Incompetent referees, missed chances, a useless officiating team, injured players, mediocre arbitrators, Laurent Koscielny’s allergic reaction to playing past the 55th minute.
Did I mention the referees?
But still. 10-2.
There can no doubt be a whole host of positives that can be drawn from different segments of both games against Bayern Munich, but how much solace can a 10-2 loss really bring? How many moral victories can one find without the scoreboard overshadowing all of them?
I’m all for wanting to look at both first halves and derive from them that Arsenal were more than holding their own against a side that are regarded as one of the elite three or four teams in Europe, because they certainly were. But as heartening it was to see Arsenal go toe-to-toe with a club who they see as equal rivals and not be outclassed immediately, it was just as disheartening to see how quickly Arsenal could fall away from that level, and how far.
Of course, any team that loses their best central defender is not going to play to its absolute best. But the fact that there was no discernible difference between the way Arsenal played when Koscielny was sent off, and the way they played with Gabriel in place of him, is perhaps the perfect indicator of just how far the Gunners are away from being in contention for the trophies they so desperately crave.
Arsenal, at their best, have the ability to beat anyone. They proved that by thrashing the team that is currently 10 points clear in the league. The problem is that when they beat Chelsea 3-0, it was the last time they played up to such a level. Also, that game was FIVE months ago. If your argument to explain this away is ‘We don’t have Santi Cazorla now’, then fine, but Chelsea have completely changed the way they approach a game since that defeat. Arsenal, after seemingly losing a crucial part of their winning formula, haven’t done anything to remedy it.
We’ve seen twice in the last five days that Arsenal either won’t or can’t change the way they play. We can’t be sure as to which is correct, because Arsene Wenger brought on Mesut Özil against Bayern with twenty minutes to go in a game that needed to be closed out, which would indicate that his unwillingness to play defensive football is to blame, but he also set Arsenal up to play long-balls from the back at Anfield to help evade Liverpool’s high press, only for the players to run face-first into it, over and over and over again.
We can blame Wenger for lots of things, but we can’t blame him when Nacho Montreal leaves Sadio Mane unmarked in the middle of Arsenal’s penalty area for no good reason whatsoever.
Arsenal is full of people either unable, or unwilling, to change.
The manager believes that what he is doing now is right because it has worked before, and is thus unwilling to deviate from a template that served him well. The playing squad is filled with talent that is going unfulfilled due to a combination of injury setbacks and lack of positional consistency when selected. The majority of the fan base has come round to the idea that the manager needs to be replaced, but would still like to wait until the last possible moment before ending the career of someone who still commands both their affection and respect.
And then there’s the board…..
There was a curious article in the Mirror on Thursday, which stated that the decision on whether Wenger will be kept on as manager will be ‘mutual’. It also stated that there is a two-year contract that has been agreed upon that is waiting for Wenger’s signature. It’s basically an attempt to get ahead of any criticism that comes their way for whatever Wenger decides to do. If his departure leads to tough times, they get to say that he didn’t sign the new deal they offered. If he leaves and Arsenal do well, then it was their decision that he left. The same applies for if he stays and does well.
But if he stays and things remain as they are?
It is a cruel irony that the worst thing that could happen to Arsenal’s title hopes for the medium-term would be a repeat of the last three years of standing still whilst our rivals improve, yet the board wants nothing more than the consistency that standing still brings.
Arsenal have a fan base that gives the club hundreds of millions of pounds every year in order to do everything it can to win trophies, and it has a board that is unwilling to risk losing that cash flow unless it is in grave peril of it being lost anyways.
Yes, nearly every other club in Europe would love to have the problems that Arsenal have at the moment, and yes, Arsene Wenger is still a very good manager that will have no problem finding other employment if he leaves the club in the summer. But both of those can still apply and fans still should be entitled to expect more from their club.
Just because the club is in rude financial health and has a stadium that is paying for itself in a way that its North London rival can only dream about at the moment, that doesn’t mean that when the club isn’t utilising its resources to the best of its ability, fans should be content with being almost good enough to win.
Arsenal have been almost good enough to win for a decade now.
Arsenal had two weeks to prepare for Liverpool, and two months to prepare for Bayern Munich.
The scoreboard never lies.