Let bygones be bygones…
Prior to the match today, I wanted to take a step back and ignore the noise around the club and its predicament and look at the fixture objectively. 6th-placed Arsenal hosting 19th-placed Southampton. An international break following a period of disappointing results, I was expecting renewed vigour, a fresh outlook and a hungry squad eager to make amends. A fresh outlook is quite an open-ended concept, but at the very least, I wanted to see the shackles taken off. This side has bounds of technical ability and we’ve seen glimpses of what they can do over the course of the season and beyond, whether by design or by the individual ability. Change is what the club needed to have any renewed sense of hope, and that could only be inspired by the performance we saw today. This was the perfect opportunity for a clean slate and any question marks over confidence, mentality or otherwise should have been addressed and disposed of over the course of this break.
The start was bleak. Caught in possession in our own half and conceding a shot on goal inside 27 seconds. Against any club, that’s not great but this is Southampton. It got bleaker in the 8th minute.
The manner of their goal was unfamiliar in the sense that you don’t see teams getting caught out by quick-thinking plays like this too often (and even the likes of Barcelona can succumb to ingenuity as we saw against Liverpool in last year’s Champions League semi final), and yet it had all the hallmarks of what we’ve come to expect. Bellerín’s call for unity prior to the game doesn’t help us one iota when he himself and the rest of the back-line are caught sleeping and Southampton took full advantage. The incredulous reactions across the defence brought no respite, nor did VAR in penalising Southampton for the ball being in motion as the free kick was taken. We can’t expect VAR or officiating in general to ever bail us out so I don’t really have any complaints and we wouldn’t even be mentioning this if the team was switched on.
Lacazette’s timely response kept the rabid crowd at bay; I’m sure that “unity” would have completely gone out the window if we’d gone into half time trailing. Any hope that the goal would reignite some belief was misplaced, as the side meandered into halftime in typical fashion.
4 months into the season and Emery’s constant system-tinkering, yet to nail down any in particular, seems to leave this team beyond confused. Chambers inexplicably had more touches than our front three – combined.
For once Arsenal are leading the possession stakes (57% to 43%). With that they’ve managed to create two shots, both within 10 seconds of each other.— James Benge (@jamesbenge) November 23, 2019
At time of writing – per @WhoScored – Chambers has attempted as many passes as Ozil, Aubameyang and Lacazette combined.
I can also safely say that switching to 3 at the back with 2 wingbacks has left us no more secure at the back. More to the point, the game was another pertinent example of games where Emery refuses to go hell for leather against teams ripe for the taking. It’s a good job those pairs of holding midfielders and wingbacks kept the voracious onslaught from Southampton at bay; we managed to limit them to just the two goals away from home. Highly commendable.
Chambers was then the one to make way for Pépé at half time; better late than never I suppose but I would love to hear Emery’s rationale for the Ivorian’s omission from the starting lineup. Through on goal, our record signing opted to pass instead of going for goal himself and the move amounted to nothing. You could argue he felt Özil was better suited to score, and in some occasions, it’s even commendable to be selfless (as Özil so often is in those situations). In reality, I think the wasted chance was a circumstance of a player down on confidence, frustrated at his lack of opportunities.
~ Cue personal anecdote ahead ~
Small relevant segue – speaking from experience as a player myself in my younger years, I absolutely hated being benched. In a period of nepotism shown by the manager (his son, who would regularly throw tantrums and cry, was captain – that kind of nepotism), I was sometimes benched because one player’s dad helped out in training. His son was weak on the ball, would literally duck out of headers and – not wanting to blow my own trumpet – it was our star player that suffered. Our only county level player was our lone centre-forward and I was not only the player top of assists from the right wing, but the top contributor for him and he was always frustrated by own his admission when I wasn’t playing. I was deeply competitive and hated the circumstances whenever I was left out and you can bet your bottom dollar that any professional will feel even worse than I did whenever they’re left out (unless perhaps you’re Gareth Bale).
Anyway, it was a real shame when his audacious effort came back off the bar because he really looks down in the dumps, but it wasn’t to be. Tierney did well to find him but it wasn’t an easy chance to convert.
Pépé’s treatment is really another entry into Emery’s book of “Man-Management Misgivings”, from Xhaka’s captaincy debacle, Ozil’s lengthy absence, the misuse of Torreira for much of the season, to throwing Nelson and Willock into the lion’s den in hope for salvation like the Watford game, or like Willock and Martinelli today. I’m still scratching my head as to why he didn’t feature against Sheffield, a game we were trailing, after he’d just scored two direct free-kicks only days before. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse at times, but I just can’t seem to ignore so many of these glaring oversights.
Thankfully, with any luck, that’ll be the last chapter in his sorry little book of mediocrity. At this point, it’s genuinely unfathomable if he remains. The Chuckle Brothers* (I’m referring to Raul and Edu as this until Emery’s sacked from this point onward) made a mistake in not pulling the trigger before the international break. The only response they should tolerate from this match is a resounding victory. This isn’t hyperbolic, this is what the club, its fans and it’s ambitions should demand. I’m not expecting that week in, week out. I’m not spoiled or entitled, but that is the response you expect after a period of disappointment and a two week window to reflect and take the necessary measures to ensure it happens.
I barely reacted to the equaliser. I didn’t even think it was possible to be apathetic to a 95th minute equaliser but they’ve managed to turn me into a blank slate. The players’ reactions said as much, almost annoyed that their reckless desire to not lose might’ve delayed the elephant in the room.
Words truly escape me and I feel like that’s all I can say in closing. I guess we just have to wait and see.
* N.B. The Chuckle Brothers (featured picture) were a much-loved children’s comedy duo from the UK, who were incredibly goofy and calamitous.
~ Picture Credit: https://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/ee21170f-b74c-4ae8-9722-e255d6eb8422