What a horrible, horrible week of football. Two massive tests away from home and two massive tests failed. It’s not all doom and gloom as Twitter would have you suggest, however the early season optimism has been completely sapped from the team and the fans. It feels like we as fans have been asking the question of ‘why it’s so’ in various forms so I guess the only thing we can do this week is once again explore why we think that is. I’m despising writing this already. Eughhh.
Both performances started rather well, we were on the front foot against Everton and looked brilliant for the first 45 against City. Everton barely created anything and City only really had one opportunity with a Sterling header (that he should have scored) where we had some great situations where better decision making could have proved vital. Actually it did prove to be vital, it cost us the game. Rather than dissect the game at length I’ll simply say a few words that should surmise each game.
Everton: sloppy performance. Stopped playing when we scored. Looked tired. Their winner was not a corner. Alexis Sanchez denied a stonewall penalty. Everton are shite and we should have beaten them by 3 or 4.
Man City: Much better first 45. Should have taken advantage of a poor City side missing key players. Created good situations and decision making was poor. The second half was one of the worst performance I’ve seen. Both their goals were offside.
Why is it that this happens? That we don’t perform on the big occasions? I mean I know we were subject to some horrific officiating, but that is something that you can only hope evens itself out over the course of the season. We’ve been on the end of some quite ludicrous refereeing decisions for example the Xhaka red v Swansea. John Moss deemed an identical challenge by Kante as worthy of simply a foul, not even a booking. The penalties against us have been terrible. The decisions we should be getting haven’t been given, so I’m hoping there is some karmic balance restored on that front over the course of this season. But that’s not the big issue, as it’s not within our control. What is in our control is the way that we approach these games. You can talk about systems and tactics all day long but if the hunger and desire is not there to want to perform then no amount of the genius that is gegenpress, 3-4-3 or tiki-taka will save you. After one interview with Pep Guardiola in the post hue of victory for his side it was revealed that they worked on winning second balls for two and a half hours at every training session this week. His team were out fought by Leicester a week back and this was addressed in the following games. What can one do about working on intensity? This rests with the manager and when your players do not come out with what looks like a fire cracker up their backside then it has to be laid at the managers feet to address. Don’t get me wrong I’m very much of the opinion that Arsene Wenger should be our manager, quite simply because there is no one better to do the job for us, but what I’ve seen in the last week is a combination of a few things: Squad management/rotation, lack of responsibility from our senior men, tiredness (relates to squad management) and a real mental block.
The mental issue stems from bad performances and when the performances are few and far between this can be shaken, but when the bad performances against the big boys become a regular occurrence the mental issue becomes harder to shake. The responsibility to change this rests with the manager, and that’s not through inspiring the men through an impassioned speech before each game and shouting in the faces of the timid to get their blood pumping. Where this needs to come from is with an adaptation of tactics and a real belief in those tactics. We’ve seen the adaptation of tactics done if a little half halfheartedly, but there doesn’t seem to be a real belief in the changes. For example with the Everton game, we just reverted to type, we went with slow possession based football and after fortuitously taking the lead we carried on in a pedestrian manner. Wenger at that point should have delivered the message for our entire team to step up 10 yards and pin Everton back into submission through high press tactics. They were ready to cave and the fans were on their back, yet the cautious approach prevailed and ended up slowly letting them back into the game. Against City we started really fast an positive. We pressed, won balls back and hit them on the counter. Our tactics were to go long, which really threw them and after going 1-0 up, aside from one good chance for City we had enough momentum to press for more goals. We looked to try and do that with a 7/10 approach I’d say (in terms of actually believing that we would get more goals) but our decision making let us down. There is something that needs to be said about Alexis Sanchez at this point. He had two opportunities in the first half to play in Monreal early down the left side where we could have been in a 3 v 2 situation however he chose to delay and finally go down the right side when that was the only option available. This is a really infuriating but interesting pattern I’ve noticed this season. He seems unwilling to pass to certain team members purely because he lacks trust in them. He seems to link better with the likes of Ozil (obviously) and Iwobi more than most. He likes Bellerin every now and again but doesn’t seem to trust too many others with forward passes at least anyway. I can understand that to a degree as he knows the ability of other players as the others know his ability, however over time that can only create disharmony amongst the team and when a couple of players aren’t singing off the same hymn sheet you get an imbalanced performance. It’s happened far too many times at our club over the recent years and it’s something that needs to be looked at.
I don’t think it’s a question of change in management, I feel it’s a change in attitude of the management. Far too often we become passive in games and are slow to change our ‘state of play’ within a game situation, which has become hugely frustrating. It takes us going into a losing position to inject any urgency into our game and I just wish that Wenger were able to instil that into our players with in game situations. We have one of the strongest squads in the Premier League this season without question and in terms of external additions to our own squad from others in the league I can only think of a handful of players I’d add; Aguero, Hazard, Martial/Mahrez & Kante are the players I feel would add hugely to our squad. What I mean to say is that there’s not one club that has a clutch of 4/5 players that you’d want us to steal. I can imagine most top clubs would want the likes of Ozil, Alexis, Bellerin, Xhaka, Koscielny, probably Mustafi and a case could even be made for Ramsey and Cazorla. Chelsea flying as they are would probably leave out Xhaka, Ramsey and Cazorla but take the rest and they could well slot into their 3-4-3 system. We all know Mourinho loves Ozil and would take Alexis & the rest without question. Again what I’m trying to say is that we have a really good squad that everyone seems to know and take seriously now so the worry for me is why Wenger can’t get them firing. Are the players receiving his message? Do they believe in him and each other?
There’s a lot to address in the coming weeks and our next 6 games are all must wins before we play Chelsea away. We play 6 winnable fixtures while Chelsea play Sp*rs, Leicester and Liverpool all away in the time that we play West Brom, Palace, Burnley, Watford (all home games), Swansea and Bournemouth (both away games). Chelsea and Liverpool look to be flying and City will undoubtedly go on a run now but we aren’t out of it as many are knee-jerking their way through Twitter might suggest.
This time last year we were 2 points off Leicester who were top, this time we’re 9 points adrift but it’s not curtains yet. Thankfully Christmas is around the corner to cheers us all up.
Have a great Christmas folks.
Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.