Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal
How many times has Arsene Wenger stood in front of the cameras after a defeat and pointed out that we were not “at the level requested”? I’ve lost count. Arsenal not being properly prepared or set up for big games is a festering sore that he now cannot fix. You’ve all seen the stats about how often we’ve won away against the top six in recent years, so I’ll spare you it.
Yesterday: well where to start? Bellerin was in the wrong place and Kolasinac was sacrificed, all to squeeze in the Ox, who wants to leave and how it showed. Monreal was in the wrong place because Wenger either doesn’t trust his other central defenders or they don’t want to be here. Holding looked every inch a 21-year old defender plucked for £2m from the Championship, because we didn’t have a midfield to speak of to help him. Ramsey was playing some kind of modernist free-form role – what was that all about? Xhaka was a mess. Our £55m striker was also sacrificed to fit in both Welbeck and Alexis. The former shanked our only presentable chance and the latter’s body language told you everything you needed to know. Ozil was invisible.
“There are some reasons”, said Wenger when pressed on quite how we were so ill-prepared despite not having played all week, “but I don’t think I have too much to come out on that now”. Wise, Arsene – because it doesn’t reflect well on you.
“I’m happy with my squad”, said Wenger a while ago, or words to that effect, and you have to wonder what they’re smoking over at the Emirates. It’s got holes all over it, players want to leave and on yesterday’s evidence it looks to be a pretty unhappy place.
Somewhat fittingly, today is the 6th anniversary of the 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford. “These are all problems of Wenger’s making,” I concluded then, and the same can of course be concluded now. Both teams were set up wrong, played out of position, tactically absent, low on energy, error-riddled, lacking concentration, and were weakened either by recent exits or by players who patently wanted out.
On that note, to have so many players in their last year is not just a huge error of strategic planning, it feels like a bellwether for what the players think about this team’s prospects under Wenger. Ozil, Alexis, Mustafi and Ox don’t want to be here anymore, and other players aren’t so stupid as to not be affected by it. Some of them will be thinking it themselves. I wasn’t keen to get rid of any of them, but seeing those who played go through the motions yesterday makes me care just a little less. I think Ox will go, I think Mustafi will go and I still think Alexis might, too.
So finally, belatedly, onto the man himself – Wenger. The performance yesterday was a slaughter; an embarrassment. It could not be more removed from the exhilaration of taking Chelsea apart in the cup final a few short months ago, when we dominated from beginning to end. But that run at the end of the season, culminating in Wembley, now feels like a blip. Yesterday, while not the norm, is the kind of result that Arsenal are always capable of under Wenger, and have been for seven or eight years, because he simply isn’t the manager he once was. He doesn’t motivate his players like he once did. This side is not set up to challenge for the big prizes in this market of ruthlessness and naked ambition. It’s not set up to win the difficult, big matches away from home. Wenger is still erudite and charming, and his achievements are legion, but in managerial terms he’s yesterday’s man.
Ah, but it’s just one game, don’t go overboard, some of you might say. True enough. It’s one bad game – one very bad game. But it’s symptomatic of so many other things that are wrong and that won’t change until Wenger’s gone. Most fans have seen this for a while; most journalists know it only too well.
Where that leaves us is anyone’s guess.