Sunday, 9 February 2014

Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal: Worse than the 8-2

I'm the kind of guy who loves to say "I told you so." Especially in predicting stuff about Arsenal, where I'm generally accurate. I understand Wenger; I understand his managerial decisions, the logic behind his transfer dealings and the reasons behind his recent successes and failures. I pride myself on knowing the near-exact functioning of Arsenal Football Club, and I can make confident predictions based on that.

However, what happened yesterday transcends logic. It was simply shameful to concede 5 at Anfield, so shameful that I still can't quite get my head around that. It's true - apparently - a team with the best defence in the league and Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud in attack somehow managed to lose spectacularly against (what I still consider) an inferior Liverpool side.

If there's one thing that I learnt from this game, it was to not take anything for granted. I had said that I fancied Arsenal to nick this game by one goal, but was proven dead wrong in 20 minutes. Coutinho, Sturridge, Sterling and Suarez completely tore us to ribbons, cutting open the famous Mertescielny pair with effortless ease. In the aftermath of the game, people have seemed to ignore that defensive problem, instead focusing on the complete ineffectiveness of Ozil and Giroud in the match.

I have a very disturbing theory for our horrible defence, though. You may not want to believe it - I don't want to believe it either - but I have a sneaky suspicion that my guess is close to correct. It's a logical guess, but it's a guess all the same, so I hope it's a wrong one.

On 28th January, in the aftermath of our 2-2 draw against Southampton, I wrote:

"Wenger knows how to make a solid attacking side, I'll give him credit for that. While he's completely incompetent in teaching his team how to defend (shame, seeing he was a center back), he has Steve Bould to sort that out for him now. (Speaking of which, was our disorganized defence a sign that Wenger's interfering with Bould's training again?)"

After our win against Crystal Palace and a nice clean sheet for us, I put this question out of my mind, regarding Steve Bould's diminishing influence on the club. Shortly afterwards, Per Mertesacker gave a pretty candid interview, in which he lauded Bould's defensive work on this team. He said:

"Steve likes to work with us, especially with the back four. We are grateful for his influence, his tips and his little hints as to what we might do better in any situation. We've worked just on details and that's what it's about, that's what really pays off now. From the start, he tried to be an influence. He's a good addition on the coaching staff."

What worries me that immediately after this interview against Liverpool, we witnessed some comical defending largely reminiscent of Wenger's defending throughout 2007 to 2012. I never bought into few people's allegations that Wenger is egoistical enough to take credit for everything that happens at Arsenal, but I think I am now.

It's only a theory, but I fear that Mertesacker's comments on Bould led Wenger to think that Bould was hogging some of the limelight, which he wanted. I think that he interfered with Steve's training sessions and took it himself, in an attempt to assert his power. This must have resulted in the team being completely unprepared defensively, and paying the price against outstanding strikers like Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

Again, it's only a theory, but it's the only logical one that I can come up with. If it indeed turns out to be true and this continues, then I must immediately emphasize that Arsenal are in grave danger of facing a dead season. This Arsenal side have almost completely depended on their defence; it has almost been their fail-safe this season. If Wenger got paranoid enough to take that strength away from us against Liverpool (and fearfully beyond), then our title hopes have zilch chance of surviving.

Wenger's Arsenal always managed to stay in the mix for the title in seasons like 2008, 2010 and 2011 because we had the attacking flair to hide our defensive frailties. However, few would argue that due to a clear lack of cutting edge and movement up front, our attack is currently not good enough.

Due to Steve Bould getting his space, this time we had our steelness in defence to hide our attacking woes, quite the contrary compared to previous years. If Wenger cuts that from the team as well, then I hate to imagine what is to happen to this team in the coming months.

Bar Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey, we had our best possible squad out there, every bit as capable of defeating Liverpool. However, it was Arsene Wenger who killed our chances to win this game, by two glaring errors in the team sheet. When I realized that Monreal was selected above Gibbs in the lineup, I immediately tweeted:

I don't mean to brag, but I was right. Sterling made Nacho Monreal look like Andre Santos, getting in behind him from time to time again. After we conceded our first goal freakishly early in the game, the team was completely demoralized, and Wenger failed to motivate them. Instead, we used our own redundant 'pass and pivot off Giroud' tactics that didn't work, and Wenger sat clueless on the touchline instead of changing it.

Why Mesut Ozil started this game is beyond me. Even the most deluded of Arsenal supporters will now know that he has been woeful for us since Everton, which was in the beginning of December. His statistics mean nothing to me - on the pitch I just see a player who completely lacks confidence, workrate and concentration. I understand that everyone wants Ozil to be more than just the player who lifted the team psychologically, but that doesn't mean that we completely ignore his deficiencies and laud his minor contributions as potential game changers.

At this rate, there's no way that he's going to replace Cesc Fabregas or Dennis Bergkamp. He was solely at fault for the third and the fourth goal he conceded, and frankly, he didn't seem to give a fuck about it. Mesut Ozil is a world class player who we NEED in world class form for us to contend for the title; but at the moment, we need to bench him.

Oh, but Wenger won't. There's almost a monopoly of the central attacking midfield position now, neither Rosicky nor Cazorla gets an input into that role when Ozil is fit. I strongly suggest that we bench Ozil for the United clash, play Cazorla there and Lukas Podolski on the left, but I strongly suspect that Wenger will do that. His tactical naivety and an inability to motivate his team is what holds Arsenal back, rather than propel them forward. For me, our Premier League season was over when Wenger failed refused to buy a striker in January.

While I don't know about our FA Cup hopes now, I'm getting familiar with a much more worrying prospect than a failure to win a trophy for the ninth year running. It's not related to Mesut Ozil's awful form, and it's not related to a lack of business in January. It isn't about Arsene Wenger either, at least not to some extent.

It's about Steve Bould unable to get his messages through to his defence. In my opinion, it was Bould's coaching and Mesut Ozil's signing that had revolutionized Arsenal's form over the past 5 months. Now that the gloss of Ozil's buy has worn off and a suspicion of Wenger overruling Bould in the training ground has arisen, I'm actually terrified to see what is to become of us in the upcoming matches.

I have written some realistic solutions to turn our form for the better, although I am sadly confident that Wenger won't do any of them. Anyway, here they are:

Bench Mesut Ozil: 

At least for the United and the Liverpool game, Ozil needs to be benched. Irrespective of his performances, he is long overdue a breather. In addition, Wenger benching him will lead Ozil to realize that his place in the starting XI is not guaranteed, and we might see more rejuvenated performances from him. In the meantime, may I suggest playing Santi Cazorla in his position and Lukas Podolski on the left flank?

Motivational team talks:

Even though there has been no indication from anywhere (except this report) that Wenger is incapable of motivating his side, I think that it's true. Again, it's another logical guess, but it perfectly explains why Wenger's Arsenal collapsed after the Carling Cup disaster at Wembley and Eduardo's injury, both against Birmingham.

Of course, many would say that a feature of this season's Arsenal has been its ability to bounce back from disappointments. We did it against Aston Villa, Manchester United as well as against Manchester City. However, I refuse to believe that it is Arsene Wenger who instigated these bounce-backs.

You may accuse me of being blinkered with my hatred of Wenger, refusing to give him credit when it's due. You may be right as well, I don't know. However, I am much more inclined to believe that it is leaders like Per Mertesacker, Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini who motivate the team, for I see these players as genuine Arsenal through-and-through's, who want the team to do better.

Hand over the defence completely to Bould: 

This, I am certain, is the most important tonic to success. Our recent wins have largely - if not completely - been down to Steve Bould's work with the back four. After this match, I am left worried that Bould may be getting overruled by the dictator that Wenger is, which I pray is false.

If it's true, then our season is dead. There is absolutely no chance of recovery, because we'd have a poor defence and an average attack. Maybe we would get a clearer idea of where our defence stands when we face United on Wednesday, seeing they have a dangerous attacking trio of Mata, Rooney and van Persie.


To say that all of the reactions to yesterday's game were justified would be incorrect, though. I disagree with people who consider players like Monreal, Arteta, Giroud and (would you believe it) Wilshere to be liabilities to this club. I support all of these players, especially Olivier, and feel that they are being held scapegoats for a tactically crippled Wenger.

Jack played with more heart than everybody out there. I doubt that half of the Arsenal fanbase would have put in that much effort were they 4-0 down at Anfield and in Wilshere's place. Nacho Monreal did not need to start the game - Gibbs would have held the threat of Sterling much more capably. Arteta is being the victim of old age and Wenger's insistence to play him as a deep lying midfielder; to say that he doesn't deserve to wear the shirt is a bit unjustified.

I have long since vouched for Olivier Giroud, and I continue to do so today. Wenger is messing him up - instead of getting a pacy player who can finish difficult chances (a raw Luis Suarez if you will), Wenger is heaping pressure on Olivier and draining him of stamina. While his lack of hardwork in this game was a bit surprising, I'd give him the benefit of the doubt, because I know he must be as jaded as Mesut Ozil is.

I don't think that this is a beginning of a collapse from Arsenal. Players like Mertesacker, Arteta, Wilshere, Flamini and Rosicky would never allow it. However, if the above solutions are not taken, I strongly feel that we are going to run out of stamina and ideas towards the end of the campaign. By the end of March, I fear that the gap between us and the leaders would be insurmountable.

Understandably, there were a lot of varied reactions to the drubbing at Anfield. Below I have picked out the tweets that I feel are the most realistic reactions to this game, and what it means for our future.

Finally, a word of congratulations to Liverpool. As shit as we were, Brendan Rodgers saw through Wenger's one-dimensional tactics and fielded the team perfect enough to clobber us. However, Wenger simply stuck to his pass and move philosophy with the same predictable lineup, and deservedly paid the price. What wouldn't I give for this manager to be replaced at the end of the season.

I still have faith; not in the manager, but in the players. Let's hope that they can dig in and win something, despite the manager putting obstacles along the way.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )