Arsenal 1-2 Man United: Why the players have to take blame too


It’s never just one thing.

The culture of football analysis is such that, at full-time in any given game, there is an immediate and intense desire to attribute the result to one particular factor. Journalists hunt for a line with all the fervour of coke-addled addicts, and fans fight to make their post-game punditry concise enough to squeeze in to a 140 character tweet. A game’s hero and villain are invariably declared within minutes of the full-time whistle. Consensus is quick and often condemnatory.

The truth is that a result is rarely determined by one singular thing. It’s almost never entirely due to the brilliance of one player, or indeed the error of another. Football is a game composed of thousands of interconnected moments. The margins are so fine that such acute analysis is impossible.

Louis van Gaal summed up the precarious nature of the game quite well in his post-match press conference. Reflecting on his side’s victory, he remarked that had Arsenal won the match, he would have been interrogated on his decision to play with three central defenders. As it happened, they scored the first goal and went on to win comfortably. As Van Gaal put it, “I can laugh now”.

No-one’s laughing at Arsenal, as the multiplicity of our problems becomes ever clearer. Up until now, the prevailing narrative has been one of Arsenal’s poor defending. However, after failing to capitalise on such dominance over Manchester United, scrutiny is now focusing on our misfiring attack. We’re almost in to December, yet we’re still not establishing reliable patterns of play. There’s a lot of running, but no structural rigour. We can’t pretend that the back four is our only problem – the entire team lacks balance.

The coaching will be questioned again. I understand that entirely. Arsene Wenger’s stock has rarely, if ever, been lower. However, it’s once again important to consider the complexity of apportioning blame. After all, Arsene Wenger didn’t miss that first-half sitter — Jack Wilshere did.

A manager’s limitations do not entirely absolve his players of responsibility. The boss’ proclivity towards attacking football has been balanced out in the past. When you have players who assume leadership, it’s not such a problem — see the Invincibles. A team’s fortunes are not solely down to the manager. Let’s not forget, a Chelsea side overcame the significant handicap of being coached by Avram Grant to reach a Champions League Final.

We all know that Arsene Wenger isn’t going anywhere until 2017. With that in mind, we have no choice but to demand more from the players. They can’t hide behind his diminishing reputation. They might not like it, but this is their mess too.  It’s never just one thing, and Wenger’s tactical naivety does not fully excuse theirs.


Video: On the Whistle Reaction

Gunnerblog is the brainchild of childbrained football writer James McNicholas. Aside from Gunnerblog, James currently contributes to Bleacher Report, The Mirror and ESPN.


  1. Seth   •  

    Interesting how arseblog seemed to concede that Wenger was at fault for not changing the tactics on the pitch and you’re focusing on the players’ lack of tactical awareness.

    Like you said, it’s always more than one thing and you’re both right. Seeing BFG bombing up the pitch with the ball at his feet nearly halfway to United’s 18-yard box was worrisome. He and Arteta are both credited with having superb positional awareness and tactical acumen, yet neither saw that we’d get slaughtered on the counter after we were nearly done in once already? Then to concede the way we did, and then to almost concede again if not for a di Maria shank?

    Is it nerviness? Pressing, in the sense that the players know we’ve started so poorly and are desperate? We have no calmness, no confidence, no direction. So many players playing out of position now, guys in roles they’re unsuited for.

    I get that Jack is physically fragile, but he plays so much better for England than he does for us. His habit for holding onto the ball for far too long is negated if he’s not driving into the final third. It’s time to play him in the back. Let Ox play further up and put someone else out wide.

    Something has to change.

  2. Pete   •  

    Well written, but it falls unto the manager to assign responsibility. In any case, Yes, Wenger did not miss the sitter, Wilshere did, but Wenger made the decision to play Wilshere down the middle and Sanchez out wide when Sanchez has been clinical down the middle (6 goals in 4 games). Sanchez will not have missed that sitter.

  3. VillageGooner   •  

    Although I know you and many others much closer to the know than us ordinary fans ” all know Arsene Wenger isn’t going anywhere until 2017,” I am nowhere near as certain as I have been with previous contracts that Arsene Wenger will serve out the term of this most recent contract. There is a point of no return for Arsene. We are not there yet. But it feels closer now than at any other time in his reign with the exception of last season right before the FA Cup semifinal and final wins. Whether it be continued record of losses to top clubs coupled with Chelsea undefeated season, a failure to qualify for the round of 16 in the Champions League, an inability to locate and buy “super quality” players in the transfer window, finishing behind Tottenham at the end of the season, there is in my view a tipping point where Wenger will either voluntarily go or the board will let him go. I think most generally acknowledge that Wenger would have gone last year had Arsenal lost in the FA Cup semifinal even if some wish to believe he would survived an FA Cup finals loss. In other words, there is a tipping point beyond which the perception disconnect between the board/manager and the fans will be too vast to tolerate for all. I think you underestimate the degree of frustration and anger already present.

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