We are missing this man badly
I haven't written anything since before the game on Saturday afternoon. Where do I start? Where do I finish? What could I add that hasn't already been put quite superbly elsewhere (and not so well in some cases, it should be said)? I really don't know what to put that you haven't already heard.
What is clear is that we have a good side. We wouldn't have been in the position we were at kick-off on Saturday if this Arsenal team was poor. We were in with a real chance to win the Premier League if we could avoid defeat at Chelsea. To not even get close to that is hard to take. I had started to think that we had a chance this season. On Saturday morning I felt confident. That was the first sign that something would go wrong, I suppose. What unfolded, when put together with the results at Manchester City and Liverpool this season, proves that there is something seriously wrong inside this group of Arsenal players. I don't know whether it's their own mental issues or whether it's the way they are sent out for these types of games by Arsene Wenger.
Let's make it clear that a team as close to the top as Arsenal have been this season is not five or six goals worse off in any game than the sides that now lie above them. They should be more than able to compete in these games. We may lack the goal scoring options of the others in the absence of Walcott, Ramsey and a top striker, but we shouldn't be getting thrashed. This is the team that matched Bayern Munich when 11v11, and battled for all it was worth even when a man down against them. So why are we getting hammered by relatively mediocre opposition like this lot? If I had the answer I'd be the Arsenal Manager. I don't and I'm not. But there are a couple of things that appear to be common to these hammerings, and I don't mean the 12.45 kick-offs.
The first thing, and the most obvious, is Arsene Wenger's complete unwillingness to adopt a tactical approach to football that might give us the opportunity to steal a result despite not being the Arsenal team we were ten years ago. The Arsenal side from 2001 to 2005 didn't really need tactics. They had dominant players on a different level to just about everyone in the current squad. Because we had GREAT players and communicators like Seaman, Adams, Keown, Dixon, Lauren, Lehmann, Campbell, Cole, Vieira, Pires, Henry, Bergkamp, Gilberto, Parlour, Ljungberg etc we had a side that was able to adapt to situations and make decisions on the hoof, for themselves. This current team needs to be given a game plan to combat opponents who possess more quality than we do. It's not enough for Arsenal to play "their" football and hope for the best in these games. That Wenger has never grasped this, despite his years of no success in Europe, is perhaps his biggest failing.
Looking more particularly at this season there is one other thing that is apparent, and it's not so much just about those "major" fixtures we've been thrashed in. Let me say, first of all, that I do not believe Mathieu Flamini is the "answer" in Arsenal's midfield. However, in this squad he is a key man. Maybe he is THE key man. Since getting sent off at Southampton in January Flamini has started three games. The first was the FA Cup tie with Liverpool, a tremendous team effort marshalled from midfield by Flamini. The second was that fabulous rearguard action at home to Bayern Munich. The third was a 4-1 win, and an excellent team performance, in the FA Cup against Everton. Flamini provides pace and energy in our midfield. He also provides organisation. Nobody else directs operations in this team. Mikel Arteta never stops trying, but it is obvious that in the last two months his legs have well and truly gone. He is getting slower by the week and simply can not play in midfield without Flamini alongside him. Watch Chelsea's first goal again and you'll see him trying to run back but seeming to wade through treacle as Oxlade-Chamberlain rushes past him to try and get to Eto'o.
Now I mentioned above that Flamini has started just three games since Southampton (to provide balance I should point out that he started the game at Man City, but was substituted with 20 minutes left and was suspended for Anfield through his own fault). Of those three games, the ones against Liverpool and Bayern Munich were the first for which he was available after suspension. From that we can deduce that he isn't being left out because he lacks discipline on the pitch. The reason he has been put out in the cold, as far as I can see, is that he chose to go after Ozil that night against Bayern and tell him what he thought about such an insipid display while everyone else worked their socks off. Just look at some of the games since then and try to tell me that Flamini wasn't the man we needed in midfield. Stoke away, we lost, we were bullied in midfield, and Flamini wasn't there. In Munich we drew 1-1 but at times Arteta's lack of pace and legs stopped us getting on the attack. Spurs away, we won 1-0, we were over run through midfield for large parts and only got a grip in the last fifteen minutes following Flamini's introduction. And then there was Saturday's debacle which saw Flamini watching on from the bench yet again. I am convinced that Wenger has fallen out with Flamini for daring to have a pop at his star player like he did. It is frightening to me that such a glaring error of team selection has been allowed to happen from Wenger in such important games. Of course there is no guarantee that we would have got results at Stoke or Chelsea with Flamini in the side (one man probably wouldn't have been enough to change the mentality on Saturday) but Wenger has not given us the best chance to do something in those games. If you don't give yourself the best opportunity then you start from a position of being on the back foot.
I didn't really know what I wanted to write today. If it seems a bit rambling then that is why. Like most Arsenal fans my mind is a bit scrambled at the moment where the Club is concerned. I've deliberately gone down a different route with this post, that I do know. I didn't want to write about Saturday as such. As I said at the top it's all been written elsewhere. I wanted to analyse, even briefly, where we could have given ourselves a better chance (or at least where Wenger could have given us a better chance). I also didn't want to write a "Wenger out" type piece. I've done that pretty much to death over the years and now isn't the time for it. But that doesn't change the fact, and it is an indisputable fact, that whichever way you look at it Arsene Wenger is the problem. My personal hope is that we finish the season strongly enough to stay ahead of Spurs, and maybe even grab second or third spot (the Title is gone, I am certain) and that we win the FA Cup. Such a finish to this season would make it the ideal time for him to bow out gracefully and with glory. I'll say no more for now.