As is customary for me now with midweek games, I turned off all contact with the Arsenal world on Tuesday afternoon, and waited until I got home to watch the game “as live.” Since moving to America I’ve discovered that while getting up early on the weekends to watch games is a pain, missing matches, or having to watch them on delay, because they’re played midweek while I’m at work is even worse. It’s a major reason why I think some form of European competition will start to be played on weekends sooner rather than later. Anyway, I digress.
I accidentally loaded Facebook at about half-time while the game was playing, and was surprised to see no updates about the match. This meant that Arsenal hadn’t scored, or that we were behind, as Arsenal’s Facebook page apparently refuses to allow for the existence of opposition goals. When I sat down to watch the game, I thus had an inkling that we may have started it poorly.
As the game started, I tried to explain to Mrs Goonerboy the rules of the League Cup, and that Arsenal were almost certain to win because we were playing a team in the fourth division. She nodded, and then looked on in bafflement as Arsenal conceded, and played out the remainder of the first-half in some sort of deranged, half-baked manner.
I don’t have the energy to replay every moment of the game, so here are just a few of my thoughts on the game:
· * Gervinho. When Gervinho signed, I felt much better about losing Nasri. The ridiculous fee that we received for Nasri from Manchester City has led to an inflation of his actual worth as a player – I maintain we got about six months of good performances out of him over three years. Gervinho, I hoped, would provide a more consistent goal threat. Instead, he’s been rubbish. A few instinctive goals aside, he just doesn’t look good enough to play at the highest level. This had been, I hate to say, my opinion of him when I had watched him play for the Ivory Coast in the 2010 World Cup. He runs down blind alleys. He almost constantly chooses the wrong option. He not only misses the target with headers, he usually puts the ball out for a throw. His shooting, when not instinctive, is almost comically wayward. Maybe he has a future as a squad player, but as a member of the staring XI – please, be gone.
* * Podolski. I mentioned this on Twitter the day after the game, but it’s well worth re-reading Goonerboy correspondent Bobby’s scouting report on Podolski, as he basically nailed him. Bobby said that if we played Poldi on the left: "his mobility, fitness, and defensive abilities will be open to question." Check. Bobby also said Poldi was like RvP except "only heavier, less destructive, who moans more, and who is slower." Again, hard to disagree. Gervinho, for all his many faults, is a trier. He never hides. Part of the reason we think he’s so poor is that he’s constantly on, or showing for the ball. I have a degree of respect for Gervinho because, in a tough season, he’s never gone missing, regardless of his ability. Podolsksi? Almost the opposite. He clearly thought this match was below him. And he has been, if we’re being charitable, “inconsistent” since his arrival at the club. His inability to finish 90 minutes has become a joke and it’s only December. Poldi needs to start pulling his weight because he’s beginning to annoy me.
· * Szczesny. He has a winner’s mentality, but does he have a winner’s ability? If Almunia had collapsed into the net in the fashion that Szcz did for the Bradford opener, there would be pitchforks and torches outside his house the next day. Yes, Szcz made a few stops in the shoot-out, but I continue to believe that he has fundamental problems with his positioning, hence why he fails to save so many shots from outside the box, with players taking advantage of the fact he is in the wrong place. I would put a goalkeeper fairly high on our list of transfer priorities, because, at the least, we need someone better than Mannone and Fabianski to challenge Szcz.
I could probably go on for some time listing individual player faults, such as Vermaelen’s periodic inability to defend, or Cazorla’s failure to hit the target with about 90 percent of his shots. But the defeat at Bradford really came down to higher issues – the management, both in terms of the team and the club as a whole.
I said this on Twitter immediately after the game, and I stick by it – almost any other manager in the Premier League would have been sacked if he were in Arsene’s position. I desperately don’t want Arsene’s time at the club to finish on a sour note, because he is a demi-god. But, it’s hard to escape the feeling that, leaving all other things aside, another manager might be able to get better performances out of the current squad than Arsene can at present. And, it’s also hard to escape the feeling, that the majority of signings that Arsene has made since about 2008 have been poor. As 7AM Kickoff asked on Twitter, can you really name any signing that Arsene has made in the last five years that has been an unqualified success? I can’t. Arteta, maybe? Nasri, maybe? The majority seem to have some form of fatal flaw – Koscielny’s own goals, Cazorla’s shooting, Arshavin’s laziness, and that’s before we even get on to the Deadwood Saloon of Squillaci, Park, Chamakh, and former patrons such as Silvestre. In short, even if money is available, should Arsene be the one to spend it? It’s a legitimate question.
What is becoming increasingly apparent, is that the board are pushing a line that money is there to spend, and that Arsene is unwilling to spend it. During the Q&A with Gazidis and other management figures, this line was firmly put out by the club – Arsene doesn’t want to spend. The AST has predictably lapped this up, rushing to make some very strongly worded comments about Arsene in the press yesterday. I fear this is the beginning of an extremely messy stand-off between Arsene and the board, and if Arsene decides to take the gloves off and fight back, an extremely difficult period in the club’s history could be approaching.
But it isn’t all Arsene’s fault. Not even close. During the Q&A, Gazidis said that Stan was “obviously […] not happy with the way the team is performing” (quote, possibly paraphrased, via Darrenarsenal1). Why is it obvious that Stan is unhappy with the way the team is performing? We are still well on course to challenge for fourth, thus keeping our place in the Champions League, and keeping the value of Stan’s shares ticking ever upwards. That is his only motivation for owning the club, as far as I can tell. Stan has said virtually nothing to supporters. He has attended fewer home games than Park Chu-Young. There is nothing obvious at all about how Stan is feeling because Arsenal fans have virtually no knowledge about what this man wants from Arsenal football club. We are a ship with a silent captain, with no idea where we’re going.
For a competition that supposedly our lowest priority, the League Cup has been fairly devastating to the club in recent years. In 2007, Arsene perhaps submitted to his greatest moment of hubris by putting out a side of kids and reserves in the League Cup final against Chelsea. In 2008, we suffered a morale sapping 5-1 defeat at the hands of Spurs, just before that promising season began to unravel. And, of course, most of our current problems can be traced back to that fatal moment of miscommunication between Szcz and Koz in Wembley in 2011. The quality of the squad has diminished at an incredible rate since that day, and we’ve never really recovered as a club.
So, where from Bradford? Who knows. But it’s clear that Arsene’s actions during January are now not just pivotal to the club’s future, but also to his own. Or, at least they should be. But it’s also clear that Stan needs to drop the “silent” façade, and make clear that he actually gives a damn about this club before we spiral further downwards.