New (interim) Head Coach – Same Old Performance

Anyone that thought that by simply sacking Unai Emery Arsenal would begin to turn in world beating performances were clearly very naïve.

Freddie Ljungberg had been in temporary charge of the squad for just 2 training sessions prior to the game against Norwich. We saw a few tweets (Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka returning) but overall it was the same players playing the same way under Unai Emery.

What yesterday exposed was the it is not just Emery and his inconsistent tactics and formation that was the problem. The players themselves need to look at their own performances.

For too long many of the players have escaped criticism, with firstly Arsene Wenger and then Unai Emery taking the brunt of fans anger.

Individual players, such as Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka have taken abuse from the fans; but many players have escaped such criticism.

The likes of Alexandre Lacazette have been distinctly average for some time.

Oddly named Arsenal Player of the Season last year following 134 league goals, Lacazette has been extremely inconsistent during his time at the club – 40 goals in 103 games is not a great record. Lacazette is certainly one player who has escaped any sort of criticism.

What is becoming very clear and obvious is that our squad is made up of a lot of players who are either:

  1. Not good enough or;
  2. Not mentally strong enough

In defence we make too many mistakes. This is highlighted by how many penalties we give away.

David Luiz, Mustafi and Sokratis all have a mistake in them. They are all senior internationals. A new manager is not going to suddenly improve them; cut out their error ridden games.

It is the same in midfield.

The centre of the park has been a huge problem for Arsenal in recent years.

Unbalanced with players who can not defend, can not pass, can not drive the ball forward. The fact is if Francis Coquelin was still at the club, he would probably be our best midfielder.

Not in recent memory have we had a midfield that passes the ball so poorly.

Like with the defenders making individual errors, the feeling is the sloppiness of the likes of Granit Xhaka is now ingrained into his game. He is beyond the point where it can be coached out of him.

Simply put, we have too many players who make too many mistakes and no change of manager will make a difference.

These are not young kids who can be coached to improvement – these are senior internationals who are not taking responsibility over their own performances.

When Chelsea won the Champions League, they had a weak coach in Roberto Di Matteo. But they have the likes of Petr Cech, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry on the pitch. They had a team of leaders similar to what Arsenal had during the unbeaten season.

The England rugby team had similar in 2007.

Andy Robinson was a poor coach, out of his depth. The senior players got their heads together and drove the team to the final.

Arsenal lack any leaders on the pitch.

Emery’s policy of having multiple leaders makes sense (it is used throughout Europe as well as in cricket and rugby) but it only works it you have actual leaders on the pitch.

There is no point having a senior leadership team if its members are merely members because they are senior, and not because they have any leadership skills.

Regardless of who replaces Unai Emery, things will not change at Arsenal until the players attitudes change.

They either need to step up and take responsibility for their own poor performances or be moved on.


Match Report: Norwich 2 – 2 Arsenal

Norwich City (2) 2 Arsenal (1) 2
Premier League
Carrow Road, Norwich NR1 3JE
Sunday, 1st December 2019. Kick-off time: 2.00pm

(4-3-1-2) Bernd Leno; Calum Chambers, Shkodran Mustafi, David Luiz, Sead Kolašinac; Mattéo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka, Joe Willock; Mesut Özil; Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Kieran Tierney, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Lucas Torreira, Nicolas Pépé, Emiliano Martínez, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka.
Scorers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (28 mins, 57 mins)
Yellow Cards: Calum Chambers
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 61%
Referee: Paul Tierney
Attendance: 27,067

And so, on a cold and brisk afternoon in Norfolk, a new beginning unfolds for us all. So much has been said and done in the past forty-eight hours, it would seem almost churlish to repeat things that we all already know and have opinions about; except to say that we now have a caretaker manager in the form of the popular ex-player Freddie Ljungberg, and not only is it our duty to support him and the players through this period of transition, but ourselves too. Make no mistake, in a very short while, we will discover just who the chosen one is to take over the manager’s role permanently from Unai Emery; all we can hope is that the recommendation of Raul Sanllehi, Edu and Vinai Venkatesham in their report to various Kroenkes is the correct one for everyone involved. After all, in the impatient world that modern football inhabits, Arsenal Football Club surely cannot afford to make the same mistakes in their managerial choice again.

We started the match brightly enough, and as early as the fourth minute Alexandre Lacazette was unlucky not to score with a good effort that went wide of the post. Arsenal appeared to find confidence in their movement, both on and off the ball, with most of the action being in the Norwich half; Shkodran Mustafi’s header was cleared off the line, and despite the odd breakout by the home side, the first quarter of an hour showed our dominance. Calum Chambers was also desperately unlucky not to score with a glancing header from a Mesut Özil corner, and it became clear that Norwich City’s zonal marking system was not exactly working in their favour. However, totally against the run of play, Teemu Pukki ran onto a through ball, and his shot went past Bernd Leno (via a deflection from Shkodran Mustafi) to give the home side the lead after twenty minutes.

In a controversial period of the match, just a couple of minutes later, a wicked cross from the right caught defender Christoph Zimmerman’s carelessly positioned upright arm and a penalty was given to us; subsequently goalkeeper Tim Krul saved Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s initial strike, but because of encroachment, VAR was consulted again and this time our captain made no mistake in equalising the scores. This incident merely served to fire both sides up, and by now some careless tackles from both teams were flying around, in which it was a miracle no-one was booked. Despite all of our considerable efforts, the home side took the lead through a strike from Todd Cantwell in injury time when we were caught by a counter-attack, which meant that we went into the break 1-2 down, quite undeservedly it has to be said.

The second half started more doggedly with Arsenal constantly attempting to break down a stoic Norwich City defence; again we were caught by a counter attack by the home side in which we were fortunate to address the situation adequately. Twelve minutes after the restart, we drew level with a superb opportunist goal from our captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang when he was hovering, unmarked on the edge of the Norwich six-yard box; when the ball came to him from a corner (via a Calum Chambers header), he made no mistake. The home side came back at us in earnest, and poor marking from our defenders almost led to a third Norwich City goal on three occasions; thankfully Bernd Leno was more attentive than the Arsenal defence.

Entering the last twenty minutes of the match, it seemed as if every time the home side came forward, they looked like they were going to score, and so, recognising this, Joe Willock was substituted for Lucas Torreira, in an attempt to shore up the midfield; now we had serious work to do here. More pressure was put on us, so with fourteen minutes left, Bukayo Saka replaced Mattéo Guendouzi, thus giving us more width. It certainly worked, as were able to apply more pressure in vital areas of the pitch. And so the battle continued with no quarter given nor taken. Gabriel Martinelli took the place of Mesut Özil with two minutes of the match remaining. Bernd Leno was absolutely immense in this game, and the saves that he made in injury time kept us in the match. In the dying moments, Lucas Torreira was desperately unlucky not to score, but sadly it was not to be, and we went home with a draw.

Overall, it was certainly better than we had any right to expect, given our recent run of results. We moved quicker around the pitch than previously and we certainly played with more purpose. But the same old problems arise, particularly with regards to the defence, which is still porous, and has a serious absence of leadership. The marking isn’t tight enough, and the defence has the annoying habit of going to sleep at crucial points in the match. Having said that, we came back twice to earn this draw, and a point is certainly better than nothing. No doubt about it, Freddie Ljungberg has a lot of work to do here, and only time will tell how many of these players will still be at the club this time next year.

Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Brighton and Hove Albion at The Emirates on Thursday, 5th December at 8.15pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.


Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.

Match Report: Arsenal 1 – 2 Eintracht Frankfurt

Arsenal (1) 1 Eintracht Frankfurt (0) 2
UEFA Europa League, Group F, Matchday 5 of 6
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Thursday, 28th November 2019. Kick-off time: 8.00pm

(4-2-3-1) Emiliano Martínez; Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, David Luiz, Calum Chambers; Joe Willock, Granit Xhaka; Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Özil, Lucas Torreira, Nicolas Pépé, Reiss Nelson, Mattéo Guendouzi.
Scorers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (45+1 mins)
Yellow Cards: Shkodran Mustafi, Mattéo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka, Gabriel Martinelli
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 50%
Referee: Ruddy Buquet (France)
Attendance circa 25,000


Welcome to the opening match of the Thursday Club, featuring Arsenal F.C. With the exclusion of 19th December, we have matches on Thursdays for four weeks out of five, starting tonight, which is extremely unfair to both supporters and players alike, particularly at this time of the year. Is nothing sacred? Meanwhile, questions abound on this, Matchday 5 of Group F, Europa League. Which Arsenal will turn up tonight? Will the manager play a system that the players actually understand? Or will this match against Eintracht Frankfurt merely be a re-run of the disastrous past few games that we have all had the misfortune to witness? All will surely be revealed.

The match started off, as so many of our matches have done recently, with us making a decent fist of things; good movement both on and off the ball, and some fairly decent strikes on the Frankfurt goal. Both Granit Xhaka and David Luiz suffered nasty knocks in the first half, and in the case of the latter, went off just after the half hour and was replaced by Mattéo Guendouzi. Still we came forward, and of all the chances that we created, Gabriel Martinelli was surely the most unfortunate. He had a header cleared off the line, and a superb shot blocked by an opposition defender. On the stroke of half-time, Gabriel Martinelli provided a low pass for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to score a superb goal which ensured that we went into the break in the ascendancy.

But for us, this was where the match formally ended. The second half started as a car crash, and continued in the same ham-fisted, amateurish manner which we have come to expect from this leaderless, lost team of footballers. It took just ten minutes into the half for us to face the inevitable. Daichi Kamada curled a shot from the edge of the Arsenal penalty area past the outstretched arm of Emiliano Martínez into the net; nine minutes later, he did it again, this time, from a corner that was half-heartedly cleared which conveniently came his way. He composed himself, and simply stroked the ball into our net, for his second and final goal of the evening. From there on, we were clueless and ultimately finished.

In a desperate act of panic, Unai Emery took off Shkodran Mustafi and Gabriel Martinelli, and brought on Lucas Torreira along with Mesut Özil, but still it made no difference whatsoever; why he didn’t bring on Nicolas Pépé at this time is a mystery to us all.. As the match wore on, we looked less and less interested in the game, and we were extremely fortunate not to fall victim to “smash and grab” tactics in which Frankfurt caught us cold several times and looked like they were going to seal the game with yet another goal. It was surely good fortune on our part and bad football practice on the visitors’ system that we didn’t go further behind.

The famous old clock ran down, and as it did, the more useless and tepid we looked. At the final whistle, the boos and catcalls rang around the ground as has become practice here at The Emirates of late. We now have to avoid defeat against Standard Liege in Belgium on 12th December to qualify for the last 32 of the competition, which with this team, is not certain.
Let us talk honestly now. It’s time for the Board of Directors to discover their spine and replace this coaching administration of Unai Emery and his assistants as soon as possible, otherwise this grand old club, of which we have been so rightly proud of so many times in the past, will simply slide away into oblivion, like so many have done before. The footballers also need to take their fair share of responsibility here, as they too have shown scant regard for the club, each other, nor the supporters either in their disgraceful attitude and lacklustre play. Unai Emery may well set the tactics, but they set the attitude, and they need to look at themselves also. Who will be our gallant Lochinvar? Who will save us from ourselves?

Remember everyone, keep the faith. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Norwich City at Carrow Road on Sunday, 1st September at 2.00pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.


Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.