Thursday, 30 December 2010
What was that about effort?
What do you get if you combine eight Arsene Wenger team changes with an incompetent (dishonest?) referee called Lee Probert? The answer is a 2-2 draw to bring you back down to earth after the best performance in ages. I felt sick last night when Squillaci equalised on Wigan's behalf. I felt even more sick when I got a better look (i.e. on TV rather than a dodgy internet stream) at the major decisions of the referee.
When I saw the team last night I was quite dismayed. Eight changes is quite ridiculous. Yes, the boys had played only 48 hours earlier, but EIGHT changes? We should also consider that among the players "rested" were Theo Walcott and Robin Van Persie and Johan Djourou, who have hardly played any football at all this calendar year - so why would they be remotely fatigued? Momentum is a massive thing for a side heading towards a Title and Arsenal had the chance to gain some last night against worse than mediocre opposition. Their captain and centre-back is Gary Caldwell, a player who couldn't even cut the mustard in the Scottish Premier League! They have Bolton's reserve goalkeeper between the sticks, and Hendry Thomas - who claims to be in his mid-20's, but is surely nearer 50.
Theo Walcott said on Monday night that the aim was to press Chelsea all over the pitch, and it worked an absolute treat. So where was that pressing game last night? The players were lacklustre from the start and the selection beyond belief. We had Eboue at left-back, and constantly out of position - look at the move that lead to their penalty - Eboue was in their penalty area, but so was Sagna on the other side so it's no wonder we were short-handed at the back. We also had Nicklas Bendtner replacing Theo Walcott on the right. Surely Wenger realises that sometimes you have to switch the formation in order to accommodate the personnel? In terms of a lack of effort nobody summed it up more than Andrey Arshavin. His superb finish and then assist for Bendtner's goal should not disguise his disgraceful performance last night. He also missed a sitter to make it 3-1. If he starts the game at Birmingham on Saturday then I will be utterly disgusted.
We went behind to what the referee decided was a penalty. Given that there was no contact made and the incident was outside the penalty area I would suggest that, as penalty shouts go, this one had little going for it. Step forward Lee Probert. How does a hunchbacked freak like Probert find himself officiating a sporting contest between prime athletes? Honestly, he looks like Quasimodo's uglier younger brother, like the forgotten Neville brother if you like. In the second-half he then denied Arsenal two stone-wall penalties after Wigan's equaliser - one for a handball, that has been highlighted on TV, and one for a foul on Theo Walcott as he went through on goal, which hasn't (the clown gave a goal-kick for that one, thus showing that the defender didn't get the ball I would suggest). Lee Probert has history with Arsenal. He was the fourth-official at Old Trafford last season who saw to it that Arsene Wenger was sent-off for kicking a water bottle. He received universal criticism for that, and was made to look like a cretinous jobsworth in front of the Nation. How can he possibly be trusted to referee Arsenal with any sense of impartiality after such an incident? He even needed the fourth official to get him to send-off N'Zogbia for his headbutt on Jack Wilshere last night.
And so to Arsene Wenger. Did I mention that he made EIGHT changes? He nearly got away with it, but nearly isn't good enough I'm afraid. At 2-1 Arsenal were always going to be vulnerable, especially with Squillaci and Koscielny playing together again. How many times are we going to have to watch these two costing us points? They are as lethal a combination as I've ever seen. Squillaci is slow, and constantly out of position. Koscielny, meanwhile, is beginning to make Igors Stepanovs look like Bobby Moore. Wenger should have taken the game by the scruff of the neck and made a change earlier in the second-half. There were plenty of candidates to be replaced - Arshavin, Bendtner, Denilson or the insipid Rosicky. Instead of this he waited until the equaliser and then took off Jack Wilshere, whose first-half introduction in place of the injured (again), and surely finished for good now at Arsenal, Abou Diaby had changed the game for Arsenal. I'm still spitting chips about it now.
There was a denouement to the evening though that has me seething - Arsene Wenger's post-match comments. After the defeat at Wigan in May he had the cut of a man whose patience had snapped and I felt sure sweeping changes would be seen in the Summer - nothing happened. Last night he finally criticised the defence - but he won't sign a proper centre-half in January you can be certain. He said that we let in too many goals from set-pieces because nobody seems to take charge, and there is a lack of communication. Arsene Wenger is the Manager for God's sake. What do Pat Rice and Boro Primorac do to earn their wages? The players should know their role at a set-piece before they go anywhere near a football pitch. We have been letting in goals from set-pieces ever since we left Highbury, and Sol Campbell had moved on - yet the Manager has only now acknowledged a problem. I am pissed off beyond belief by this crap and I'm completely fed-up.
Last night we had a chance to lay down a marker and press home the good work from Monday night. Thanks to the Manager's stupid wholesale changes, another disgraceful refereeing performance (three games in a row now where Arsenal have had NOTHING out of the officials), and the collective lack of effort from a bunch of overpaid prima-donnas, we find ourselves third as the New Year beckons. If I thought he would do something about it in the transfer window I would not be quite so concerned, but I fear we will be scuppered again by the Manager's refusal to put things right by spending the necessary money in the transfer market.
More tomorrow with a preview of the Birmingham game and a New Year message.