February 19, 2012
I just don’t know where to begin this morning.
I really thought we would see a reaction from the team yesterday after the disaster that was Wednesday night. But if anything we put in an even worse performance.
We were terrible. Disorganised, shapeless, lacking in quality all over the pitch but most disturbing of all we were absolutely gutless. It was a shameful performance. In the position that we were in with our backs to the wall playing for our last chance for a trophy this season against a team we’d beaten the previous week we should have come out and given everything. We should have swept them aside.
In fairness it looked like we might do just that. We started really well. We were quick, the passing was crisp, we were making chances, Gervinho looked dangerous down the left. We showed that we can play a bit of football. Unfortunately we only showed it for ten minutes.
Coquelin’s hamstring injury was a gut punch. Mainly because it meant the unfortunate introduction of a man I didn’t think we’d ever see again in an Arsenal shirt. Sebastien Squillaci. My heart sank. As I’m sure did those of many Arsenal fans and apparently most of the players too. All of a sudden we looked terrified. And terrible. It can’t be easy reshuffling the pack after just ten minutes of a cup tie but let’s be realistic. Johan Djourou and Sebastien Squillaci are centre backs by trade. They weren’t playing out of position. No excuses there. This is their job. Their livelihood. And they’re paid extremely well to do it. But it was like they’d never played there before in their lives. They were all over the place.
Giving the ball away, failing to track runners, no sense of communication. At one stage a long hopeful ball was floated down the middle of the park towards an unmarked Squillaci who missed his header by a good three feet. It pains me to say it but that’s inept.
Questions need to be asked about why that man is still at the club. He’s clearly not trusted by the boss and his performance yesterday seemed to suggest that he’s got an attitude problem as a result of that. To be brought on in the tenth minute and substituted just after half time is embarrassing. The coach later claimed he was injured but the way he stomped off down the tunnel I’d wager there was more to it than that.
If there’s a problem I can understand that. He’s not fitted in well at the club and that can lead to resentments and further loss of form. These things happen. What I can’t understand is why we couldn’t trade him in in January. That’s pretty much what the transfer window is there for. He could have gone off and made a career for himself at another club, we could have signed Cahill or Samba or frankly any number of centre backs who would jump at the chance to play for a club like Arsenal and we could have had for a few million quid. Instead we kept him and handed Djourou a new contract. Baffling.
What was equally concerning about our performance at the back was how incapable the rest of the team were to regain their composure. I thought that wobble might last ten minutes or so. We never got back in the game. We were chasing shadows and we barely produced a chance to speak of in the entire match. You can point to the RVP penalty shout if you want, and Wenger unsurprisingly did in his post match presser, but that was a 50-50 at best and to start blaming refereeing decisions after a performance as poor as yesterday’s is missing the point by a country mile.
We’ve talked and talked about the quality of the squad and whoever’s to blame for that we know there’s nothing we can do until the end of the season at least. What’s more of a concern at the moment is the manager’s inability to get a performance out of the players he’s got. As I looked at Wenger standing motionless on the touchline yesterday I couldn’t shake the thought that there’s something we’re not being told. Something has gone behind the man’s eyes. He looked a deathly shade of grey. He couldn’t even muster the energy to rant and rave. I’m honestly worried for the man.
The post match press conference was agonising. A cold eyed stand off with the members of the press who used to gather in the hope of a razor sharp quip from this cultured Frenchman about sausages or caviar or how we all believe we have the best looking wife at home. But that Arsene Wenger is long gone. Yesterday he was quiet, sullen, refusing to be drawn. He trotted out some lines about how unlucky we were, how harsh the schedule has been, how ‘we gave everything’. Well come on now. You could see he barely even believed it himself. He just needed something to say so he could get out of there.
One reporter dared to ask if there would be questions over his job as there were following the 8-2 at Old Trafford. What was his position on that? ‘There is no position’ he replied and just stared the journalist down until the next question was asked.
The most telling exchange for me came when he was asked if he was surprised that there would be no trophies for the seventh year in a row:
The competition is very hard in England. I don’t want to speak too much about that. If you want we can speak a long time about that one day but we have to forget that and focus on our next game.
It’s not the first time this season that he’s suggested that there are things he’d love to talk about but is unable to do so at this time. Things that presumably he’ll only be able to share when he’s not manager of Arsenal Football Club. Either because they would compromise his ability to do his job effectively or because they would be critical of those that he works for. Either way, as I’ve said before there is something we’re not being told. For all the mistakes he has made, and there have been many, and regardless of the fact that at times his decision making and his tactics leave a lot to be desired, Arsene Wenger is not a man lacking in passion for football. And yet here he is unable to muster enough anger to so much as abuse a water bottle.
Roy Keane’s made headlines this morning for his scathing commentary on this Arsenal team who he described as the worst side he can remember us ever having. But then he also lambasted us because some of our players were wearing gloves which apparently ‘sends out the wrong message’. I’m not sure what message that sends out other than that it was cold out. But of course ‘real men don’t wear gloves’.
Clearly that’s the sort of wisdom that served Keane so well throughout his own illustrious career in management. It’s a timely reminder that no matter how bad things get, or how frustrated we may all be with Le Boss, things could always be a lot worse.
Well I have to hold on to some kind of solace this morning.