Monday, 8 December 2014

Stoke 3-2 Arsenal: Not remotely unexpected, but not remotely disappointing either

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

The circumstances of the loss weren't foreseeable by any means, but if you told me we'd walk away from the Britannia pointless, I wouldn't have batted an eye. Synonymous to Manchester United, Stoke City have become a team we invariably fall prey to, regardless of the players they have. We're scared of the name.

What can you expect when you play a defence as (no other word for it) funny as ours? I've been long crying for Bellerin to start, but playing him at Stoke by force is no show of faith. It's a last resort and even he knows that. That, coupled with a horrific defensive show won't exactly do wonders for his morale.

We should be counting our lucky stars Gibbs didn't pick up a hammy or an impact injury. Needless to say, he wasn't at his best either. One could understand Bellerin's pangs to make adventurous forward forays because he's a kid, but legislating for Gibbs isn't an option anymore. With Bellerin high up the pitch, shouldn't Gibbs have the sense to be pragmatic and stand behind? He's experienced enough to realize that. He didn't, and all balance was ruptured. With only Mertesacker, Chambers and an experienced Flamini providing emergency cover, we looked a banterous back three. All of the goals we conceded came from our left channel.

Or perhaps it's not Kieran's fault. Maybe Arsene Wenger tells him to stay high up the pitch and press the ball. Flamini said something of the sort weeks ago. Maybe it's not the players at fault, but of the manager handing them the instructions panel. We kept it simple in the last three games, but reverted to gung-ho as soon as Crouch scored. As I said - back to basics is always a short-term Wenger solution. Admittedly though, even I didn't think it'd be this short-term.

Chambers and Mertesacker had mares. I don't entirely buy into the theory that Mertesacker's dip in form is 100% down to Laurent Koscielny's absence (even if it is, Wenger's at fault for overplaying him). I think Mertesacker is a fine defender who, despite his pace, was one of the world's best centre backs at one point. Back then, it didn't seem like he was reliant on other players to sort out the spoils. The fact that he's tanking may be down to issues pertaining to rocky defences, lopsided formations and confidence issues. Or maybe he's just past it and getting found out.

Chambers was at fault for the first goal, but let's give him a break. We forget that he's 19 and was bound to make costly errors. It's part of a defender's game. And yes, while I agree Calum needs to work on his tackling in general, none of his two yellows were remotely justiciable.

Which brings me to the referee. I thought (and let's face it, even a roadside vendor would concur) he was absolutely atrocious throughout. I don't think he's a biased referee, but he's certainly a bad one. He stopped play when Giroud was clean through. He disallowed a legitimate Bojan goal. He (and let's be honest here) gave us a soft penalty. He didn't award Welbeck plenty of deserved fouls in dangerous areas. And boy, that Charlie Adam fiasco. I remember tweeting along the lines of "Stoke and Taylor should be sent to a concentration camp" at that time.

As insane as the ref was, once again he's a handy distraction from the way we approached the game. Another referee would not have given Arsenal their penalty. Another referee would not have disallowed Bojan's goal, which - it's fair to say - would have meant 4-0 and confidence torn to ribbons. Agreed, a fair ref wouldn't have stopped play when Giroud was clean through in the first half, but based on the sitter the Frenchman missed earlier, would I have placed good money on him to score? Probably not.

Even if Giroud had nodded in that chance, it would have been papering-over-the-cracks and happy-accident stuff. We weren't nearly at the races. The Charlie Adam stranglehold on Alexis Sanchez was a neat symbolism of the game - an undoubtedly talented individual or team jostled away by a more physical and solid one. The only time we really looked convincing was  the last five minutes, which isn't a lot based on the total duration of the game. Personally, I didn't feel especially pissed off or have "oh-my-day-is-ruined" emotions. I was actually laughing like Walter White in Breaking Bad when I thought Bojan scored the fourth. Come to think of it, the last time I felt genuinely anguished after an Arsenal performance was Swansea away. Even losing to United didn't bring the levels of disappointments that I had planned to anticipate. It was more of tepid disapproval than raw, animalistic angst.

Perhaps it's because the failures have become too repetitive to give a toss about. Perhaps it's because the only unexpected variable is "how exactly will Arsenal disappoint me tonight", either through a freak own goal or a capitulation in the dying minutes. Finding genuine positives from a game has become a treasure hunt. We pounce on rare positives like Martinez or Chambers and understandably hype them, only to be brought down to harsh reality. Or maybe the reason Arsenal have become so ennui is because we know that rehashing the same old flaws will not change the way the manager and the board operates, not by one iota. Why would the club take our suggestions? Wenger doesn't give value to Paul Scholes' and Paul Merson's input - why would he care a jack's squat about ours?

The reason I stick it out and try to convince more and more of Wenger's incompetence is simple - loyalty. Supporting any other club for me, and for many more, is not an option. However, even though I cling on to Arsenal like a husband does to a dying wife (that's a terrible analogy), it won't dissuade me from the fact that being a Gooner is not fun right now. I went to see Mumbai City FC play Atletico de Kolkata in the stadium yesterday in a crunch Indian Super League encounter (which is why this blog post is late), and despite the team I support - Mumbai - being bottom of the table, I supported the shit out of them. Honestly though, if I ever get the opportunity to visit the Emirates as of this moment, I'm uncertain if I'll recreate the same passion.

The difference between the two teams is obvious - hope. With Mumbai, even if they're last in the league, at least there's some semblance of hope and possibility of unpredictability. At least I know that if things aren't going well, the club will do all they can to make things better and aim for the winner's spot eventually.

None at Arsenal, though. Being fiercely loyal to the red and white doesn't mean I'll ignore that the club are currently in limbo. That under Arsene Wenger, hoping for anything more than Champions League qualification and genuine competing for major honours is fanciful at the least. I can't ignore that until most of the fanbase realize Wenger was long past it, he and his repetitive errors will stay. All I can do is try to speed up that process by convincing more people, which is one of the prime reasons I started this blog in the first place. But since I don't think justice to the fallen legend is around the corner, all I can do is bide my time until it does come.

Till then, as Le Grove said, I'll sit back, buckle up and watch Wenger's illustrious reign fall apart, trying not to fall asleep on the way.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]