I don’t intend to linger on the match for any longer than I need to because there was little deviation from what we’ve come to expect watching Arsenal in the league.
I was surprised to see Ainsley absent from the starting lineup, let alone the entire matchday squad given Arteta had previously favoured him as an inverted fullback against tricky wingers like Traore but that would also suggest a willingness to ween us off a back three. It seemed like a perfect fit for him, and the fact that he’s once again, and inexplicably “out of favour” is just another strange entry in our catalogue of squad mismanagements.
And gone are the days of your Terry Butchers being idolised for soldiering on with gaping head wounds, and in this case, I’m at a loss for words as to why David Luiz was allowed to continue after the early clash. If the sound wasn’t enough of an indication of severity, surely any player being down for that amount of time with a head injury is grounds for a non-negotiable – that being an immediate substitution without some kind of refusal theatrics like Kepa pulled. Whether David Luiz feels he’s fit to continue shouldn’t be a factor in the discussion; there is no way an on-field check is sufficient to declare him match fit and his word shouldn’t be gospel. The fact he was eventually replaced makes it all the more ludicrous…
For what it’s worth, I don’t think his participation for the rest of the half had any bearing whatsoever on the result, but there’s still a serious call for some sensibility and perspective. With Klopp tearing his hair out at the draconian substitute limitations still in place thanks to a select few, the hesitation to remove Luiz is vindication for the change (not that Arteta/Arsenal voted against the motion).
Wolves’ first is an absolute train-wreck from an Arsenal perspective. One pass bypasses our entire midfield because Xhaka isn’t tight. Traore gets the better of Tierney, who on this occasion, wasn’t equipped to deal with his opposing winger. Bellerín second-best to initial header. Ceballos second-best to the rebound. Luiz not alert. 1-0 Wolves.
I also want to draw some attention to Leno, whose actions slipped by me in real time but I found his starting position very strange.
When the ball is played, I can’t see any reason for him to be so far from the goal-line. It might not seem like a lot, but what transpired (entire goal in a new tab) was desperate back-peddling to try and save the first effort, causing him to fall over and be nowhere near the second.
The second was no different: Xhaka once again beaten leaving the rest of the midfield easily bypassed, Bellerín and Luiz keen to just back off for Neto to carry the ball 30 yards and shoot, Leno palms the ball back into danger, Ceballos ball-watching again and after a clever dink over Gabriel, Podence slotted home.
It’s also not as if they were second-best to most balls because they’d expended all of their energy going forward and making lung-bursting runs either. It was slow, pedestrian, uninspired and redundant.
It was also nothing we hadn’t seen before, and only served to confirm what was already patently obvious, that playing Aubameyang centrally was unlikely to be a one-change-fix. While the service to him was non-existent, there has still been a noticeable change in his demeanour in recent weeks. It’s hardly surprising because there’s pressure on him to assume responsibility as captain – especially after the contract situation was resolved, but the circumstances for his captaincy have taken a turn. He assumed the role after Xhaka’s episode and was chosen because he led by example, as well as his ability to harmonise the squad. The problem is, there’s no Plan B for his style of leadership when things aren’t happening for him in front of goal. What’s more, he doesn’t strike me as the type to give people the kick up the proverbial that they need from time to time (or all the time in our case). Part of that burden should fall on Arteta, but when your backs are against the wall, he should be next in line – especially when so many others in the team are reluctant to lead.
While we’re on the subject of service, there were 36 crosses during the game and only 3 found their target. That also included 4 in the last minute, which were all unsuccessful. It’s genuinely maddening to see us still doing the same thing week in, week out and expecting anything to be different. Aubameyang is not that kind of striker, so why on Earth do we persist?! These are professional footballers, at a supposedly top club and yet they struggle to even manage the most basic of skills that players at Conference level are able to do with some level of consistency, which is to BEAT. THE. FIRST. MAN. I would really love to see a training session from start to finish instead of the PR-ushered shite we’re spoon-fed because I really have no idea why it’s so difficult.
We at least have to give Gabriel credit for defying the odds and beating the FOUR Wolves players around him when one of those crosses did find their target. Just to add insult to injury, we also then wasted several other opportunities to find Gabriel from set pieces by opting to play it short so Willian could hit the first man with his left foot.
The second half brought some respite for reasons that escape me, maybe some kind of Iberian mercy pact? I don’t know. Wolves may have suffered a delayed half-time setback as they learned Jiménez went straight to hospital but it clearly had no effect on our intentions to take the game to Wolves and you’d be fooled in thinking it was a home game.
I can’t remember when he did it, but Leno also did that obnoxious thing goalkeepers so often do when they delay picking the ball up for a few seconds just to make the opposition close them down. We were 2-1 down -AT HOME – and to see him do that really boiled my piss.
Changes had little effect and besides some late pressure which petered out thanks to our aforementioned shortcomings, we didn’t look like a side that were remotely dangerous to Wolves. Therein lies the problem with the horseshoe, whether it’s innate or by design, in that it’s so incredibly predictable and easy to negate. Wolves kept us exactly where they wanted – out on the wings and outside the final third – and that was all she wrote.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say things are getting worse and have been for some time. In the last 2 months, our results alone paint a bleak picture with bleaker still performances to accompany them:
It was always going to be a difficult set of fixtures but few would have expected 7 points out of a possible 21, which culminated in our worst start to a Premier League season after 10 games. The run is compounded by the narrow nature of the wins we did secure, and the total capitulation in many of the losses. From the naivety shown against Leicester, to the lethargy against Villa and Wolves and the lucky escape against Leeds. It took a midgame reshuffle to find a way past bottom-placed Sheffield United and for all of our midfield domination at Old Trafford, our limited goalscoring opportunities meant the only way through was a single penalty.
These problems have encapsulated a range of different antidotes and none of them have quite hit the spot. From youth opportunities, to out-of-form players being left out, to formation changes, nothing is really going to plan at the moment and there were glaring similarities to Emeryball in yesterday’s outing. At the time, I always assumed our horseshoe passing obsession was by design but seeing Emery’s redemption arc unfold in more familiar climes, it would point to the players not being up to the task. In our last two summer transfer windows, we’ve seen a head coach and a manager ask for a left winger and a creative midfielder respectively and neither got what they wanted. Instead, they’ve both been expected to create something out of nothing.
A Brief Timeline
That’s not to excuse Emery – I still don’t think he was the right man for Arsenal and should have been out of a job after Baku – but the threadbare approach to player acquisition still feels like the crux of our problems. Wenger was an inherited asset after the full Kroenke takeover but they neglected to think about maintenance; they bought a cut-price mansion thinking they’d won the lottery but they didn’t think about upkeep. When the Wenger mirage was beginning to run dry, they gave him Özil and Sanchez but it always felt like we were a few more signings short each year. It papered over the cracks and we even came close to another league title if not for our over-dependency on a single striker.
After Wenger was forced out, they hired a cup coach as a fast-track ticket back to the Champion’s League money pile, which was sort of like trying to putting it all on green, let alone red or black. After Cut-Back FC was quickly figured out and Emery’s transfer wishes were ignored (as well as most of his instructions to the squad), he was let go but not before he had the chance to ruin another season. It’s not like the writing was on the wall or anything.
In the same way as we’ve lurched from Gazidis, to “Don” Dodgy Raul and Sven, to Edu, Vinai and Tim Lewis – all the while as Josh Kroenke is sat in the corner pretending to have a real job – we lurched to another gamble in hiring an unproven coach for his first professional venture. There is no semblance of strategic management in anything the Kroenkes do and the only thing they’ve proven is their inability to arrest the slide as their investment vehicle continues to falter.
There have only been two occasions that billionaire-in-his-own right, husband to a Walmart heiress Stan Kroenke has dipped into his own coffers to finance a move, one of which saw money siphoned off to 3rd parties causing a director to leave the club and the other a deadline day release clause trigger after failing to secure a discount and failing to secure the other piece of the puzzle in a creative midfielder. It’s also worth mentioning that Wenger was never afforded the privilege of outside investment.
While this has been going on behind the scenes, they also took it upon themselves to gut a historically successful arm of the club which saw the likes of Francis Cagigao depart, as well as loyal servants like Gunnersaurus. A classy touch from Arsenal plc. FC. that continues to disillusion fans and destroy legacies.