Before kickoff against Manchester City yesterday, Arsenal supporters found out that Mikel Arteta is scheduled to be out for three weeks with a calf injury. This injury leaves Arsenal without their most effective volante or midfield rudder and taking a wild gamble Arsene Wenger handed Abou Diaby the job, which coincidentally was Diaby’s 19th start in three years. As could be predicted with a player that rusty, it was one of the worst midfield performances anyone has seen from an Arsenal player since Arsene Wenger rolled the dice and came up craps with Emmanuel Eboue as a defensive midfielder.
Despite Diaby’s woeful match it wasn’t his fault that Arsenal were beaten by Man City. That defeat followed a chain of events beginning with Arsenal’s summer transfer dealings and ending with linesman John Brooks telling the City players to go see the away fans who paid 62 quid. It was quite an extraordinary ending to what has been an extraordinary Arsenal season so far.
As I wrote this summer, before Robin van Persie left, Arsenal needed to invest £120m in players if they wanted to seriously compete for the League title. Spending money doesn’t guarantee you a trophy, Chelsea finished 6th last season (still, they won the Champions League), but not spending money on talent and selling your best players year after year has never won a championship. And it looks like this season, it’s not even going to win Arsenal the 4th place trophy.
Arsene is well aware of the problem this injury leaves and has promised that he is in the market for “players of a calibre of Arteta”. If he’s having difficulty, I would suggest that they look no further than Claudio Yacob from West Brom, 90% passing rate, 3.7 tackles per game, and never (ever) turns the ball over. One small problem, he’s 25 and apparently we don’t buy players in that age range any more. If Yacob seems like too big a gamble, how about Marouane Fellaini? He’s got a transfer fee built into his current contract. Or Maxime Gonalons? Or Ettiene Capoue? Or Moussa Dembele? Oh wait, all in the 25 year old range. Damn.
Or how about an actual forward? Arsene refuses to use Giroud there (until it’s too late), refuses to give Podolski a chance, and instead is teaching Theo Walcott how to be a center forward, on the fly, against teams like Manchester City. Walcott might be a great center forward one day, but right now, he’s terrible. He has no clue how to play forward and it shows as he was less effective in 90 minutes than Giroud was in just over 30. Perhaps if Walcott pulled it off we’d all be saying that Wenger is a genius, but the days where that phrase is uttered have become few and far between these last five years.
It’s not like everyone couldn’t see that this team needed reinforcements this summer, we all cried out for them. Then as the fall progressed we cried out once again. And now the window is open and Arsenal are in need of reinforcements but none look to be coming.
Coincidentally, Arteta was out for 20 days last year after playing against Leeds in the FA Cup on 9th January last season. Arteta’s injury last year came after his 26th game in all competitions and after he had amassed 2270 minutes. This year, Arteta has played all 2340 minutes of 26 games. His last game this season was Swansea in the FA Cup on 6th January.
Arteta has not played more than 29 League games since 2006/2007. In fact, Mikel Arteta has only played more than 29 League games once in his career, 2006/2007 when he played 35. He has already played 20 League games for Arsenal this season.
How long before Santi Cazorla, who has played nearly every minute of every Arsenal game this season, goes down injured? He certainly looks fatigued. Since the hat trick against Reading, he’s put in a string of tired performances. Yet with Tomas Rosicky still sidelined and Andrei Arshavin in Arsene’s gulag, Cazorla has no real backup for his creative midfield position.
Meanwhile, Wilshere has been targeted by every opposition team this season and yesterday he suffered a season high 7 fouls by Man City, culminating in the red card foul by Vincent Kompany that could have easily broken Wilshere’s leg. Those were the fouls that Mike Dean decided to call, there were at least two fouls that weren’t called that left Jack in a heap. In return, Wilshere only committed one foul, for which he received a yellow card.
But despite their persistent fouling, Wilshere kept driving at the City defense and proved to be Arsenal’s most forward thinking midfielder as he completed more forward passes than any other Arsenal player with 24. Perhaps he will, like Theo Walcott, be forced to take on other duties as assigned and learn the Cazorla role where he can really get kicked and hacked to pieces.
Ramsey is the guy who did that creative role last season and he was introduced in the 61st minute for Diaby. Immediately, Ramsey provided the kind of spark that nearly dragged Arsenal back into the game. Perhaps he was feeling aggrieved at playing second fiddle to a player like Diaby, who got the start over Ramsey despite clearly lacking match fitness and any kind of sharpness with the ball. But whatever the reason, it was Ramsey’s incisive through ball that provided Arsenal with the best chance of the game.
Despite playing nearly twice as many minutes as Ramsey, Diaby completed fewer passes, fewer forward passes, and was a dreadful 73% passing (nearly 20 points below Arteta), often finding the touch line rather than a teammate with even simple passes. Perhaps there’s a world class midfielder inside Diaby somewhere, he does like to dribble a lot and people seem overly impressed with people who can dribble, but on the balance he looks frail and weak and too bland in attack to deserve a start over Ramsey right now.
Yes, the referees are clearly biased against Arsenal. Mike Dean is the worst and he has fomented his hatred of Arsenal among his linesmen who feel so comfortable that they can speak plainly on camera. But the problem isn’t Mike Dean, it’s that Arsenal lack squad depth. No other team in this League would have gone into an important game against a rival and started Abou Diaby in midfield and Theo Walcott as center forward. That’s what £120m in player acquisitions gets you. That’s what Arsenal needed this summer. Now, I suspect that it’s too late.