Rolling back the years

Yesterday’s result was as much a consequence of a dumb, tame performance on the day as it was a January hamstrung by empathy and inaction. Arsenal had enough quality on the pitch to see off a poor and depleted Burnley but came up short at key moments and now find themselves down the Top Four pecking order.

The biggest problem was a collective amnesia of times gone by, with Ramsdale stating the plainly obvious that it was simply “meat and drink to Burnley”. Of the 34 crosses Arsenal attempted, only 3 found a teammate. Some level of unimaginative play is to be expected when you have such a dearth of seniority and nous but the likes of Kieran Tierney should know better than to repeatedly do the same thing over and over and over. Ben Mee, Tarkowski and the uncardable, time-wasting Nick Pope had a field day and of all the teams to try and undermine in the box, Burnley are probably the last team you’d pick in the top flight. I struggle to understand why nothing changed at half time and in the end, it just reeked of desperation.

In his defense, and despite his poor form of late, Tierney doesn’t strike me as the kind of player to either be too stupid to realise why that wasn’t a good idea or to rebel against his manager’s direction, which points to it being by design. All the more baffling when Lacazette is the only player in the box with even the slightest chance of winning anything. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t.

Arsenal’s best chances came when they were smart enough to keep the ball on the deck, like Odegaard’s well-executed corner routine to Smith Rowe that was miraculously saved by Pope. Similarly, Lacazette has nowhere to hide after his gaping miss and Smith Rowe was brought off not long after. I get that there were tired players out there and I get that there were players still returning to fitness but Smith Rowe for Eddie Nketiah when you’re chasing a goal is not the change you make, if the last year of form is anything to go by. We know what Eddie brings and swapping one of your few creatives for a poacher is bad enough but for that player to rarely even make his way into the box is another oddity entirely. I don’t know what he was supposed to do, I don’t really know why he’s still being picked and I especially don’t know why you bother bringing players from the U23s to the first team bench who have been playing well if you have no intention of even considering them. It’s back to looking muddled, second-guessing the manager’s ill-devised mechanisms and head-scratching substitutions and it’s further complicated by Arsenal’s recent dealings off the pitch.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles to Roma I can understand. After impressing earlier in the season in midfield, he was once again frozen out*, presumably because he wasn’t happy about being left out after impressing. That’s a big assumption but it’s the only angle that makes any sense to me, especially when the player has somewhat of a history for speaking out of line compared to lapdogs like Elneny and Cédric who are more than happy to be bit-part players. Ainsley’s not happy? Fine. Send him out on loan before finding a replacement. If Arsenal were a truly serious outfit, they would have said to Ainsley “you can leave when we find a replacement because we have a threadbare midfield and we finally have some momentum”. After a summer of long overdue, sound squad-building, Arteta and Edu have taken a few steps back because their gamble hasn’t paid off and Arsenal have ceded ground and momentum. Arsenal appear no closer to signing a striker after the Vlahovic trail has gone cold and signing a midfielder when the damage has already been done seems futile.

  • frozen out. See Mesut Ozil, page 50. See Granit Xhaka, page 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42. See Nicolas Pépé, page 72. See Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, page 56.

The silver lining depends on what the pair wanted from this transfer window. If the right player wasn’t available at the right price, they’ve done well to avoid the previous pitfalls but with the gamble not paying off, their inaction has squandered an opportunity to put some distance between Arsenal and the other floundering four. I still think the ball is in Arsenal’s court; Spurs are Spurs and not only do we believe in the history, but they have to face a full strength Arsenal side, City, Liverpool, United, and Villa all away from home as well as West Ham at home. United can only keep up this luck for so long and under Ragnick, are hardly distinguishable from Ole’s version. Of the four, West Ham appear the weakest at this point and still have European football to contend with but David Moyes shouldn’t be written off. I’m still buoyed by Arsenal’s performance against City and even though we’ve been forced to live off the scraps of that single goal all month, it’s still a bright window into the future.


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