Igors, is that you?
I started work at 2pm yesterday. I suppose that puts me one up on the Arsenal team who were supposed to start at the same time. As a result of being at work I knew the result, and had seen the reaction to it, before watching the game itself. I strongly suspect that any conclusions I've drawn are not as a result of the pre-conceived ideas soaked up by my sub-conscious, such was the disgrace that Arsenal's performance was yesterday.
When I saw the team line-ups it was clear that Arsenal were about to face the weakest Manchester United team we've seen for a league game in at least 30 years. Of their outfield substitutes only Januzaj was a name I had heard of. They had two midfield players at centre-back, a kid at right-back, Rojo returning from injury at left-back, and a boy up front who'd made his debut just three days earlier. I could understand the decision to leave out Giroud given his lack of goals, but up against a pair of "defenders" who don't play in that position it seemed madness to let them off the hook with Walcott playing there instead. Having left out Giroud it was downright stupid to not have Welbeck through the centre. As much as Giroud has been without a goal for a long time, what exactly has Theo done to warrant a place? Did Wenger not see him play against Barcelona?
When we played United at home we were on them from the kick-off (with Theo up top). We hounded them high up the pitch, won the ball back in their half, and then destroyed them with pace and movement. Alexis, Theo, Ozil, Ramsey were all over them. Cazorla, from the deeper role, orchestrated the whole thing - how we've missed the little Spaniard. Yesterday, against a totally inferior Man Utd team, we allowed ourselves to be run around. Quite simply a young, enthusiastic Manchester United team wanted to play more than Arsenal did. This was apparently an Arsenal side in the race for Premier League. Instead of putting ourselves right in the thick of it, this Arsenal team simply proved what we already knew - they aren't good enough and they lack the mettle to fight when it is needed.
I was pleased to see Gabriel in the side in place of Mertesacker. However, in recent appearances there have been signs that the Brazilian may have some issues - he has a habit of diving in unnecessarily and giving away silly fouls. Yesterday he turned in to some kind of clone of Igors Stepanovs, at the very scene of his worst moments for Arsenal. He was at fault for both of Rashford's goals (and I'm not letting Walcott off with giving the ball away - again - to allow United in for the goal in the first place) and his reaction to the second was an embarrassment. I can not, for one minute, understand how he sees his failure to mark the man in front of him could possibly be the fault of Koscielny. On recent form it actually should be Calum Chambers that is now alongside Laurent at the back - though Koscielny himself is not blameless after half-turning away from the ball to allow the deflected winner instead of sticking his head in there. Ultimately, of course, we simply aren't very good at defending. It's bizarre that Bellerin, Monreal, Koscielny and Cech have all had stellar seasons, but we conceded three goals yet again yesterday.
Ah, there you are Theo
I did a Google search for Theo Walcott pictures from yesterday's game. The one above is the only one I found. I think that says a lot about his display. I was listening to the first-half commentary on the radio and the first time they mentioned his name was when he gave away the ball for the first goal. Somehow he made it through an hour before finally being hooked. Giroud didn't do much better when he finally came on, but there wasn't exactly a lot of service. I don't know why Alexis Sanchez is still getting a start either, other than the fact that Wenger doesn't run a meritocracy in his squad - it is all about seniority. Alexis has been abysmal for over a month and even his work-rate has dropped at times - he gives Monreal far less cover than he used to - while his constant cutting inside every time he gets the ball has become incredibly easy to defend against.
Bringing on Alex Iwobi and ElNeny was another bizarre thing to do. ElNeny wasn't good enough for the bench against Barcelona, yet he was thrown on to try and rescue the game at Old Trafford. Iwobi has been very good when he has played this season, and I'd have him in front of Walcott all the time, but Wenger seems to have forgotten Joel Campbell even exists! Campbell was excellent when the chips were down before Christmas, but we've hardly seen him in the last month or so. I gave up long ago trying to understand what goes through Wenger's mind.
There is a school of thought that the players are letting down the Manager, and I have some sympathy with that. They are better players than they ever seem to show when a result is crucial. But who keeps faith with those players? Who keeps selecting them and seeing them fail when the heat is on? Who is supposed to set them up with the right frame of mind to go out and win important football matches? Yes, the players are letting Wenger (and the fans) down because he places all his faith in them and they continually fail to deliver. But Wenger is the man with whom the buck stops. This has happened year on year since 2008 when we've had opportunities to win the Premier League, only for crushing defeats in the big games to cost us and embarrass us. Wenger's quote that Manchester United fielded a very good midfield and had "spent a lot of money" was disingenuous and shameful. They could have had Arsenal's Invincible midfield and it wouldn't have excused our failure to expose their weak defence.
This season should really be the tipping point if Arsenal fail to win the Title. In the past Arsene has been able to hide behind the fact that Chelsea, Man City and Man Utd had been able to "buy" the Premier League. This of course ignores his claims that we had to leave Highbury in order to compete with these kinds of clubs. This season we look like finishing behind Leicester City and Tottenham. Thank God we left Highbury or we'd never be able to compete with such financial heavyweights as them. Silly as it seems we could actually be top again by 3pm on Saturday. Right now, however, I can't see this shower beating Swansea on Wednesday, never mind Spurs away at the weekend. It looks set to be a very long couple of months to the end of the season. We are gutless bottlers who look certainties to fail again.