Ma man Andy P has divulged his thoughts after the catastrophic loss to Chelsea. Some thoughts and frustrations that many of us share. Share your thoughts below.
It seems that the emphasis this season was placed on not slipping up against the minnows. In today’s modern game, and especially made to be case and point this season, is that any team is beatable on the day. All of the “best” teams in the Premier League have been kept in check by a “lesser” team at least once this season. The EPL is one of the hardest leagues to win because you cannot field a team of reserves and expect to win any game.
Obviously, on paper, you can look at the top clubs that have the disposable income to supply their fans and stakeholders the finest talent available. But that’s life. There’s always going to be someone richer than you. Better than you at something. Maybe not straight away, but it is impossible to stay at the top for anything. There’s a reason why Manchester United invest £300,000 a week in Wayne Rooney – and justified or not, he has the ability that £300,000/week provides you at any point during a game.
There are dozens of other players in this league that are all being paid ridiculously high wages and if you look at exactly what that money has ‘bought’ there isn’t too many cases where it is unjustified. And doesn’t it taste sweeter when the underdog, or the alternative ability and strategy “pays off” i.e. 3 points? Chelsea, who boast a magnificently talented roster are able to slip up against struggling Villa, Manchester City stumble to Cardiff City, and of course Liverpool have been rife with under performing. This is football. This is why football is loved. Any team can be defeated on the day, regardless of money, regardless of form, regardless of standings on the table.
So tell me, what makes a champion team? I’ll spell it out for you. Manchester United won the title last season, and a deep hatred bubbles inside me when I consider how many years I have watched United score last-gasp goals, score jammy deflections, have opponents score oggies for them, or be allowed to play six added minutes, when the fourth official has signalled three. All the while the column beside their name continues to add three points to their total. For me, both Arsenal and (now this season) United have lost the player who stands up and says “Okay, I’ll take that one, but no more” – the footballing equivalent of receiving a haymaker right square on the chops – that for some reason you were unprepared for.
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There’s all this talk of mental fragility, Arsenal are a young team, blah blah blah. I’m sick of it. Nobody in the team is mentally fragile. To me it’s simple. Through lack of role models – Arsenal have not had a captain recently that has been able to play the situation smart. There will always be bad days at the office – but is it coincidence that our bad days this season have just so happened to line up with the biggest matches of the schedule?
We have always criticised lower league teams for putting ten men behind the ball, and crowding the space around the area – to actively have the game plan strategy not to lose, as opposed to going out to win. Arsenal have been faced with this mentality for years and years, and have always boasted a relatively good record against the big clubs, with the belief such success was because our opponents would come out and attack, with the goal to win, allowing for free-flowing football by the eloquent Arsenal sides.
Arsenal, and fans alike hold that pride of the style in which our beloved club plays very close to the heart. The sufficient consequence has often been that that pride is ripped from our hearts when our team is kicked, muscled or bettered strategically – beautifully represented this season by the post-match interview of Big Sam and The Special One when West Ham traveled to the Bridge. Again, to me, this is football. The battle, the strategy, out-witting, out-thinking and consequently, humiliating your opponent. The puzzling thing for me, especially this past game, is the tactics employed.
Firstly, the team selection. Now, I think Arsene Wenger has done an absolutely brilliant job at Arsenal, but moments like this one is beyond me. The only defence that arises in my mind is that he truly believed the player selection to play at the Bridge this season could pull a result. Every single player that took the field on Saturday is a remarkable player. But you can’t rely on potential alone to win… At the bridge… Against Chelsea… In a must-win game… Who are the league-leaders.
Time and time again, managers opt to play an experienced head over a less-experienced footballer who might be in good form. The first player on the team sheet for Saturday’s game should have been Flamini. He knows the game, he knows how to play in big matches, he is a senior player who might have been able to stamp his foot down and as I mentioned earlier, take a hit like a champ, and then step it up a level.
What I proceeded to witness was a team who brushed it off and told themselves, “Okay, no big deal, we can get one back.” The very first priority should have been KEEP THE BALL. We are good at keeping the ball. We know this tactic well. Very well. It is drummed in to you from day one. Every footballer knows how frustrating is to not have the ball. We know how vulnerable a team is directly after scoring, so teams are encouraged to keep the ball, so your hard work isn’t cancelled out. But we didn’t have those players on the field, which makes me think, this possibility was not considered. Of course you’re not going to say to your players, “We will play like this because when we go one-nil down…” But the option needs to be considered. What happens when Eto’o curls one in the corner after five minutes? Break up the field and force it? No. The approach needed to be to KEEP THE BALL.
In a game that had so much importance, there had to be caution. And for the first 20 minutes, there was none. So Wenger has riled his troops in to believing they can beat Chelsea, and win the double, one hard game at a time. This was not just another match. This was the match that crushed all Arsenal fans’ high hopes of winning the title this season. So close, and yet it’s likely we will finish no closer than in the last 10 years. Caution needed to be stressed. Defend first, bide our time, let the football do the talking.
Having 40,000 fans cheering every mistake you make, from a poor touch, a hand ball or just loss of possession, you get rattled, and you make poor decisions. Give the ball early and keep it. Don’t force 40-yard passes, don’t be so blasé that you pass it straight into the path of your opponents. It annoys me, that we played with such a high line, with nothing but attacking players, and let Chelsea’s forwards roam free in the final third. Take Bayern Munchen’s tactic of swarming into account here… Force mistakes. At the very least get touch tight. The ball players on the park just weren’t suitable opponents to their Chelsea counterparts. Until the Arsenal players share the same view point, be operating on the same page, these destructions will continue to happen.
I will always be a Gooner. Nothing will ever change that. I will always be a proud gooner. But, as unusual as it sounds, I think I was more proud when we stumbled to the likes of Stoke, Bolton and West Brom, who tactically and passionately wanted the win on the day more than us, than I do this season. It’s a very strange muse and feeling. We were so close to winning the title this season, we had barely slipped to the usual physical, lower league compatriots, and we have such a good reputation to perform in the big matches. Maybe not win them all, but at the very least keep it close – a spectacular showcase of the league’s most talented players, the ebb and flow that only football can bring, the euphoric highs, the devastating lows, the banter with friends and family. At 3-0 down, down to 10-men, I want to throw my TV out the window, put my phone into Airplane mode for a week minimum, and avoid all social media and confrontations.
Arsenal stakeholders or not, people can see what not to do. Saturday was a lesson of what happens when incorrect tactics, and an unprepared team face the league leaders. Do your homework. Consider the possibilities. Stand tall and play to your strengths. For some reason, Arsenal, as a whole, have not been learning from their mistakes, and it’s heart-wrenching to watch. It is still possible to do the double, but realistically, it’s not going to happen. Each training and game from here needs to be better than the last, and the midweek game against Swansea needs to be a stepping stone to beat City on the weekend. The result is important, but decision making throughout the game needs to be clinical, precise, and passionate. Don’t give any player, any team, any more respect than they deserve.
Let’s pull our socks up, and finish the season with some dignity, pride and results.