March 21st – West Ham 3 Arsenal 3

Last week we beat those tossers and saw them Spexit and today, in homage to their incompetence, we decided to play like them for the first 35 minutes. We even managed to honour their 3-0 score-line. But eventually, instead of imagining we were playing in white shirts we revert to playing like we were actually wearing the red shirts of Arsenal.

But how painful was that? As has been re-iterated in numerous post, I’m fully invested in Arteta; he is our long term solution. He is a tactician and a student of the game. He manages his squad and, in most cases, makes the right selections. He is obviously learning on the job and will make mistakes. Everyone does – Look at the great AW and Cygan or even Almunia.

Today though he got it wrong from the start. Mari was the wrong choice. Gabriel has been out standout defender. Mari is too slow on the ball and does not take up good positions. He also gives the ball away. And he’ll lose challenges that Gabriel wins. Then MA put Aubameyang on the right. That then exposed the surprising addition of Chambers. Though he re-deemed himself in the second half, in the first they treated him like Doherty and beat him for pace on a number of times. But he was not helped by Aubamyang who never closed down his player and barely defended. In fact, overall, today was another poor performance from our captain. He barely touched the ball and the only surprise was that it took so long to drag him off.

Leno had a shocker today. The first goal was tough but I thought he could have done better; the shot was close to him and he could have gotten off the ground quick but, as I said, it was a good strike. Whereas the second goal was something we all would have expected him to prevent; he can’t be beaten at the near post like that. For the third goal, the entire build up was lazy Arsenal from a crappy kickout from Leno to a poor header from Tierney. And then Mari keeping their attacker onside when he touched the ball in the net.

Even in the second half Leno mishandled a few times and also failed to come out to close down their attacker (sorry, but all these “attacker” are pretty nameless to me) just before Antonio hit the post. Today was the first day when I realized we made the wrong decision in letting Martinez leave. I know there are no do-overs, and that at the time it seemed like the more secure decision – keeping an established Premier League goalie – but today if you offered me the same deal I’d ship out the last remaining Kraut on our team. It feels like Leno is making more mistakes than he did last year. Whether it’s his poor decision making on distribution or saves he should be making.

But beyond these three or four the entire team was malignant. There was zero on the field leadership. They were deer in headlights. They were the Spuds. No clue and over-run. I had half hoped Arteta would make a substitution after 30 minutes. We were overrun and had no idea how, on the field, to solve for it. Finally he switched Saka and Aubameyang and that helped  Chambers. But with Cigarette dropping so deep to get the ball and essentially occupying the same space as Odergaard, we had no control of the game.

I can’t remember seeing us so disengaged and disorganization. It was wave after wave of attack. We looked like we were facing a leading Croatian team. How can everyone switch off for their second goal? Tierney turns his back. As does Xhaka, Partey and Odergaard and David Luiz. Only the hapless Mari took note. Week after week we witness these mental mistakes. And at some point Arteta has to own this problem. From Sterling at Man City in the first few minutes to Aston Villa through to Burnley and Olympiacos – and we could not blame Ceballos today. It’s stunningly depressing.

Prior to that third goal we had started to gradually wake up but that third goal should have put the nail in the coffin. Instead, we somehow found our shape. And most of that was due to Odergaard creating and moving the ball. In combination with Saka they started to open up WHU. And then Chambers put in the type of cross that Bellerin dreams of for Cigarette to score. Don’t tell me that was an OG; he was bending the ball back in and was a terrific goal. That changed the game. Though right afterwards his through ball to Saka should have had us only one goal behind at half-time. He’s young and a super-star and in years to come he’ll slot those chances away. It would also have been an injustice to only be behind by 1 goal given how abject we had been. BTW, where was Bellerin; he did not even make the bench. Back to MO. I think we’ve seen enough now to know that we have to sign him permanently. Let’s hope he is willing to be part of such an inconsistent team. Would you want to join the enigma that is known as Arsenal?

The second half was an entirely different proposition. WHU seemed to adopt the white shirts; they withdrew and tried to play defense. Whether they ceded the space because of their defensive confidence or whether we just overwhelmed them is debatable. We moved the ball directly and quickly. We avoided letting Mari touch the ball; he makes David Luiz seem like he passes the ball quickly.   We played through their lines and allowed Cigarette to create and move.

The one player who actually contributed in both halves but who excelled in the second half was Odergaard. He was outstanding. Clearly his best game for us. He took the game by the scruff of the neck. He was inventive and dynamic. He demanded the ball and created so many openings. He opened up their backline, retain possession and orchestrated all our moves. That was as good a demonstration of someone running the game from the #10 position as anyone I’ve seen in the last 10 years. Before our second goal Cigarette was unlucky not to score when they cleared off the line. Again, where was Aubameyang? I can’t remember him doing anything today. He’ll come back to us at some point I’m sure. He’s too much of a natural goalscorer.  

Chambers, after setting up the first, continued to excel down the right delivering more crosses and causing our second goal. Yet another own-goal. With Aubameyang lurking behind him, he might have been better off leaving it so we’d miss yet another chance.

Then more aggressive changes by Arteta – with the removal of our captain – to be instantly rewarded with a Pepe cross to Cigarette to claim the equalizer.  At that point with Pepe and Martinelli and ESR on the pitch I thought we might be able to grab the winner. There were chances flying around their box but with just Partey trying to play defensive midfield it was a likely they grab one on the break. Partey was dead on his feet in the last 10 minutes. I’m sure if he was playing for Ghana in the next two weeks he would have been pulled off. Overall, his performance was pretty good but still he insists on shooting from distance. I’ve yet to even see anything close to being on target let alone requiring a save. Someone has to tell him to pass the ball to someone else at this stage.

Even with this remarkable recovery it’s hard to feel too good about the result. That first 35 minutes was so shambolic. I could never have imagined we’d leave with a point at that point. And though we should be appreciative of the resilience and belief in the team there is a mental toughness once we go behind. But there is this fragility or nonchalance at the start of the game. It is our achilleas heel. Or our Mari foot. Or our Leno pass.

As we enter this stupid, unnecessary and COVID filled international break we have a lot to be grateful for. The first 1/3rd of the season was worrying whereas the last 1/3rd has seen genuine progress. We’ve pulled away from the bottom of the table, we’ve qualified for the ¼ finals of the NoHoppa Cup and we’re edging up the table. But most importantly Arteta has started to develop and grow this team. We have identified pivotal players that will be a part of our long-term future – Saka, ESR, Partey, Gabriel, Tierney, Odergaard. Once we’re able to add a couple of players of the quality of Partey and MO we can really start to contend. We knew this was a journey but know we at least can see the direction – and it’s forward. And it’s nice to see us waving goodbye to the tossers as they continue down their inevitable path to self-destruction and all things naturally evil when you have Darth Vader in the house. Let’s hope they do just enough for them not to fire him. The longer he stays there the better and the more likely Kane moves on.

Gdansk is our only real hope this year otherwise it’s Brexit for us. But we have a few matches to win first. It’s with little confidence that anyone would predict which one of our schizophrenic teams will turn up. We are clearly in need of a therapist. Somehow, we need to develop a backbone. Some ability to focus through the 90 minutes. It’s been an illness within the club prior to Arteta. Maybe it’s a leftover disease from the sense of entitlement that crept into the AW teams at the end of that era.

Now we have two weeks to get Saka back to fitness and to teach Partey how to pass and not shoot. And maybe Aubemeyang can rediscover his scoring boots. I’m not prepared to invest in flights to Gdansk quite yet. There’s plenty of work to be done first. But if we can play like we did in the second half for the last 1/3rd of the season we’ll at least be in the frame. Whereas, if we replicate our first 35 minutes we’ll be destined to fail like a team that played in Croatia.

  • LB7

Leave a Reply