Riddle me this Boy Wonder: what do you get when your team plays their bollocks off at home against an energetic, harassing opponent using a 4-1-4-1 formation and is only able to manage a 2-2 draw and then plays the same formation against a similarly energetic, harassing opponent, and this time they are away from home and don’t play their bollocks off?
Holy hole in the donuts Batman, you get Borussia Dortmund 2-0 Arsenal.
Let me recap watching the game. First, I groaned when I saw the 4-1-4-1 formation with two new defenders brought in and a defensive midfielder who hasn’t played in a month. Then I wondered why, if we are changing everything around, not bring in Tomas Rosicky for Ramsey and Ox for Ozil? After all, it was clearly a draining performance a few days earlier against Man City, wouldn’t some fresh attacking blood be helpful? Then I was reminded that Wenger really made a mistake this season not buying a young, mobile defensive midfielder. Oh and then I noticed that Welbeck is going to get his chances, but that he needs to finish them. And from here on in my memory is like a wordle — it’s just a jumble of “fucking Podolski” and “wow, really, Özil?” That spiked with a great deal of anger about Arsene Wenger and his propensity for gambling. And after I had calmed down for a few hours I remembered that Arsenal really aren’t good enough to win this tournament anyway and haven’t been for years. Results like this at Dortmund should be expected, really.
Did I get everything that you saw? Probably not.
Let’s start with the first one: the formation. I understand what Arsene is trying to do, he’s trying to give four extremely talented players (Özil, Sanchez, Ramsey, and Wilshere) time on the pitch together. I have no problem with that part of the idea with just one minor flaw: the 4-1-4-1 doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for Özil who had one of his worst ever Arsenal performances shunted off to the wing. It doesn’t work for Flamini/Arteta who were both exposed badly in both the City and BvB matches. It’s just too much to ask a 32 year old to cover the spaces left by both fullbacks, especially when he’s clearly not match fit.
Watching Arteta slip and fall in the first minute of the game and then watching him bypassed time and again throughout the match was painful. It was like watching the end of your favorite player’s career. I can’t remember the game but there was an Arsenal match where Wenger was forced to bring on Keown. He had been out for a while and within a few minutes we found out why: he was off pace, his head wasn’t in the game, and he wasn’t able to do basic things right. After that game Keown was used sparingly. Arteta had that kind of Keown game yesterday.
What’s really frustrating here is that we all know that Wenger has been after a player like Sven Bender for years. Apparently, he wanted Carvalho this summer, last summer he bid on Gustavo, and so on. Nary a transfer window goes by without us bidding on these players but for some reason coming up short. Either the manager is refusing to spend the extra money to get the player that everyone knows Arsenal have needed for a fucking decade or… It’s almost as if Wenger has a pathological need to prove to the world that Arsenal can be the only top club in Europe to play without a real defensive midfielder.
But in terms of getting things wrong Wenger got that call to bring in Arteta and play him in the base of the Arsenal midfield horribly wrong. Everyone knew Dortmund was going to sit back and hit Arsenal for counters and they did exactly that. So why put an old man, clearly lacking match fitness, in that role? Why not put Wilshere there and bring Rosicky in for his energy?
At half time the pundits were wondering if Wenger went into the locker room and gave his team a rollicking. Personally? I don’t know what he had to yell at them about. It would have made more sense to yell at himself. Yell at himself for gambling with Arteta, for gambling with 6 defenders, and for gambling with the Arsenal season by trying a new formation that doesn’t seem to get the best out of some of the best players in the world.
After the match, Arsene did point out that Arsenal had some of the best chances in the game. Both fell to new recruit Danny Welbeck and both were just off by small margins. The Kieran Gibbs pass was absolutely brilliant. He beat his marker in midfield drove into the heart of the Dortmund penalty area and stood the ball up for Welbeck at the far post. Welbeck could have chested that ball in but instead he took a swing with the boot and missed. He had another chance where he was played through with another moment of brilliance from Ramsey and this time, perhaps aware that he missed a chip last weekend from the exact angle, he tried to hit it low and flashed well wide of the post. It’s hugely encouraging that Welbz keeps getting into these positions and that his teammates are finding him with ease. I predicted that Welbeck would score more than Falcao on twitter a week ago and I stand by that. If he keeps getting these caviar passes, he is eventually going to start scoring. And once he does I suspect he won’t stop.
The good news is that once Welbeck starts scoring we can finally be rid of the grifter known as Lukas Podoski. Don’t give me the “get behind the team” bullshit. I get behind every player who shown me a modicum of effort and for two years Lukas Podolski’s main effort has been coming up with new hashtags. And last night, against Dortmund, in a Champions League match, Lukas Podolski had his #aha moment… and couldn’t find his shin pads. I imagine that wherever Podolski goes in life there’s a yakity sax soundtrack which is what I was playing when I saw him looking for a shin pad.
Podolski ended up borrowing a shin pad from Özil, which was great because it probably wasn’t even sweaty. Yeah.. I’m saying it. What was that from Özil? At this point it doesn’t matter whether it’s fatigue (though he’s played nearly the same amount of time as Sanchez) or something else, Özil has been worryingly poor these last few games. Lots of folks are calling for him to be deployed centrally and I don’t entirely disagree, except to say that he’s not really working hard for the team. He’s lolling about up front and frankly I think he’s hiding. Wenger took him off after 62 minutes where he had just 32 touches (total) and three passes in the opposition final third — Oxlade Chamberlain came on for him and had 23 touches in half the time. Özil is a player who dominates that area. A player whose main contribution to the team is creating in the final third, in dangerous areas. He was far too easily caught with the ball and too often not moving into spaces to receive passes. And the worst part is that he looked like he just didn’t care and that is unacceptable.
But in the end, after a few hours away from the game it’s a pretty simple problem. Arsenal just aren’t good enough. There is no chance that this team will win the Champions League. None. Hasn’t been a chance for years. I know that we have added top quality players in Sanchez and Özil but despite that quality we can’t seem to get the parts right and can’t seem to get all the parts that we need in order to really threaten top quality teams. Tactically, we are exposed time and again with the same rudimentary attacks and defending. So, we aren’t supposed to win away in Europe to the top clubs. Dortmund did their job hobbled by injury, we didn’t.
So roll on Saturday and Aston Villa. There’s a team we can beat. Maybe. They do like to sit back, deny and hit on the counter. Oh and look… they have only allowed one goal so far this season! I know, let’s try a real gamble and put Calum Chambers in as defensive midfielder.
Clicka-clakca…. daddy needs a new pair of shoes!