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Friday, 4 May 2018

End of the Empire

I had really hoped to be writing this morning that we were looking forward to a trip to Lyon in a fortnight. Instead I’m writing about the way Arsene Wenger’s final Arsenal dream died. He can only have himself to blame. The game in Madrid last night was a 90 minute microcosm of the last 7 or 8 years for Arsene’s Arsenal teams. It is a sad truth that since the sales of Fabregas and Van Persie for peanuts the football Arsenal have played has been woeful. It’s been not so much tiki-taka as catenaccio without the defending, so uninspiring it has become to watch. The slow, sideways build-up was in clear evidence last night. One shot on target in a game where you need to score is as inexplicable as it is unacceptable. I would say we created maybe five clear chances on the night but the only one that ended up with a shot being taken was the one Mkhitaryan volleyed just over the bar shortly after he came on. Lacazette, Bellerin, Ramsey, Monreal, Ozil and Lacazette again all chose to pass (or failed to control the ball in Monreal’s case) rather than shoot at goal. It is beyond my comprehension as to why.
The substitution of Jack Wilshere last night was probably the last nail in Jack’s coffin where Arsenal are concerned. I live in hope that the new manager wants him as it is clear that Arsene Wenger doesn’t. Jack was making Arsenal go forward last night, keeping us on the front foot and getting on top in midfield. Removing him rather than Ozil was typical of the way Arsene Wenger goes about things with Ozil completely untouchable as the star player. Contrast his contribution with his opposite number last night. Griezmann was dynamic when he got the ball, taking on people and looking to create and link up with Diego Costa high up the pitch. Ozil’s “efforts” on the night were typical of his time at Arsenal. This top class player yet again failed to influence the game. There is something missing with Ozil. The best players take the game over and dominate it. Ozil has all the ability in the world but he doesn’t have the desire. Martin Keown’s dissection of Ozil after the game last night was clinical in its delivery and searingly honest. Keown was fuming and it came across brilliantly. It made you wish that he or Tony Adams had been part of this Arsenal dressing room for years then things would have been much different for a number of players, not least Ozil and Arshavin.
The goal we conceded was as comically bad as the one last week. Bellerin simply doesn’t have the first idea how to defend. He doesn’t pay attention to what’s going on around him. How could he be thinking about going forward when Atletico have the ball and Diego Costa is the wrong side of him in space? His lack of awareness is disturbing but it’s been going on ever since he arrived in the first team. His pace often got him out of trouble early in his career. He is at least a yard slower now than he was then and his pace is no longer enough. Calum Chambers, meanwhile, carried on his very good form of recent months when he replaced the stricken Koscielny. King Koscielny has been playing on one leg for the last couple of years as he has had to nurse his Achilles problem throughout that time. Last night his tendon just gave up on him and basically finished his career at the top level. It’s a shame for him that he will also miss his last chance of playing in the World Cup.
One more note on the way things panned out last night; going in to injury time we still had Lacazette as our lone striker. We needed a goal but were sticking with one man up front against possibly the strongest centre-back partnership in Europe. Eddie Nketiah was named as a substitute but wasn’t thrown on as a late gamble when we had nothing to lose. It begs the question as to what circumstances Wenger would ever actually consider giving the boy a game. Clearly he was named there simply to make up the numbers. So I go back to January where Wenger sold Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud, but signed a striker who he knew would be ineligible to play in the only tournament we might have a chance of winning (we were already in the League Cup Final by then.) Had Giroud and/or Walcott been there last night they would have been brought on, no doubt about it. Wenger sold them and then looked at his subs last night and saw a kid who he doesn’t really rate. Selling those two players wasn’t funny when it happened and it certainly isn’t funny now.
Whichever way you look at it the disaster of last night, of this whole season, is down to Arsene Wenger. It’s been going on far too long but it’s finally coming to an end. In ten days time we see the end of the Wenger era at Arsenal. There will be a hangover from it, have no doubt, but at the very least it will be different. That difference brings some hope and a change in the narrative. It should also bring a huge change in the squad, both in terms of who is actually in it by August and also their mentality. Three games to go.

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