Arsene Wenger and pragmatism

Arsene Wenger and pragmatism. There you go, one of the very few times you’ll ever see it in the same sentence. Cast your minds back to 2005 & the FA Cup Final in Cardiff. What do you remember?

Thierry was injured, so we played Dennis up front as a lone striker; it’s actually quite funny when you think of it. We went 4-5-1 and stunk the place out. Utd battered us, but poor finishing, resolute defending, luck and good keeping saw us nick the cup when 4 came up as the last number in the penalty lotto.

Did we celebrate? Of course we did, we ended a 12 month trophy drought and beat our deadliest rivals. Very soon after though, you realised it was a smash & grab victory. We more or less played Liverpool off the park in 01, only for little Billy Elliot to ruin it at the end. That must have been how Utd felt that day.

Compare it to 03. A remarkably boring final against a team we should easily beat, eventually won by Super Rob. 2002? Huge pressure game for us, challenging for the double & played before the end of the season (how fucked up is that!). A very tight game, decided by 2 pieces of individual brilliance; who could forget “It’s only Ray Parlour”, Freddie leaving JT on his arse and Dixon celebrating behind the goal before the ball had even crossed the line. 1998 was pretty easy really. I remember Tony Adams saying that he wished NUFC had at least pulled 1 back to make it interesting. Not sure I can concur with TA6 on that but I can see where he’s coming from.

Finals can be boring, rarely do you get a 79 or 14 and even 93 was a turgid affair only saved by Andy Linghan’s broken nose breaking Sheffield hearts. The result means so much more than the performance, so I guess it’s hardly surprising that 2005 seems to be the only sighting of the Lesser Spotted Alsace Pragmatist.

So, last night and the capitulation of a 3-0 lead in 30 minutes to those giants of European football Anderlecht. Shit weather seemed to mean a low attendance. I had a spare I tried to get rid of all day for just £35, but no takers. Atmosphere in the ground was pretty quiet as we settled in to watch us ease into normal home game format with lots of possession and passing. Early on they looked threatening on the break, better passing or decision making could have seen them nick a lead. As it was, a very clumsy looking challenge gifted us a pen and so it was 1-0. Alexis took a shite free kick, hitting the wall point blank, however the ball spun up nicely and he leathered it through the now broken wall and past the keeper, 2-0.

I had spotted that Arteta had been stretching his hamstring for quite a while in the 2nd half. So does he tell the bench early, so Flamini can get warmed up? Seemingly not as by this point I think we already had Theo, Podolski & Tomas warming up. Great goal by Ox for 3-0 and it was cruise control now. Unfortunately this seemed to be the point where Arteta could not go on, yet still no Matty Flame warm up. Does our captain do the smart thing to break up the game and go down to receive treatment, allowing MF to have a little jog and then come on as he limps off the pitch? No, he hobbles around for a few more minutes, basically putting us down to 10 men and Anderlecht pull one back. Eventually he drags his sorry arse off the pitch. Where is the professionalism? Or did he think at 3-0 it was no bother. You wouldn’t get that in Sunday League.

Offside goal? Definitely. Shit happens, a lot to us it seems, but how did they get in the position to play the ball across is the question. Dubious penalty? Haven’t seen it other than live, looked clumsy, but again, why is our CB wrong side of his man. The 3rd goal, well Podolski, on for Welbeck or ‘God knows why’ depending on how you view our little SM darling, gave their player time & space to look for options. Having got out a protractor, sextant, wind sock etc, the guy whipped in a peach of a cross and their sub gets across Per (again) to glance a diving header in. 3-3.

My how we laughed.

We’ll still qualify in 2nd place, mainly because I can’t see Anderlecht winning in Dortmund last game, although that could depend on how many players Klopp rests given their poor league form and guaranteed top spot already. So we’ll get another 2 games at least in a competition we cannot currently hope to win. Why do we put so much store in being in it then? Well, 14 million to 1 are the odds of me winning the lottery & yet I still buy a ticket each week. Of course the real reason is that we cannot afford and yes I literally mean this, not to be in it.

I caught Merson’s rant. Here is an ex pro, ex Arsenal, not dressing it up as anything other than poor play & tactics. To the delight of many, they can try to belittle what he says by accusing him of being ineloquent, even seen some Gooners sink so low as to mention other factors in his struggle to sometimes put his passion into words. Well shame on them. Bet they weren’t digging him out when he was MOTM in 93 LCF or when he more or less won us the league with the goal at Anfield in 91. He is right with what he said. We are clueless. There is no leadership on the pitch and I worry at the lack of it in the dugout. Why is no-one saying to the team at 3-1 to hold what we have, keep the ball, push them back and don’t give them another sniff. Why is Theo not brought on for Santi for last 15/20 minutes to push them back in fear of his pace? Why is Sanogo not brought on to hold the ball up and give us an outlet instead of Szczesny going long to Santi and Alexis? When you need resolve, why bring on Podolski?

At one point last night, 3-2 up and 90 minutes on the clock, we gave away a free kick 25 yards from their goal and we had 5 of our players nearer their goal than the ball! What the fuck is going on in their heads and that of their manager. Merson is right, clueless!

But never fear, because Arsene is angry. Well I don’t know about you, but I would not want to be in Per or Nacho’s boots right now. Angry eh. Well what I saw last night was a lot of anger from the fans, but even more worryingly, a lack of shock. A sense of being resigned to the fact that we are more than capable of clusterfucks like last night. Groundhog day fellas.

Why should we be too surprised, this is the team who when 4-2 up at home to spurs with 5 minutes to play conspired to let them nick a 4 all draw, which was as bad as a defeat when it’s them involved. Are we above taking the ball in the corner to waste time, because I believe if we did that sometimes rather than always looking to add an unnecessary goal, some of these situations could be avoided.

So back to that 2005 final, bag of shite that it may have been, the result is what mattered. I wouldn’t want us to play like that often and wouldn’t expect Wenger to betray his principles that much but perhaps he could consider this when a match situation dictates and try to use it in his in game management. After all, this is the man who saw fit to start both Flamini & Arteta at home v the bottom club in the league.

I’m not suggesting we park the bus for entire games, but maybe we could stop trying to drive it to Berlin on half a tank of petrol.

Mark

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