All right you negative nancies, there are just five games left of this abominable season and then we can all go hiking*. That means just five games left for us to say things like “we have to put this right” and “Man City handed Arsenal a real opportunity there by dropping points.” And only five games left for Wenger to say things like,
“Our job is to give absolutely the maximum until the last day of the season. You expect that from ambitious, professional football players.
We have values at this club that we respect and that we have to respect until the last minute of the season.”
He is right, we have values at this club and have to give maximum effort in every game as the season winds down. Anything less would be, well, it would be sort of like what happened against Crystal Palace the other day.
I watched Adrian Clarke’s breakdown and he made some interesting points (which we will get to in a second) but the biggest one for me was that Arsenal looked a bit lethargic. Welbeck in particular didn’t get service, when he did get service “the ball didn’t stick”, add to that the fact that he didn’t make his usual runs. This allowed Palace to park the bus, forcing Ozil to collect in deep areas where he was less effective.
Clarke ended the piece by suggesting that Arsenal will regret not creating more after Palace scored — they took just 1 shot (Gabriel header) in the last 12 minutes of the game. In essence, Arsenal looked like a team already on vacation.
Wenger’s quote above was made in his pre-match presser and sounded like a speech to the players. Like “yes, you are disappointed, we all are, but we have to finish the season strong.” And he’s right, Arsenal could easily drop into the Europa League places if they aren’t careful here. So, as I said at the outset, it’s a good thing Man City dropped two points because it gives Arsenal a little chance to get back ahead of them in the race for the top four. However, that’s going to be a tough call because if the players are on vacation, the fans seem to be ready to join them and Arsenal need all the support they can get right now.
There are a number of supporters who are planning on staying home Thursday and there is a sense that despite the announced “sellout” of the game the stands will look like a Serie A match. This is being billed as a “protest” but it’s not. There are a few angry voices glomming on to a weird series of events and pretending that they are doing something meaningful.
There are going to be a lot of empty seats because: there is a planned train strike, the game is on a Thursday night, the game will be on telly, the season feels like it is over, fans are burned out on this team, and some people will be protesting.
Don’t get me wrong, I support people protesting the team. If they are that angry, they should get together, form a platform, and make some demands. If the demands aren’t met, then start a series of direct actions – walking out of games, not going to games, not watching games on TV, not buying shirts, not clicking on the dot com, not renewing your season ticket, unfollowing the official news feed on Twitter, and so on. That’s how protests work.
The few people who will be protesting with their undefined platform of zero demands will naturally try to make this into a bigger event than it is. Arsenal will not be impressed. Like I said, you have to have some organization to these things if you want to make real change. Undefined rage almost never gets answered.
I’m not saying that the game won’t be weird. I do think that there will be a lot of empty seats and for the few who do attend the fan atmosphere at the Arsenal right now is downright toxic. There you have it, Arsenal’s players look like they have one foot in Ibiza and they are about to play a tough game in front of a hostile home crowd. Should be fun.
And let’s not underestimate what Tony Pulis’ West Brom will look to do. If Crystal Palace parked the bus (and they did), Pulis will park the bus and have his players “put themselves about a bit” (meaning foul foul foul). As Wenger put it,
“They are a team who are very physical, very committed and are very well organised. They don’t concede many goals so it is a difficult proposal for us.”
Pulis’ WBA have kept 21 clean sheets in his first 51 games in charge. That is how he coaches his teams to play football. That is what Arsenal face.
Clarke pointed to a number of problems in the Crystal Palace game which Arsenal will have to overcome again in this one. One of the big ones that he spoke of right off the bat is that Arsenal lacked midfield runners: players making a late run into the box. I think this was aimed at Ozil because later in the broadcast he pointed out that Ozil played too deep and that he would like to see Ozil closer to Welbeck to support the striker.
But Tim Stillman wondered (on Twitter) whether Wenger might start Ramsey along with Elneny to give Arsenal that extra runner that Clarke wanted. It’s a good shout. Wenger brought Ramsey on in the last 10 minutes of the Palace game probably because he saw exactly that problem. It didn’t really work but it could presage Arsene doing the same again.
The only problem with playing Ramsey and Elneny is that it leaves Arsenal vulnerable to counter attacks. Clarke also pointed out that Gabriel probably should have fouled Adebayor early in the build-up to the Palace goal, rather than letting him run 60 yards into the heart of the Arsenal final third. If Arsenal play without Coquelin, they will need to be more cynical in those counters. They can’t give Berahino time and space to run with the ball.
To end on a high note, there were two things that I liked from that Palace game. The first was Alexis Sanchez finally getting behind the opposition’s defense. He’s been forced to drop deep and create for others for most of the season and I love seeing him playing as a striker more. Let’s hope this wasn’t like that one time Santi Cazola got a hat trick from doing the same thing and then next game went back to playing deeper.
The other was that cute little training ground corner that Arsenal did. It was a neat little short corner, where Coquelin makes a late run and then scoops a ball over to Iwobi. I love to see more of that kind of stuff. That’s the kind of thing your team does when they are having fun playing football.
How was that for a match preview? Did I cover all the bases? I didn’t talk about Wilshere because I don’t care if he’s healthy for the last few games. That’s just practice for his national team, kinda like what he did last year. I am excited to get Cazorla back — his injury is almost certainly why Arsenal didn’t win the League this season. But Cazorla’s probably not going to be fully ready for a few more weeks.
*Until the forests catch on fire because of all the global warming and lack of rainfall in the PNW