Yesterday’s performance against Manchester United, frustrating as it was, just isn’t one for condemning the players, despite the direct culpability of two of them, never mind chanting the selfish #WengerOut and blaming a manager who actually managed the game as best any other world-class manager would.
And if you must blame someone to ease your pains, then Mustafi and Koscielny are squarely to blame.
Saying that, Koscielny and, especially, Mustafi have been very good and committed recently, hence, even they should be forgiven. It’s just one match, albeit an emotional one, but the real problem will be to lose our form and confidence again and start losing football matches.
One of the main reasons we were able to win 12 home games in a row before yesterday’s (accident) loss is because the atmosphere has been very positive at the Emirates, since the tail-end of last season where we won our last five matches – a run which continued into this season.
Therefore, it’s very detrimental for fans to be whipping up hysteria and bringing back all the negativity that will do the players and the team no good.
Our manager, like his fellow, world-class managers has his faults, whether attitudinal or tactical, but none could be found yesterday. Not in the pre-match preparations nor during the game. Only a fickle fan would not commend him never mind chant or type #WengerOut.
Now, let’s examine the facts:
It’s an old truism in football that ‘the best way to prepare for your next match, a big one, is to win and perform well in the preceding ones’. Wenger and his boys had the perfect preparation for this match. Not only had we won three games on the bounce in the EPL, we didn’t concede a goal in any, including the win over fellow title rivals Spurs.
One other way to prepare to win a match is through team selection and tactics, and our manager put out what is widely considered his best team. Our dynamic trio of Lacazette (despite fitness concerns), Ozil, and Sanchez played, while our defence was marshalled by the impressive triumvirate of Koscielny, Mustafi, and Monreal, who before yesterday had conceded just one goal all season when played together.
Match situation and in-game management
No one, not even Wenger, could have legislated for not just one but two unforced errors that led to goals within the first 15 minutes of a match of such magnitude – a match against 13-time EPL winners and fellow title/top-4 rivals, Manchester United.
Even fewer could have predicted how our manager would respond and adjust to the twin problems of going two goals behind so early on and also losing our best defender in the past month.
It would have been easy for Wenger to just bring in Mertesacker in a like-for-like replacement and continue playing the way he set out to play. Instead, he made an unpredictable, ambitious, and courageous decision to bring in Iwobi; thereby reshuffling the pack and switching to a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 at times.
And on the evidence, it was a good tactical switch because, but for ill-luck and out-of-this-world goalkeeping from David De Gea, we should have gone in at least level at halftime.
Iwobi played his part too – he carried the ball around neatly, was direct, and his ball distribution was good.
Therefore, for anyone to not commend our manager is disingenuous enough, to chant #WengerOut is just ridiculous.
What went wrong?
To put this frankly and tersely… Over-confidence!
Yes, we were unlucky. Yes, De Gea was incredible. Yes, the ref, Andre Marriner, wasn’t very good and should have awarded us at least one penalty-kick, if not two. Nonetheless, we should never have found ourselves in the situation we did against such a great team as Man United, after only 13 minutes.
It was casual, careless, and almost disrespectful the way Koscielny and, especially, Mustafi were either making half-hearted cross-field passes or dwelling too long on the ball.
Everyone knew before the game that United’s main threat would come from the combined and individual paces of players such as Martial, Lingard, Young or Rashford, yet Kozzer and Musty decided to approach the game as though we were playing Hartlepool (No disrespect).
it’s down to one thing and one thing only, complacency. Apparently, the hype of Monreal-Koscielny-Mustafi conceding just one goal all season got to their heads.
Yesterday showed one thing, the difference between City, or any other team that goes on to win the league, and Arsenal would be the mentality – In this instance, the players are to blame, not the manager.
Many! In fact, pretend that we didn’t gift United those goals and you would have witnessed Arsenal’s best attacking performance this season and possibly in the last few years.
According to Opta Stats, the 14 saves made by De Gea yesterday in one game is just three short of the 17 saves Ederson of Manchester City has saved all season (14 matches).
Another positive was the tactical flexibility and acumen of Wenger and the response he got from his team immediately after the conceded goals and also after the halftime break.
Also, although, we didn’t manage to get even a draw, nonetheless, you couldn’t question the character, determination, and pride of the team yesterday – take all these ingredients into the remaining matches of the season and we’ll make the top-4 comfortably and also win another cup, even if we can’t overhaul City.
Can we bounce back and still make a successful season?
What’s most important is that we don’t allow yesterday’s loss, painful as it is, to derail our season or dampen our morale. In fact, yesterday’s showing should do the opposite – we can beat any team on our day.
Therefore, it’s important to bounce back right away and continue our good form and maintain the recent feel-good factor, especially at The Emirates.
Our next fixture, in the Europa League, against Bate Borisov gives us the perfect opportunity to do just that. Win that game, and our feeling of invincibility at the Emirates returns.
After that, we have two difficult (every EPL game is) but winnable (especially giving our United showing) EPL games against Southampton and Westham. in that time, United and City face each other and one or both will surely drop points. We are seven points behind United, we can start our season-rebuilding from eating into their lead, provided City beats them or they play a draw.
Until next time, keep your head up, Gooners #COYG!