Monday, October 06, 2014

Wenger Loses to Mourinho, What Else is New?

Wenger might have won the shoving match with Mourinho on the touchline yesterday, after a heavy tackle from Ivanovich on Sanchez led him to charge the referee, but he again lost the war – still unable to beat Mourinho in 12 tries. In fact, Arsenal have now lost 17 of their last 21 away matches against the other top five sides over the past five years. This is where the Gunners and Wenger seem to fail over and over again and the reason many, including me, have grown weary of the 65-year-old and his growing tactical myopia. Arsenal did show renewed resiliency in hanging with a very physical Chelsea throughout much of the match yesterday, but two mistakes from Koscielny proved costly.

The first came in the 27th minute, when the Gunners again gave the ball away in midfield, before Eden Hazard slalomed past several defenders before being tripped in the box from Koscielny, who stuck his leg out rather than trying to cut off the angle for what looked like a sure goal. The penalty was called, the yellow card offered and then Hazard walked up and coolly finished as Szczesny went the wrong way. Arsenal responded well though, with some clever passing leading to some near chances, including a heavy touch that took away a good chance from Wilshere after a great through ball from Cazorla. Wilshere was pretty disappointing throughout and again showed a tendency to shrink under the brighter lights of big games.

Yet Arsenal went into halftime only a goal down and started the second half brightly, pressing up, controlling possession and getting off a few decent shots (though from distance and off target). The heavy tackling continued as well, and it was surprising that Martin Atkinson did not go to his pocket more often, particularly as Oscar committed one cynical tackle after another (he was finally booked late, but should have been off the pitch by then). Fabergas began to grow in stature as the second half continued though, dispossessing Ozil and others on several occasions before a perfect 50-yard pass to Diego Costa led to the game-killing second goal. Koscielny was out of position on the play again, but really should have been able to outpace Costa to the box. Instead he ran along him and watched helplessly as the Brazilian chipped over a charging Szczesny. And that was that. Arsenal had lost again, and have now failed to score in three straight games against their London rivals. Three thoughts on the game.

1. Ozil in the Middle: Malcolm in the Middle was a Fox comedy based on a dysfunctional family and their brilliant son. Is that to be the case with Ozil as well? Watching him play, I still think he outclasses all of the other players at Arsenal (bar maybe Sanchez and Ramsey at their best), but that he is just not as effective on the wings. Yes he played there quite effectively for Germany in the WC, but they have a different team, more talent in the attacking third and a more solid defense behind. Ozil was brilliant in both the 3-0 and 4-1 victories over Aston Villa and Galatasaray. Playing on the wings, he was a bit player in the 1-1 draw with Tottenham and the 2-0 loss yesterday. Why Wenger can’t see what the rest of the football world sees is hard to explain, but increasingly apoplectic-inducing to fans. Play him in the middle already!

2. Whimsical Wilshere Weariness: though Arsenal players interchange so often it is difficult to be sure who is playing where, it appears that Wilshere took Ozil’s spot in the middle. And while he made some good runs and some good tackles, he was less than impressive in a big game yet again. On form and barring injuries, I just see him as a player that should not be starting the big games. With Ramsey out, I understand him getting starts, but Ox looked great Wednesday and should have taken that spot in this fixture. Or put Cazorla in that slot. The reality is that if the rumours are true regarding Khedira, when Walcott returns, it is hard to see where Wilshere plays? Should he play ahead of Cazorla, Ozil or Ramsey? Even Ox?

3. Wenger Gets Physical: While I would have liked to see Ozil in the middle of the pitch, one thing that Wenger can’t be faulted for in this game was not preparing his players for the physical battle. The Gunners pressured the ball across the pitch and had real fight and determination until the second goal arrived. Yet they still lost a big game to a top-five rival on the road in a season where they have not been picking off lower tier opponents with quite the acumen of recent years. Wenger may very well pick up the DM he needs in the winter window, but the title race seems all but gone after only seven games and the Gunners have also exited the Capital One Cup. This squad is not good enough to win the Champions League and their success in the FA Cup will come down to the draw, some luck and the games surrounding those ties. In other words, Wenger might have improved parts of a team that led the league for longer than any other last term, but might go without a single trophy for the 9th time in 10 years. Is that a coach who should worry about his job? Anywhere but Arsenal that would be the case, but Wenger has the kind of job security that most dictators would envy – and it’s time to start shoving him toward the exit door if things don’t improve rapidly and markedly before the season ends.

We now head into the international break and then some winnable fixtures before a matchup with a clearly rejuvenated Manchester United. One hopes no new injuries crop up in those international games and that the Gunners start to put the pieces together to win a run of fixtures.

No comments: