of confidence grow. Even our cock-sure players - AO-C, JW, SC, LP, MA - are now visibly shrinking.

I am unashamedly pro-Wenger and I have a sneaky feeling that what might be considered as our worst team in years will produce a first trophy i yonks (albeit the CapOne Cup), a decent Champions League run and a 4th place finish.

We just need our confidence back. And that's all of us.