A week to forget

It’s back to bemoaning VAR because we didn’t create a single big chance at home. It was another complete and utter shut-out, making it the 8th time that Arsenal have failed to score in their last 15 home games. If the game went on for another 90 minutes, I don’t think much would’ve changed either.

Arteta broke tradition in directly criticising the usage of VAR, saying “this is building up, enough is enough” and given some of the misfortune and inconsistency Arsenal have suffered in recent weeks on this front, I’m not surprised he’s finally decided to speak out. His comments will no doubt earn him a fine while the offending officials will be up to their usual tricks again next week. The old adage about officiating is that they balance out over the course of the season but the last few weeks have been difficult to rationalise, with Arsenal seemingly on the wrong side of every major decision in their past 4 games.

At this point, it feels like they’re making the rules up as they go along. Pulling the penalty back for Pépé’s offside some three or four phases of play prior is ridiculous and what makes matters worse, is both the referee and the VAR gave that penalty in the first place. It was incredibly soft, bordering on a dive for Ceballos. The only issue is it was just as soft as Fulham’s last week and Arsenal came up short on both decisions. It’s made all the more ridiculous by the subjectivity hammer that came down on the “offside” in the first place. We’re talking pixels on the margins and they can’t even freeze the play accurately at the point in which the pass left the player’s boot in the first place.

Once the Kroenkes have been dealt with, there needs to be a serious campaign to enforce branding the officials with “clear and obvious” on their fucking foreheads. I know that phrasing doesn’t exactly pertain to the offside rule in the official guidelines but the overwhelming lack of common sense we see on a weekly basis would be largely avoided if they stuck by those words.

After an eventful week, it’s hard to say how the managers and players were affected. On the day, Arsenal were no different to Everton and in matching each other’s levels, the game was an uneventful stalemate. What’s difficult, nigh on impossible, to argue with is this is a performance and result we’ve seen before and there’s no hiding from yet another unwelcome shift in standards.

To add insult to injury, Arsenal had also won 20 of the last 24 home games against Everton @Orbinho

That really is what you get. Neither side produced any quality on the day but when one team decides to capitulate, you’ve only got yourselves to blame. It was a horrendous and inexcusable mistake by Leno and his only saving grace at this point are the memories of games where the scoreline only remained respectable thanks to his efforts. It’s wishful thinking to take any solace from that and it leaves Leno with egg on his face after his contract-talk-posturing the other day.

“I am very happy at the club, I don’t know what will come in the future. But I am open to everything. Maybe for a new adventure or to stay at Arsenal.” 

Maybe I’m reading too much into that, but if he’s got eyes on an upwards move to improve his chances of succeeding Neuer, those kinds of mistakes can’t happen. In some ways, Arsenal are a perfect match for him until we can say the same.

With both senior options struck down, Eddie Nketiah unsurprisingly came back into the fold at centre forward. After saving Arsenal from total embarrassment against Fulham and with a summer departure still all but guaranteed, it made sense for him to start. In fairness to Eddie, he was far more involved in Arsenal’s build-up than the player I remember and given his lengthy time on the sidelines lately, taking notes from Lacazette seems to have served him well. Still, there’s not much use for him – or any striker – when you can’t give them anything to work with. Despite his best efforts to get between defenders and run beyond, he was rarely found. Arsenal’s play in the final third was back to being slow, predictable and largely inaccurate.

Actual chances were few and far between, with Saka and Martinelli having the best sights of goal. With a little more quality and ambition to get into the box, Chambers and Pépé would have had a field day with someone like Olivier Giroud, such was the quality of their deliveries at times. It’s clear that Arsenal are in desperate need of a Plan B option in this position come the summer, because Arsenal were devoid of threat without a target man. Everton rarely looked worried about what Arsenal could do to them (despite only having one shot on target themselves) and that’s been a recurring theme for some time.

It was as bad as it gets performance-wise, in what was an opportunity to imbue some confidence ahead of Thursday, a day in which I’m now dreading. It’s fair to say that life has never been easy for Arteta since he landed this job. That’s not to make excuses but the torrent of afflictions that are out of his control has been relentless. Arsenal’s wild and infuriating inconsistencies are largely thanks to individual errors compounding performances that are already problem-laden, which means the table provides an even poorer reference. There’s a case to be made that these individual errors aren’t coachable and it’s long been known that this squad still has bloating problems. The fat was trimmed in January but the overall standards are still well below par; the question that remains is whether Arteta should be getting more from this squad. That’s treading old ground but it’s an inescapable problem that he’s yet to find a solution for. Recent injuries haven’t helped and with an already-threadbare midfield, losing a player like Ødegaard even for a few weeks has come at great cost. The only real consolation in yesterday’s defeat was minutes under his belt ahead of Thursday – I just hope Arteta won’t make the same mistake in asking too much of him too soon.

Until then.

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