It was once said of Arsène Wenger that he was an unlucky manager.
Over the last 20 years, we have seen ample evidence to back that assertion up. By the same token, I have long believed that the second I make an assertion about anything Arsenal related, the opposite is almost guaranteed to happen.
Obviously, things can’t quite be that bad, otherwise our dearly beloved editor would have told me to do one by now and, well, I’m still here. Perhaps Lee is a little sadistic…?
Let’s move on.
My point being, no sooner had I written an article stating that Arsenal would win the league title if they could keep their current rate of shots to goals up, then they went and drew a blank. At home. To effing Middlesbrough. In fact, Arsenal ended up grateful to Petr Cech, who was almost single handedly responsible for the point that we took from the game.
Oh, the humiliation…
Worse than that, having talked up the team’s football in the absence of both Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey, it turned out that these two were badly missed on Saturday. Sometimes, when the butterfly wings are beating out of time, you just need to send the bulldozers in instead. There was no bulldozer available at the weekend.
More pertinently, perhaps, Santi Cazorla missed his first game of Premier League football since the opening day defeat at home to Liverpool.
‘Again with the Santi!’ I hear you cry in, Sopranos style, exasperated. Yes, again with the Santi. Sorry. It’s just that his importance to the way Arsenal play, mostly successfully, is something that only ever gets fully appreciated when he isn’t around. When, for example, we end up playing both Coquelin and Elneny. At home. To effing Middlesbrough.
This article highlights how vital, how special even, the little man is to Arsenal. Whilst we might be able to look at Saturday and see that Granit Xhaka was also missing, I think it’s fair to say that Xhaka has not yet the chance, and may not even have the game, to build the kind of relationship that Cazorla has with Mesut Özil. I haven’t checked the Özil-Cazorla passing stats. However, in this ‘post facts’ world we apparently now live in, who needs stats? I feel quite comfortable trusting the evidence of my own eyes and saying that the two men pass to each other quite a lot. And that Cazorla is vital to Arsenal’s build up.
Or, to use Arsène Wenger’s own words following the Middlesbrough match:
“Of course, you miss always Cazorla, from deep midfield into the final third, with his pass he is always quick and accurate.”
I suppose it is in that context that the question of why we haven’t rotated Santi a little bit more is definitively answered. The fact that he had to get injured to be replaced is simply because we don’t currently have anyone else who can do what he does as well as he does it. Ergo, he is integral to the team.
So, we’re bollocksed until he returns to first team action, right? Not necessarily.
Saturday’s failure against Middlesbrough was a perfect storm, brewed thus:
We didn’t have the personnel to perform our usual style of play with 100% effectiveness.
We faced a very well organised team (and let’s be fair, even with Cazorla in the team we can struggle against such an outfit).
As I mentioned earlier, we were missing options on the bench, which would have enabled us to change the game. That won’t be the case this weekend.
In addition, I think there was bound to be an element of ‘After the Lord Mayor’s show...’ following the Ludogorets demolition.
I am making excuses to a certain degree here, of course I am. Bearing in mind the run the team’s been on since the opening seven days of the season, I think they’re allowed a little leeway. As long as they go and beat Sunderland this weekend and how David Moyes would it be to get a result against us in Saturday’s early kick off?
Perish the thought.
But as we’re speaking about a former Manchester United manager, let us briefly linger on the current man in charge at Old Trafford. Let us linger and laugh.
Of course, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Jose Mourinho will turn these fallen giants around. He is, after all, a special one. Apparently. By the same token, nobody reading this will be surprised if Manchester United beat Arsenal next month. However, even as someone who has little interest in football beyond the boundaries of London, N5, I found it impossible not to linger on Sunday afternoon’s match at Stamford Bridge. I lingered and then I laughed. Lots.
Imagine the chutzpah of Mourinho complaining about a very, to use the parlance of our times, ‘special’ humiliation. Well, you don’t have to imagine it, because this boorish man actually did it. The handshakes before time, the insults, the aggression – the nerve! For me, it wasn’t about Chelsea winning on Sunday. No, it was about the whole world winning.
To me, Mourinho seems a man lost in a world he doesn’t understand; sort of like when I went to live in Spain at the age of 21. Only this job, the Manchester United job, is the one he wanted, the one he craved. Yet Manchester United, with their attacking philosophy so ingrained, have no use for for someone whose primary concern ahead of a big clash is to shut it down. Particularly when that man, like Manchester United, has lost a little of his lustre.
The suspicion remains for me that events at Chelsea this time last year have diminished and damaged Mourinho irreparably. The big man has become a small one and I think he knows it.
The pay off won’t be too far away.