The worst bit of defending so far...
The end of the George Graham era was notable for two things. Firstly we were watching a highly capable group of players going through the motions as the Manager was no longer able to motivate them. Secondly we were watching a stale, boring type of football in front of an ever growing number of empty seats, leaving an apathetic crowd of die-hards. The parallels with the current situation at Arsenal are impossible to ignore (unless you are a member of the Wenger cult or Stan Kroenke). The difference then was that we did, at least, have a dynamite striker in Ian Wright - today we have nothing to be excited by or about.
In the first three minutes of the match yesterday Garbiel, Koscielny, Bellerin and Monreal passed the ball around our defence with no intention to go forward. At the same time they had nobody to move the ball forward to. Elneny and Coquelin would come short, only to play the ball back to one of the centre-halves. I pointed out to my Dad that not one of the front three had moved since getting in to position from kick-off. Alexis stood on the right touchline, Iwobi on the left, and Welbeck between the Palace central defenders. There was not a single move made. Ozil also was totally static. After the game Wenger said how we like to "take the initiative" in every game. Do we Arsene? Is that why we have so few early goals this season? Take out the Man Utd home game and there is precious little evidence of such dynamic starts to any match. I'm fed-up of seeing Arsenal's centre-backs with the ball at their feet. It wouldn't be so bad if they were actually ball-playing defenders, but they aren't. Kolo Toure would sometimes take the ball on a run through midfield to make something happen, get the crowd going, give the opposition something to think about. Kolo was a good footballer though. And he was exceptionally quick and very strong. Not one of our centre-halves now possesses any of those qualities in abundance - Koscielny isn't a slouch, but he isn't strong and he isn't a footballer (by that I mean he isn't going to go picking passes too often). We used to play at pace, moving the ball and seeing players running off the ball to find space and move between the lines. What we do now is pass sideways and square and go nowhere time after time after time. It's boring. It's predictable. It's easy to play against. If we couldn't get past Palace what chance do we have against an organised Tony Pulis team on Thursday?
I read a stat yesterday, and I've seen it quoted again today, that Mesut Ozil created eight "chances" for his team yesterday. This is utter, utter bull****. On what grounds are we rating "chances" created? We didn't create eight chances in the whole game, let alone one player doing it. Aside from the goal, which was brilliantly created by Welbeck and finished by Alexis, I am struggling to think of more than a couple of other genuine opportunities, one of which was badly missed by Ozil rather than being created by him. The fact is that, for most of the game yesterday, Ozil was nothing more than another passenger. Again. In his career at Arsenal Mesut Ozil had a brilliant first six games or so, a great FA Cup Final last season, and a two month period between late-November and mid-January this season. That is the sum total of his contribution in an Arsenal shirt. Standing there waving his arms in apparent frustration is nonsense. Thierry Henry started doing that towards the end of his Arsenal career, the difference being that he had been brilliant for years so was "able" to show his frustrations with other, less gifted players. Ozil summed himself up just before half-time yesterday when the ball broke his way but, when he turned and saw Scott Dann heading towards him, he literally jumped out of the way. I would shed few tears if he headed for the exit door. Ozil is a magnificent footballer, and paired with better strikers would have less reason to be frustrated at times, but I have no time for people who don't try hard enough. He does not take enough responsibility when on the ball to make something happen by a bit of skill, or taking someone on. He is a waste of talent.
The Palace goal was embarrassing for Arsenal. The abuse Adebayor was getting was always likely to haunt us. I can understand people chanting "w****r" at him, but not telling him he's "s**t" as that, quite clearly, is b******s. Adebayor is another waste of talent, but he is not a s**t player by any stretch of the imagination. However, what Gabriel did for their equaliser is not acceptable. I tell my ten-year-old off for failing to tackle people when he chases them down the wing and just runs alongside them instead of getting stuck in with a challenge. I tell him it doesn't really matter if he ends up committing a foul, as long as he stops that dangerous player from going forward towards goal. To see a professional defender do it makes you feel physically sick. Gabriel has not delivered on what looked like early promise as an Arsenal player. He seemed to have a desire to defend and make tackles. Maybe that's been coached out of him or something but it isn't there anymore. Calum Chambers must be given his chance in the last few games of the season. Even then it wasn't really a chance to score. Coquelin didn't get tight enough to Bolasie (though Coquelin was far and away the best player on the pitch yesterday) and then Cech let the ball in at the near-post. Cech has saved us many times this season but he has not been without his errors. The one that let the ball in yesterday was awful from him. Ospina would get pelters for that kind of mistake and so should Cech. What I would say, however, is that if you don't shoot then you won't score. The Palace striker took a punt and it paid off. We'd have been looking for a pass back to the centre-halves from that position.
The empty seats, in another era, would be ringing alarm bells with those sat in the Director's Box. However, the fact they are empty means nothing when they've already been paid for. Yesterday was a sell-out, as it is on Thursday, and every game until the end of the season. If people are mug enough to not turn up when they've already paid then Ivan and Stan will not be bothered in the slightest. What might bother them is that the Arsenal shop was very quiet yesterday when I went in to have a look around. Replica kits were still there in abundance (at full price even though they cease to be current in four weeks from now). That lack of foot-fall means less in the tills at the end of the day. If the tourist trade starts to dry up then where does that leave the American dream? With West Ham moving to a new stadium next season there is suddenly a new sporting attraction in London, with direct transport links from Paris and Brussels. Arsenal playing the way they are, and under-achieving badly, is not good for the bank balance. The fabled top-four finish is now under threat and we are going backwards. Sadly that's just about the only thing that could make Arsene Wenger quit or be sacked. It's all about the money and sod the football.