Two games played in the last week and two games that exposed the already obvious personnel shortcomings in our squad. In the Anderlecht game, it was a combination of having no proper holding midfielder and playing a backup left back at centre half. Sound like a broken record much? The fact that not many Arsenal fans, or anyone else for that matter, was terribly surprised that we blew a three nil lead says it all really.
We are supposedly the fifth richest club in the world and yet started the season with only two established centre halves, a right sided midfielder converted to a holding role – whose legs have gone – and a headless chicken that we picked up on a free transfer. At 3-0 Anderlecht, didn’t have to do anything complicated, it was direct and it was effective. Granted the first goal was offside but the momentum of the game had already shifted at that stage and you would have fancied that the Belgians would have got the breakthrough anyway.
The penalty and equaliser came about because of route one balls targeting Monreal. Perhaps if we had a more effective holding midfielder or our advanced players weren’t still charging forward looking for another goal, Anderlecht wouldn’t have been able to play the balls in that exposed Monreal. The fact is though that we seemed incapable of stopping them.
Against Swansea, the warning signs had been there in the first half. Calum Chambers struggled badly to cope with the pace of Swansea winger, Jefferson Montero. It was obvious that the Ecuadorian had the beating of Chambers, and beat him he did, time and again until Swansea were eventually rewarded with the winner. Our goal was a classic example of how we should be playing away from home, with the pace and talent we have in attack.
It was a great counter attack which is what makes the proceeding capitulation all the more galling. How at 1-0, did we find ourselves in a situation where our left back was pursuing a Swansea midfielder through the centre of the park? Why was Gibbs in such an advanced position? Gibbs did the only thing he could in the situation, which was to give the free kick away. The result being Sigurdsson levelling the scores.
Credit where it’s due to, Garry Monk, because unlike Wenger he recognised that Chambers was struggling with Montero’s pace and substituted the tiring Bony with the six foot plus, Gomis, to target Monreal. Low and behold, Montero burnt Chambers one last time and Gomis’s first touch was header into the back of the net having “outjumped” Monreal. Chambers was roasted numerous times in the first half and inevitably picked up a yellow card in the second.
The obvious solution, would have been to bring on Bellerín as he has more pace and can’t have struggled any more than Chambers did against Montero. We could’ve then sent Chambers to centre half, as it’s unlikely that he would have struggled as badly in the air as Monreal did. Bellerín should have been on at halftime but Wenger doesn’t make substitutes before the sixty minute mark. Chambers was booked after 61 minutes and we scored after 62. Why wasn’t Bellerín brought on when we took the lead?
With the issue Chambers was having and given the fact that he had already been booked, one of two things was bound to happen. Either he would get a second yellow or Swansea would eventually be rewarded for Montero’s endeavours. In the end, it was the latter. Wenger probably thought that by leaving Chambers at full back he was showing faith in him but all that happened was, Chambers was left on to suffer which can’t have helped his confidence. In the end he was substituted for Yaya Sanogo, a player who has never scored in the Premier League, at a time when we were to chasing the game instead of closing it out.
I really like Calum Chambers and think he’s going to make a very good ball-playing centre back for club and country. However for a team that plays as high a line as us and with a midfield that offers the defence very limited protection, full-backs with pace are not optional, they’re a necessity.
Paul Merson’s comment post Anderlecht, that Arsenal were clueless was blunt and general, but ultimately deserved. His assessment incurred a pretty barbed response from, Arsene Wenger, to the effect that, Merson, as a man who had never managed wasn’t qualified to make these comments.
Firstly, Merson, has managed albeit unsuccessfully and further down the leagues with Walsall. Secondly, Wenger’s fatuous pivot shows either a man backed into a corner or a man who feels he is above criticism from 99.9% of the people. Merson, may not always hit the nail on the head but he cares about the club and is only saying what is (A) blatantly obvious and (B) being said by a lot more people than just, Merson.
The Muddy Waters of Transfer Funds
At the AGM, Ivan Gazidis, attempted to dispel the idea that we have a considerable transfer fund sitting untouched. It’s possible that he’s downplaying the fund so that we’re not held over a barrel when it comes time to negotiate with other clubs. This is a very logical and reasonable approach.
It’s also possible that he’s protecting Wenger from criticism for not utilising the fund. Or it may well be true that there’s not as much money in the fund as has been calculated by others. Personally I think it’s the first one but let’s say for argument’s sake that the last is true. Why did we spend so much money on a luxury player when our squad had such rudimentary weaknesses?
I’m delighted that we have Sanchez. In my opinion he’s our best signing since Bergkamp, but at the beginning of the season every man and his dog could see where our squad was thin. Ultimately Wenger is responsible for signing players, and there are glaring issues with squad balance, so he has to wear any criticism for transfer failings
If the first scenario is the actual situation, then there’s no excuse for the state of our squad. We simply should have spent the required money to recruit another centre half and a defensive midfielder. We have missed an opportunity to really push on this season. Chelsea are starting to look uncatchable, but it didn’t need to be like that.
It’s unlikely that we would’ve had enough to finish above them even if we had signed the two players needed but we would have put up more of a challenge. It’s also less likely that we would currently be sat behind Southampton, Man City, West Ham and Swansea in the league and staring at another second place finish in our Champions League group.
A second or third place finish, in the league this season, would have represented progress for us but we look destined for our usual fourth place at best and as such it’s hard to argue that we’ve progressed. If scenario two is true and Gazidis is in fact trying to protect Wenger, then surely the time has come to hold him to account for the embarrassing situation that’s been allowed to develop with our squad’s imbalance.