The manager, players, referee and even the international break were cited as reasons for Arsenal’s defeat, so which one was it?
Truthfully, a combination of all those things contributed to Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat at Watford on Saturday.
What we often dismiss as mere excuses for failure do play a part in any below bar performance. The international break, for example, does sap the energy from players, especially a break as emotionally charged as the one we’ve just had.
It wasn’t a coincidence that Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez were both left out of the game entirely, given both had suffered heart-breaking defeats with their countries. Nor is it unusual that players who had flown thousand of miles came back with some fatigue.
Similarly, bad refereeing undeniably changes games.
Watford were handed a way back into the match their play didn’t deserve and gave Arsenal more work to do they anticipated. For sure, Arsenal should have responded far better than they did, but that doesn’t change the fact they should have never been in that situation to begin with.
These are, though, things Arsenal should be used to and should account for.
The international break may have tired players but Arsenal have a sizeable squad and still had enough quality on the pitch to win the game.
Tempting as it is to scapegoat Neil Swarbrick for his penalty decision, the incident occurred after Alex Iwobi and Mesut Ozil missed good opportunities to extend Arsenal’s lead.
Arsenal can point to the break and the referee as factors behind their poor performances, but it doesn’t change the fact that we failed with the things within our control.
That brings us to the players and the manager.
Arsene Wenger cannot be held accountable for the poor finishing of his players. He has every right to expect that his players finish at least one the chances that came their way.
He also has every right to expect his team to respond better to the penalty the way they did. He’s seen much better responses in the past, and that he didn’t this time around is down to the inconsistent application of his players.
At the same time, everything has a way of circling back to the manager.
He’s the one who picked the team and made the big call to leave his most creative player on the bench. He’s also the only who prepares the team for the game, and ensures they go into each match with the right amount of focus to win it.
That things went so wrong in such a familiar way is just another example in a lengthy list that will forever leave us wondering why it continues to happen.
In the end, the manager and the players must share the blame.
Wenger will receive much of the attention, but there’s only so long the players can keep shirking responsibility for their own failures.