By Tonye Altraied
There is a stale baguette in Arsenals locker room, one that’s been there for as long as Wenger has been.
Twice in a row this week Arsenal has taken the lead over good teams and has gone on to lose the game in the most docile of ways. After a bright start against Everton in midweek, Arsenal took the lead but lost their mettle late in the second half and went on to lose a crucial game.
The theme was repeated again on Sunday when they took the lead over City but gave up the initiative to the home side, who went on to bag all three points. In place of the suspended Aguero, Raheem Sterling came in to continue his internship as a lone centre forward and managed to find the winner.
It is unfathomable that a team with desires to win the league can play like Arsenal does in crunch games such as these.
The team was riding their luck for most of the 90 minutes. The players looked bereft of ideas and could not string more than five passes together to create anything dangerous.
Arsene Wenger’s teams are known for their passing and control of the ball. Starting the play from back is a characteristics of many a Wenger team. Everytime Arsenal had the ball at the back in this game they hit it long towards a 5ft 6in Sanchez to duel with 6ft 1in Kolarov – admittedly Sanchez does have a magnificent leap on him – but this wasn’t a very effective tactic to get the team up the pitch.
The fact that they were too scared to play from the back means that the team is clearly unsure of their abilities to play short passes, keep control of the ball and move the opposition around. In the absence of Santiago Cazorla, Granit Xhaka is adept at doing that job but failing to do so means they let City come unto them like a bad rash.
Albeit, the fatal undoing of this Arsenal team stemmed from their failure to perform a synchronised pressing operation, only Alexis Sanchez was in on the act. Alexis was a constant thorn in the City’s players’ backsides, constantly putting pressure on their defenders and gesturing for his teammates to follow his lead and get themselves in the right positions to aggressively squeeze the opposition and deny them any space or time to escape with the ball.
It’s not as though he was playing with a team of youngsters who weren’t really sure how to execute a game plan, this is a team that the manager had recently labelled as ‘mature’ and consists of many experienced players.
The team could not play on the front foot. Theo Walcott couldn’t understand when to get closer to his man or when to drop off. Mesut Ozil was lacaidasical as usual, only running when he deemed necessary and not sacrificially for the teams good. The usually dependent Coquelin also had one of his worst games for Arsenal.
Nobody can win the league playing like this. Arsenal are nine points between the leaders and don’t look like they can recover. The best they can hope for is third place. Alexis looks like he has a better idea of what he should be doing than the rest of his teammates. Considering the way he is playing and what other players are earning elsewhere, then he is fully deserving of the £250k salary he is requesting.
The likes of Walcott have a lot to say about how the team has improved and how they want to chase a title this season but when it comes down to it, experienced players like himself appear clueless as to how to win a game that has huge significance on the title.
This resembled a performance from Arsenal that we are all accustomed to. Its a more than familiar trait that means they are good enough to beat the lower table teams but struggle to beat anyone who is a genuine title contender.
Apart from when they beat Chelsea convincingly earlier in the season, they’ve been woefully unable to repeat that performance against a top team since then.
Wenger, afterwards blamed the referee for allowing two offside goals. This is yet another recurring theme in his post match approach after another disappointing performance.
The longest serving manager in the league should know that you cannot advocate for refereeing errors and on any day if your performance is not good enough you will be duly swept aside.
The premier league is a tough place and you cannot afford to drop points like amateurs. Arsenal desperately need to dispose of the stale baguette in their locker.
Whilst other teams have freshened up their locker rooms with new thinking, new approach, new tactics and new ideas, Arsenal are stuck in their old ways.
As Conte at Chelsea shows he brings a nice platter of pasta to Chelsea so does Klopp bring a fresh pint of Bavarian brew to Liverpool. Guardiola whilst still struggling to find his feet in the premier league has shown that he can serve up a nice bowl of tapas, here and there. Arsene on the other hand has served this same baguette for several years now, it was delicious when he first arrived but now its gone stale, hard and dry.
This is a baguette that gives you hope when you look into your cupboard searching for something to eat. A baguette that stands in the corner and at first glance appears as something to redeem your hunger. But alas, one bite into it and you realise it is a baguette unable to fulfil the promise of conquering your starvation. This baguette is only a fourth placed baguette and nothing more.