Thursday, 26 February 2015

Another Fine Arsenal Mess

In the last sentence of my preview yesterday I said you never know what you will get with this Arsenal team and that was never more evident than in last night's game. I'm still struggling to understand how the team managed to come up with one of the most inept performances in memory on such an important night. It's hard to give credit to any player, but I suppose David Ospina didn't do too much wrong in goal.

Arsene Wenger set the stage by telling us it was time for his team to step and show they really were challengers at last. He struggled to explain what went on after the game, but he has to take his share of the blame for failing to influence matters from the bench. That was his team out there with almost all of his star performers available and they let him and the fans down yet again.

It didn't start too badly as Arsenal had the right tempo for the night in the first five minutes and looked like they had the will to get the job done. The tempo changed very quickly though as Arsenal struggled to make any inroads into a tight and well disciplined Monaco defence. Monaco didn't show too much ambition either and looked content to play in safe areas without over committing players in attack.

The game changed a little while before half time when a shot from outside the box took a deflection and wrong footed Ospina to crash into the Arsenal net. Monaco had a precious away goal and Arsenal knew they were in a game and I sat back and waited for their reaction.

Arsenal tried to up the tempo after the break and certainly offered a lot more going forward, but it was at the expense of anything resembling defensive stability. It didn't take Monaco too long to take advantage as they broke quickly after Alexis Sanchez lost possession in their box. As four Arsenal players descended on the player in possession he played a pass which left Monaco with a two on one from the halfway line. The ball was played to ex Spurs player Dimitar Berbatov and he made no mistake to increase their lead.

The decision by Per Mertesacker to step forward and challenge for the ball leaving a two on one behind him was astounding for a player of his experience. If I was the manager of a schoolboy player who did that he would be on the sidelines for the next game at least for such a stupid decision and for a player with over 100 caps for the world champions to do so was inexcusable. When things go wrong for Arsenal in defence Mertesacker always seems to suffer the most.

As somebody said on Twitter last night the signs were there against Palace and Leicester when Arsenal were more than a little lucky to win both games and found themselves under severe pressure against teams they should have dominated. The balance between defence and attack just doesn't seem to be right and Arsenal just aren't placing enough emphasis on protecting their defence. Francis Coquelin was brought into the midfield to do the work others don't do and he has been very good since winning his place in the team. I thought he played too far forward last night and wasn't there to screen the defence as he has been so often recently.

Arsenal tried to throw everything they had at Monaco and they created some good chances, but those chances fell to Olivier Giroud who had a most forgettable night. He has done well since he came back from his injury and was in fine form before last night, but the last of the chances he missed was the easiest and the final straw as the boss replaced him with Theo Walcott on the hour mark. I've said it before and I'll say it again I just don't think Giroud is good enough to play at the level Arsenal aspire to play. 

Walcott had an immediate impact and almost scored, but unfortunately he then got in the way of Welbeck's follow up to stop it going into the net. Arsenal soon lost their momentum and again gave the initiative to Monaco who created some good chances of their own. Both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky made their way off the bench too with Coquelin and Santi Cazorla coming off. Rosicky's impact was minimal, but Chamberlain had a big impact on the game and both ends.

With the game seemingly petering out he produced a moment of magic just on the 90 minute mark to give Arsenal some hope for the second leg. Up to that point he had lost the ball on more or less every occasion and he did so again in the final added minute with terrible consequences for Arsenal. With the whole team again too far forward Monaco broke when Chamberlain was dispossessed and added a third and probably killer goal. Where the defence were again is anybody's guess, but it was no surprise after such an inept performance.

The third goal means Arsenal have to score three times away from home to a team who only conceded one goal in their six group games. Monaco only scored four goals in that group too and I don't think they set out to score as many as they did last night. I think they saw how the game was going and how bad Arsenal were in defence and realised the chance was too good to pass up. I don't give Arsenal any hope in the second leg and I think they will go out at this stage of the competition for the fifth season in a row.

I wish I could figure out where the team went so wrong last night, but it's impossible not to think it was in their heads. Maybe they underestimated Monaco and thought they only had to show up to win through, but there are no easy ties at this stage in the toughest club competition in the world. It was yet another horror show from Arsenal and we all saw it happening, but yet again neither the players nor the manager could do anything to change it.

For me Arsenal were far too narrow with Welbeck coming in from the right and playing too close to Giroud while Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez kept trying to play through the middle. To break Monaco down Arsenal needed to use every inch of the pitch and stretch them time and again, but they kept playing the same slow laboured game right through the middle. I lost count of how many times Arsenal lost possession in front of the centre of Monaco's defence, but it didn't stop from trying the same thing time after time. 

Arsenal created enough good chances to have won the game if they had kept their defensive house in order, but once Monaco got their first goal all thoughts of proper defending went out the window. With the tie played over two games it was quite incredible to see Arsenal over commit players forward with 140 minutes still to play and time most definitely on their side. They paid the price with the second and third goals coming on the break and Monaco as good as putting the tie to bed before the second leg. 

With the players Arsenal have you would think they would be able to cope with the opposition closing them down, but it appears that's just not the case. I don't know if it's a lack of movement by team mates or players just taking too much out of the ball or maybe it's a combination of both. I do know the Arsenal players are capable of playing the ball a lot quicker and getting past any team that closes them down quickly, but they're just not doing it right now. Other teams have realised it's the way to get at Arsenal and Arsenal now have to find a way to counter them.

The wins over Leicester and Palace were more than a little lucky and the team really isn't playing well right now. If they're going to finish in the top four and progress in the FA Cup they need to find some balance to the team and that has to mean playing another player alongside Coquelin and sacrificing one of the more attacking players. I know Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta are injured and Jack Wilshere is just back from his latest injury, but the time has come for decisions to be made on which attacking players are first choice. With the attacking options Arsenal have those players might have to take turns on the bench, but the needs of the team outweigh the needs of the individual.

There's a few days before the team play again at home to Everton in the league on Sunday and the players and manager need to take some of that time to reflect on what went wrong. I expect to see some changes in that game because heads have to roll after a performance like last night. Those who do play need to understand that if something isn't working then it's not a good idea to just keep trying it again and again.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.


  1. Blame Wenger and nobody else.He is lucky to have survived so long without
    success. Me thinks this is unlikely to last long.
    The problem is tactically he has lost it. There is no plan b. It's attack all the way and with a
    ponderous cd,you are asking for trouble. He likes his gunners to be lightweigh compared to other teams. That is why in a 50/50 challenge,the gunners will invariably lose out.
    The football landscape has changed.He is like a dinosaur who still thinks his pattern weaving soccer can win when it has been proven otherwise many times.
    If Arsenal are serious about challenging he has to change tactically or go. No ifs and buts.

  2. Berbatov said the gunners have very quick players. When they are on the attack they leave gaps which can be exploited with aquick through pass.It has happend before in games most notably against redface and Chelsea in the cl.
    I was in Berne when I met a group of rf fansThey told me rf knew how the gunners would play.
    They were dead right.The gunners had plenty of possession . So when the ball was misplaced/intercepted/etc, a quick breakway and you see Rooney scoring with millions of acres of space.Allied to a sub std goalie,it was inevitable the gunners would lose.
    The thing is Wenger is the problem.Until he changes his tactical strategy or sacked,Arsenal will continue to be also rans.
    Btw,Chelsea have announced a record sponsorship deal.They are able to because they are winners.Sponsors want to be associated with successful teams not perpetual losers in the big games.