February 16, 2012
I actually didn’t think we played that badly.
Only joking. We were awful. Absolute toilet from start to finish. I sat there in a daze throughout so stunned was I by our complete inability to compete with the Italian side, not just technically but in terms of passion, desire, physicality, organisation – everything. We were second best in every challenge. I don’t think we won a fifty-fifty all night.
This team has been badly, embarrassingly exposed, and not for the first time this season. Milan are a decent side no doubt. But last night was not about us being taken apart by a European giant. This was not Barcelona. This was a decent side with some very good players who all looked absolutely amazed at what an easy night they were having.
You know it’s been a bad night when Arsene Wenger gives up the spin and the mental spirit chit chat and tells it like it is in his post match presser:
It is our worst night in Europe, we were punished and deservedly so. We were very poor offensively and defensively. We were beaten everywhere. There was not one moment in the 90 minutes we were really in the game. What made it worse is that we had to chase the game. It was always the same problem, balls over the top and we were well beaten.
Well…yeah. Maybe I don’t need to even do the blog this morning. AW’s kind of summed it all up. It was our worst night in Europe. The first time we’ve lost by more than three goals in European competition. We were very poor offensively and defensively. Up front we barely mustered a chance, only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming off the bench to show the rest of the side what guts looks like, picking up the ball, running at defenders and putting in teasing crosses. At the back the defence looked like exactly what they were. A back four that have never played together before. Vermaelen looked extremely rusty back in his favoured position. Organisation was atrocious. Communication non-existent.
But for all that it was in the midfield that we were most sorely lacking. Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Rosicky, Walcott. Who stood up last night? Who stuck their foot in when we needed it most? Who put their foot on the ball and calmed things down when we were getting overrun? Who got our game going by spraying some passes around or took the pressure off by running into the channels and providing an outlet? None of them. We were shapeless and spineless and completely lacking in guile.
Arsene was not even in the mood for taking the bulk of the blame:
I cannot say I got everything perfect when we lost 4-0 but I don’t believe we made big tactical mistakes. We did not have any other choices. I felt we were weak in some departments. I felt we could have some problems in some departments but I did not think we would not score.
The significance of an outburst like this shouldn’t be underestimated. This is a man after all who never blames his players. But he sounded last night like a man genuinely shocked and let down. Like a dawning realisation that some of this lot just aren’t good enough. One of his greatest strengths as a coach is his belief in players that others would sooner write off. But it can also be one of his biggest weaknesses. Last night you got the sense that he’d finally had enough. And that could have consequences.
For me there were two big moments that summed up the state that this squad is in at the moment.
The first was a shot by Tomas Rosicky late in the second half. Unmarked outside the penalty area the ball fell kindly for him and he wound up for a big one. He sliced it and the ball went out for a throw in. Now I don’t really want to pick out specific players on a night when the whole team performed so badly but I wasn’t even the least bit surprised to see that shot go for a throw. I think that seemed as likely an outcome for me as it nestling in the corner of the net. Rosicky’s scored one goal in the past two seasons. He can’t shoot. Sure he’s done well enough in patches when he’s come on as substitute this year but the very fact that he’s being hailed as one of this season’s success stories says it all about the current squad. Can we honestly not find any better quality that that?
The second big moment was the introduction of Johan Djourou for Laurent Koscielny. Again I don’t mean to pick out individual players but who was honestly surprised to see him turned inside and then out again? Djourou had a decent start to last season but for the last twelve months he’s been abject. Yes he’s been playing out of position for a while but before that he was playing in his favoured position and he was still abject. I’m not blaming the player especially. I’m sure he’s been trying and all players suffer from the odd poor run of form. But Arsenal’s reaction to this poor run of form was last week to offer him a new three year contract. And what message does that send out? That we reward mediocrity. That not quite good enough will do just fine thank you. We only have to make it to fourth place after all.
Well last night we proved that not quite good enough is just that.
But we can’t dwell on it. There’s nothing we can do about the squad until the end of the season and thankfully we’ve got an FA Cup game on Saturday so we need to regroup and come out fighting. I’d like to suggest that the players who failed to perform last night be dropped to the bench and someone else be given a chance. But the bench just isn’t big enough and there’s no one left to bring in.
What I would like to see is Oxlade-Chamberlain back in the starting line up and Francis Coquelin being given his chance in central midfield. Both players with youth, fight and lots of talent and I think that’s the sort of thing we need right now. Last year at around this time our whole season went down the pan in a two week period. And that was when we had the likes of Cesc, Nasri and Wilshere in the side.
If we want to avoid a similar fate this year I think we should look to the future.
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