Sunday, March 03, 2013

Time for Some New Ideas: Thoughts on Arsenal 1 Sp*rs 2

Another week, another defeat. Thoughts as follows:

* The line-up was probably as good as it was going to get, given our current squad. Personally, I would have started Podolski instead of Giroud, and Koscielny instead of Vermaelen, but more on that on a bit. The amount of poor players in the squad has reached such a point that it's actually quite hard to rotate the team. Gervinho may, be the best player in Africa, according to Arsene, but he can't even get off the bench at the moment. Oxlade-Chamberlain's form is in the toilet. Who else is there to choose?

* We started well, for a change, but weren't able to turn our dominance into goals. This isn't a surprise, given that we have a painfully average striker as, seemingly, our first choice forward. Giroud did practically nothing all game. He's incapable of dropping deep to help make things happen, and he can't capitalize on the kinds of half-chances that RvP used to thrive on. There was a moment before Spurs scored where he was fed the ball in a promising position, and preceded to miskick it, and lose the opportunity. It summed up not only his game today, but possibly his entire season. Also, given that he's a pretty big bloke, he has a bizarre reluctance to get in the area, and try and win headers. I've seen enough of him this season to know that he's not going to turn into a world class striker we need, and that we can't rely on him to win us games. I feel like I say this every week, but replacing RvP with Giroud sums up our entire season - when excellence replaces mediocrity, standards slip, and games are lost.

* So, naturally, despite dominating the early phases of the match, we spectacularly self-destructed. When a suicidally high-line is mixed with a complete lethargy towards tracking runners, goals follow. Frankly, watching Vermaelen stand there, nonplussed for both goals confirms the lunacy of making him captain, and thus an automatic starter. He is, simply put, not a very good defender. Koscielny deserves a run in the team. Also, Szczesny hardly covered himself in glory, once again, by neither coming for the ball nor standing on his line for the first goal. Standing in no-mans land, Bale was able to easily prod the ball past him. Another error for the Pole in a season littered with them - but hey, we can't kill his progress and buy an experienced pair of hands. That's cheating!

* At half-time, the game felt like it was lost. I know we've had a lot of great recent comebacks against Spurs, but this did not feel like one of them. For the 5-2 last season, we had the likes of Sagna and van Persie in the mix to create huge moments that swung the game back in our favour. We also had the advantage of facing a Redknapp-managed side - an individual with even less tactical nous than Wenger.

* So, I was a little surprised when we scored almost immediately after the interval. A nice freekick from Theo was flicked into the net by Mertesacker, with assistance from Bale. At this point I half expected the commentator to start sobbing, as the whole things had been portrayed as the Gareth Bale show up to that point. He's obviously a great talent, but the idea that the entirety of Spurs' recent good form is down to him is simply not true. Their midfield and defence was very well organized today, and AVB even dropped his defensive line in the second-half that ultimately helped to keep us contained. All joking about Spurs' history (or lack thereof) aside, this is a good Spurs team, who could be even better if they had managed to pick up a striker in January (sound familiar?). As it stands, I see no evidence that they are on the verge of the typical Spurs end-of-season implosion, and I fully predict them to finish above us come May. They may not have won the league for fifty years, but they look like a club going in the right direction at the moment, which is more than can be said for the current shambles going on in our part of London.

* I suppose you could say we dominated the rest of the match, but what did we really produce? Two shots on target in the entire game is not good enough. Ramsey should have scored when put through, but Spurs also had very good chances to go three ahead. Even when six minutes was held up by the fourth official, there was no real scramble in the box, or last-ditch defending by Spurs. Other than our goal, our set-piece delivery was again abysmal, and Lloris and his defence was able to deal with most of it with relative ease.

* Another game, then, where we self-destructed and largely handed the victory to our opponents. And at some point the question has to be asked: who is more to blame? The players or the manager? If we consistently make the same types of ludicrous defensive mistakes, surely this is a case of the players not being drilled properly on the training ground, or playing in a system that allows opponents to regularly open up our defence. Even at our best under Wenger, he's always built teams that leak goals. The problem is these leaks have become more and more frequent in recent years, and, bereft of a world-class striker, we are no longer able to overcome goalscoring deficits.

Watching Spurs today I was struck by how astutely they have acted in the last twelve months. They got rid of manager in Redknapp who was ultimately lacking in the requisite tactical ideas to make them into a top side, and took a gamble on a young manger with new ideas about the game. This appears to have played off. In addition, they recruited a host of good players for very reasonable prices - Lloris, Vertonghen, and Dembele. All three of those players should have been bought by Arsenal. We weren't priced out of buying these players - we simply made poor decisions. We failed to do the necessary business in two transfer windows, and now we staring at the very real possibility of failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in a decade.

As Amy Lawrence put it, there is a weariness to this Arsenal side. Not necessarily in their energy levels, but in terms of their whole approach to the game. A tired, outdated approach to the transfer market, combined with tired, tactical inflexibility has led to this point. There's no sign that our downward slide will be arrested unless a big change is made - a takeover, a new manager, or a real clearout of the squad. Who knows if any of those things will happen - but we all know Wenger has a job for as long as he wants it, and as long as he does, it's hard to see us really challenging for honours again. It's time for change of ideas, and if Wenger isn't capable of that, we need to find someone else to take the club forward.