I had planned to get this written during the period between Christmas and New Year but I was then laid low by flu and only today getting back to anything approaching normality. As such I didn’t make it to Arsenal last night and had to make do with Sky’s character assassination of Jack Wilshere which was utterly despicable, even more the case when you consider one of the biggest cheerleaders for it was our “own” Thierry Henry. Actually the game itself yesterday summed up a lot of the 1st half of the season, particularly the bit where we often need to score at least three goals to win a game. It’s a feature of Wenger’s Arsenal in the last six or seven years that they don’t play good football most of the time. It’s slow, sideways, lacking imagination and certainly lacking in efforts at goal. All the more ridiculous then that four of the standout Premier League matches of the season have all involved Arsenal at home - Leicester, Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea.
Given that Leicester was the first game of the season it’s there that I will actually start to piece together what has been wrong with Arsenal again this season so far. Here’s an uncomfortable truth; Arsenal’s “challenge” for the Premier League ended the moment Shinji Okazaki nodded in their equaliser after five minutes. Harsh? Not really. It was a moment that should have told all of us watching that nothing had really changed in this Arsenal team. There we were having had the perfect start with new signing Lacazette’s early goal, only to see a 5’6” striker out-jump our defence and nod past a goalkeeper who had got out of position at his own far post. We simply do not know how to defend. Somehow the attacking players bailed us out on the night (and a ridiculous in-game management decision by Craig Shakespeare also played a huge part) but the writing was on the wall. The following week at Stoke an insipid display against what has proven to be the worst team in the league (a sign of our mental fragility simply because it was a game at Stoke’s ground) and more abysmal defending saw us get beat for the first time. The only thing I’d point out on that is that we also got turned down for a stick-on penalty and had a perfectly good (and quite superb) Lacazette goal disallowed for offside. Not even small margins those, but the performance overall was instructive and is repeated all too often, just as it was as recently as Sunday at West Brom.
Indeed those awful performances are seen more than any free-flowing games from our boys - ironically they’ve played well to a degree against a number of the top teams, albeit without getting what they might have deserved with the honourable exception of the Tottenham game - more of which below. It’s the infernal passing against mediocre opposition that riles me and many others. If we played with the pace and effort we’ve seen against Chelsea, Man Utd, Spurs, Liverpool (at home) against rubbish like Stoke, Watford, West Brom, Southampton, West Ham etc then we’d be right up there above Manchester United. You can forget about getting close to Man City and it’s unfair to beat the team over not challenging for the Title this season as nobody is able to get even remotely close to City after the run they’ve been on. At the same time I’m not going to moan unduly about the officiating, but in those games at Stoke, Watford and West Brom (and if I could be bothered to look it up I’m sure I’d find more) we have been undone as much by woeful refereeing as our own woeful football. Again, give us the points refereeing decisions have apparently taken from us and we’re up there with Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool. At the same time the worst performance of the season was all of the making of Arsene Wenger and it came at Anfield. Losing 0-4 flattered Arsenal and the players were incredibly fortunate that Liverpool stopped attacking or it could have been an Old Trafford type of humiliation.
What about the good stuff? Well, as I said above, we’ve played very well in some big games but we simply don’t defend well enough. Apart from one that is. The game against Tottenham was as brilliant as it was surprising in the way Arsenal played them off the field pretty much from start to finish. It was a 2-0 thrashing and by far the most gratifying result of the whole season so far. The media were so determined their beloved (why is that?) Tottenham were about to move away from Arsenal and leave us behind. They had, of course, forgotten that Arsenal have a 50-plus year head-start over the poor little Totts and that they’ll have to make up a gap of eleven League Titles before even coming close to Arsenal’s level of success and dominance. Arsenal have been superior to Spurs since 1987. Earlier in the season the players underlined it once again.
The League Cup and Europa League have provided a number of youngsters the chance to stake a claim and Ainsley Maitland-Niles is very much taking that opportunity. I just want to see him get his chance in his own position replacing Xhaka. Those competitions also allowed Jack Wilshere to show he is still Arsenal’s best midfielder and he has earned his place back in the team now. He HAS to be given a contract soon and SHOULD be made Arsenal Captain immediately. Jack understands what it means to be The Arsenal, as does the ostracised Theo Walcott. Those tournaments are also offering our best chance of silverware this season as it stands and I hope we go for it in both of them from here on.