All too familiar
I knew we were in trouble this weekend when Wenger announced that the Man City game had seen the Arsenal team "turn a corner". I must have heard that on at least three occasions last season, each time preceding some disaster or another. This Arsenal team has turned so many corners in the last 20 months that they've ended up right back where they started - looking over their shoulder at 5th place. As recently as the second week in February we were two points clear at the top of the Premier League. Today we sit ten points off the lead and, potentially, two points outside the top four. For the third time in six years Arsenal have thrown away a Premier League Title that was theirs for the taking. On each occasion we've been maybe two players short in obvious areas. It is a scandal that OUR money has not been spent to give us the best chance of seeing OUR team become Champions.
There is an argument that the money might not necessarily have been available in the past. I don't accept that. In terms of this year there can be no dispute. Arsenal have the best part of £150m in cash that could be spent on new players that would strengthen this squad. That money has not been touched. I keep hearing the Wenger apologists blaming injuries to key players and it is fair to say that any team would struggle without star performers like Ramsey, Walcott, Wilshere and Ozil. However, Aaron Ramsey was injured on Boxing Day. Theo Walcott got injured on 4th January. Jack Wilshere hasn't really been fit to play all season if we're being honest. We already knew that we were lacking options at centre-forward (Giroud is well and truly shot at the moment) more than a year ago. Yet Wenger did not sign anyone. On Decemeber 8th we drew at home to Everton and went five points clear at the top. That was the time to strengthen. That was the time to drive home our advantage. It didn't need to be expensive, or even a star striker at that point. Proven Premier League talent like Lambert or Benteke or Remy or Berbatov (why the hell didn't we sign Berbatov?) would have got us the goals that Giroud has been struggling to come by.
Another thing I keep hearing from the ever dwindling Wengerites is that "you'd have taken this position after the Villa game in August". That's most definitely true. But you wouldn't take it from a position that had you five points clear just before Christmas and top in February. We were there. We had it in our hands. Yet Wenger failed to grasp the nettle. He failed to give us a chance. We rode the crest of a wave for the first five months of the season off the back of signing Mesut Ozil. That wasn't going to last without reinforcement, especially once we lost Ramsey and Walcott (and we were always an injury to Mertesacker or Koscielny away from disaster in defence). And make no mistake, the signing of Ozil was a fluke. Mesut Ozil was not part of any plan last Summer. We spent the whole window embarrassing ourselves and failing to sign Higuain or Suarez (all because Wenger wouldn't spend the extra required). We then suddenly bought another midfield creator out of nowhere. Without the Villa defeat and the vitriol from the stands Wenger would not have signed anyone. It is my belief that he was forced to buy a top player by a very anxious board of directors who didn't like the way things were about to turn inside the stadium.
Having signed Ozil we haven't seen the best of him since his early games. Apart from his own mentality, we haven't had his best because we don't play to his strengths. We don't have players, except Theo Walcott, that have the willingness to get in behind a defence and would bring out the best in Ozil. We don't play a system that is suited to our best player. And we certainly don't have any tactics. Against the other four sides in the top five we have lost 6-3, 5-1, 6-0 and 3-0 away from home. At no point has there been a change of approach. Even at 3-0 down yesterday we saw the formulaic taking off of Lukas Podolski (another player who is better suited to a different formation to Arsenal's) and Giroud. We still had just the one man up front. How many times does it have to fail before Wenger sees that something needs to be done differently? We used to play a 4-4-2 (with a "number ten") when we were successful. Why don't we see it anymore? Giroud would benefit from the help. Podolski would benefit from a more central role alongside a centre-forward. Ozil would benefit from players running beyond him from wide positions. Of course it wouldn't have hurt to have signed a player or two like that in January.
The other thing I'm seeing week after week is the lack of pace in the side. In the absence of Theo we have only Oxlade-Chamberlain and Serge Gnabry that can run at speed. So why the hell are they sitting on the bench? We're at our best when we play with pace. Surely Wenger and the yes men that surround him can see that Arteta slows everything down. Cazorla has been anonymous since Mesut Ozil got injured, despite being given the chance to play in his preferred position. Giroud, as we've said, is gone. Yaya Sanogo is simply not up to it, and his position on the bench in recent weeks shows Wenger knows it. So why not change something? I keep saying the same thing, don't I? What would be wrong with throwing in Chuba Akpom, for example? The boy is scoring goals for fun below the first-team and is the same age as Sanogo. He also had a fine pre-season with the first-team. And you know what? He's quick. Very quick. Wenger said the other week you "need experience" in these games. What were those scores again? 6-3, 5-1, 6-0 and 3-0. If that's what experience gets you then I want some youthful exuberance instead.
One final thing to talk about before I sign off. We've heard plenty over the years from Wenger about "mental strength". No Arsenal team in his tenure as boss has had less of the stuff. It is evident from those results I keep quoting. Even more it is evident from the fact that our season fell apart, irreparably so, with the missing of a penalty against Bayern Munich. One bad kick of the ball and we haven't got going since. The players are weak. The Manager is weak. It's time for change. We shouldn't fear it.
* - seven games assumes we will win on Saturday, and who could possibly be confident given our record in the pressure matches this season?