Stoke 3-2 Arsenal: Own up, Arsene

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Stoke City v Arsenal - Britannia Stadium

Believe it or not, I was actually considerably cheerier at half-time than at full-time. When the whistle went for the break with the score 3-0 to Stoke, I was actually able to laugh at our risible performance. By full-time, any sadomasochistic smiles had faded.

Perhaps it’s because there’s something purgative about an unadulterated thumping. There’s no need for caveats or contemplation. You can just let loose and get it out of your system. In a funny sort of way, our incomplete comeback robbed me of that catharsis.

It also means you have to sit through tired platitudes from the manager about the team’s “great spirit” and admirable “mental response”.  What tosh. Real mental strength is about focusing for the full 90 minutes, not mounting a response once the game is already lost.

I wonder if Arsene ever considers stepping in front of the press and saying:

“Fair enough, guys: this is one’s on me. I didn’t buy enough defenders and I didn’t organise the ones we do have sufficiently. It’s not good enough and, given that we have the January window ahead of us, I can assure you that we’re doing all we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

While it would cost his ego, it might make win some favour among an increasingly disaffected fanbase.

Most managers don’t admit guilt in press conferences because they’re afraid of giving their board an excuse to dismiss them. Wenger has no such worries, so it wouldn’t hurt him to take responsibility sometimes — I actually think it could even help to relieve the pressure. There’s a fine line between single-mindedness and myopia, and from his public comments it’s not always clear which side Wenger sits on. At least owning up would prevent people from saying he can’t see the problems.

And let’s be honest, the reason we lost is clear as day. Arsenal’s defending – and defenders — simply weren’t up to the task.

From the minute the team-sheets came in, Arsenal’s inexperienced back five looked like trouble. Within a minute of kick-off, those panicky predictions proved correct. This was actually one of the worst defensive displays I can remember seeing from an Arsenal side. People will compare it to last season’s drubbings, but at least those tended to be against decent teams. This weekend, we made an average side look good: Arsenal applied lipstick to the pig that is Stoke City.

In truth, Wenger didn’t have much choice about his selection. Ludicrously, those were the only defenders available. Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny might have been on the bench, but one suspects they were merely making up the numbers.

One area where Wenger retained a degree of flexibility was in the deployment of those defenders he still had at his disposal. I don’t know why he insists on playing Calum Chambers on the right-hand side of the centre-backs, thus displacing Mertesacker to the left. Mertesacker spent the entire match seemingly unaware of his surroundings, but perhaps that’s no surprise when he is playing in an unfamiliar zone. Every angle must be adapted, every body position altered.

Maybe Wenger feels Chambers is more comfortable on the right of centre, but he has not played enough games at centre-back to be settled in either role. The reality is that, after the Spaniard’s recent run in the team, Chambers has probably played less games as a centre-half than Nacho Monreal. His inexperience makes him adaptable.

Lining Chambers and Mertesacker up like this has caused problems before: the pair were in chaos in the same arrangement at Goodison Park. Repeating that error is foolish. Keep the reliable defender where he’s happy, and let him guide the novice through the game.

There’s also the question of preparation. Wenger must have known there was a good chance we’d be tasked with facing Peter Crouch. Had we made any special plans to deal with his aerial threat? Not by the looks of it.

There’s been a lot of talk about the referee, and with a degree of justification: Chambers didn’t deserve to have his dismal day capped by a red card. However, the officiating impacted on both teams. The decision to disallow Stoke’s fourth goal, for example, was clearly incorrect.

Our momentum has ground to a hurtful halt. If your glass is half full, you’ll be point out that many of our rivals for the Champions League places are also slipping up. If it’s half empty, you might argue that fact is disguising quite how bad a season we are having.

Chelsea’s defeat ought to be cause for some joy, but our own performance made that delicious delight short-lived. On the weekend the Invincibles’ immortality was assured, our modern mediocrity was painfully underlined.

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

13 Comments

  1. Josh   •  

    Mertesecker is a liability. All of his best performances for Arsenal have come when he’s paired with Koscielny and that’s because he is constantly bailing him out with his pace. Playing with him means we have to defend deeper and he is totally unable to defend balls into the channels behind the full backs, who themselves are horrifically out of position. He reads the game well and that has got him far in the game but it was no surprise he was ditched when things got important during the World Cup. He’s also a big on the screaming and shouting once we get a goal back in defeat but absolutely no heart or aggression showed beforehand. Like Arteta, he was part of that shopping spree which saved us after the 8-2 defeat at United in 2011 but both have been allowed to become mainstays of the team when they should be nowhere near a club with our ambitions. Mertesecker would not get a game in the majority of the top half teams in the Premier League.

  2. Richie   •  

    Refreshing article.. It would be a breath of fresh air for the manager to come out and admit his/the team’s failings and show a bit of honesty but unfortunately it is not in his make up to own up to any shortcomings. The belligerent man is too stubborn and has too much of an ego to ever admit anything. They say that a manager shouldn’t criticize his players either but this lot need a rocket up their arse and a few words from the manager saying that this sort of performance is not good enough and that certain players are not performing is long overdue. Professional players paid an inordinate amount of money should be able to take some criticism and be able to accept a few harsh words from the manager but that’s not the Arsene way. He would rather try to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes with his standard, “showed great spirit” or “lots of positives to take away”.. A little honestly would go a long way but I’m not sure as fans we have received much if any honesty from the management in the last few years.

  3. jack   •  

    Wenger won”t admit it is his mistake.He is the problem.A new manager would get rid of BFG Arteta Flamini Diabi Rosicki cause he never plays that is for starters,buy a CD DM and maybe we would stand a chance there is no spine in this team.

  4. brdgunner   •  

    I think Arsene did say he should have added another defender to the squad. He did it in the AGM a couple of months ago.

    Not that it excuses it. However, I don’t think its a personnel issue, its the midfield. The benefit of the Stoke stadium is sitting behind the goal. You can see our midfield just disappear as soon as the opposition have the ball. Its a f***ing joke or magic, I haven’t decided.

    I love Arsene, and don’t want him sacked, but he has to take responsibility for allowing our midfield to get away with only playing 50% of their game. Ramsey should be held to task, its not good enough to ignore half your responsibilities.

    Its clear that another manager would do better with the players Arsene has, however, go back to the longest serving player and would another manager have built this squad? For all its failings its the third best in the country.

    Kos, Gibbs, Ramsey, Giroud, Theo, Ox, Szcz, Jack etc are key players the squad is built around and are all worth more than the purchase. Another manager wouldn’t have these players in the squad.

    Its a bit chicken and egg, however, its for that reason I think he has to be given his chance.

    COME ON THE GUNNERS

  5. brdgunner   •  

    I should say, another chance

  6. Geoff   •  

    Wenger said during the week that IF (ahem, cough cough) Diaby proves his fitness during the course of the season he’ll give him a new contract.

    Just another wonderful line from our resident super rich comedian.

    Super mental strength & outstanding spirit. I refer of course to Mr Wenger’s stunning ability to get away with pocketing 7 million/year in the face of increasing hostility from fans.

    Sadly everyone can see Wenger’s time is up, everyone that is except Wenger and the people who employ him. Expect a protracted and desperately sad & messy end

  7. Femijeff   •  

    I see someone already mentioned AW has acknowledged the team is short and yesterday he spoke of players not being decisive in the defensive tackles. And frankly, I’m tired of this determination to convince him and everyone else everything would be ok if we had another defender (or how many you’ve concluded are required). I’m more concerned that there are those games that come along where the team just isn’t on it from the start. Perhaps it’s physical and mental fatigue. Perhaps there’s a weight of history of coming out empty handed from the Britannia but they just didn’t get going early. You speak of the aerial threat of Crouch, perhaps that’s why BFG was on the left???

    Unlike you, I think it was important we didn’t lose 3-0 or more yesterday. The team kept fighting and on another day, could have got something from the match. That would be one where we would have said they “ground out a result”.

  8. Azzberg   •  

    Great mental strength and spirit. So great that we conceded at the 25th second, and were down 3-0 at half time

  9. Jarred Grimshaw   •  

    For a long time now, I have wondered about the qualities of Mertesacker in particular, along with Koscielny. The fact both those players started in the Liverpool (5-1 loss) Chelsea (6-0 loss) and Man City (6-3 loss) games last season is something I think people may overlook. I ask, is the entire defence good enough?

    Also, I would love to know the position of the board, are they or have they identified a successor to Wenger? For me, his time is up and the club is suffering on the field as a result.

    It would take a brave man to sack Wenger, but if it were to save the season perhaps such actions are necessary.

  10. karthik shandilya   •  

    I really don’t understand the tactics Mr Wenger is employing this season. I know,i am no expert in footballing tactics,but as an ardent fan of arsenal and Mr Wenger, I feel really sad and disillusioned seeing us play the formations we are playing this season. I just feel,we don’t have players to play these formations. It is clearly evident as we have been putting awful performances.I also feel substitutions are never done on time.
    I never for once imagined that arsenal would play so poorly.:(
    I agree that we should not talk about resilience and mental strength as we don’t seem to have it at all and such talk will only make us feel better when we are not supposed to as we are on our way to finish below top four this season. Maybe injuries to key players did this, but we knew always, we are short of players. We need to sign up a few players in January. I just wish that we sign the right players to play for us.

  11. Derrick   •  

    I have always knwn one thng for a fact, AW is valuable to the team so its goin to be quiet fuss getting him fired. Here are the issues I picked from the game, Gibbs gave off the worst performance, its understandable because he is half fit and probably inqured. Per.M is a good defender and I would disagree with most you who say he is our weak point in defence, think pairing him with Chamber was a hopless decision, his game reading ability was crashed since he was man making duty and Chambers is not good at it at all. To me Wenger has to stop sacrificing agood player to play out of position so he can play an average option in that number. Leave Per.M in best number, he will be more productive there, he is slow but who said the best defenders were the fastest??? Wengers needs new good defender and a good play maker, the like of Ramsey, Jack.W, Santi are getting too comfy. There shud be competition for play time in the team instead of afew asured numbers, players like Podolski should also be given chances. AW should learn to assigne blame to his players who are non performing on the pitch.

  12. Derrick   •  

    Asking you guys, does Wenger actually have a say in the size of his team. It seems to me he might have little say in it. The squard is always being cut slim every season.

  13. Malik Conn   •  

    “The Invincibles’ immortality was assured, our modern mediocrity was painfully underlined.”

    You could not have put it any better.

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