Let’s face this head on: Arsenal were poor and served up an awful performance. Everton were also poor but they played it well tactically and counted on somebody shooting themselves in the foot…
… This time it was an incredible howler by Leno that allowed the unbelieving Toffees to take home all three points for the first time in forever. And the Farce of VARce did the rest of the damage. Of course it was not all Bernd’s or even VAR’s fault. As a team we were losing most second balls and individual battles and our heads were somewhere else; and maybe understandably so given the monstrous developments in the cause of the last six days. The manager, players and the fans have had to deal with an emotional hurricane and it showed on the pitch. The BoD had made a terrible misjudgment and has now created a traumatic environment for those who both enjoy and play the beautiful game week in week out. We may want our Gunners to be mean, lean football machines but they are in the end just as human as you and me. And the same goes of course for the manager.
In a nutshell, Arsenal played at too low a tempo to surprise the Toffees’ defence either on the well-defended flanks or through the middle. Partey was doing well in midfield but looked isolated a lot. Saka and ESR played with the handbrake on and the through-treacle-running Ceballos was not made to be present everywhere in oceans of space (this role, incidentally, would suit Willock to a T). Dani is a hard worker but not an athlete and it showed painfully last night when the whole team did not press up but sat back. Eddie tried hard to play the Laca-role, but with limited movement and engagement by ESR and Saka, and the limitations of Ceballos and also Pepe, it really made for a poor showing by the entire team.
Now there is always a tendency to blame somebody when Arsenal lose a game, and indeed I have done so above. But others have started to call for the head of Mikel Arteta, even saying that he has no clue tactically. Even though we can ask critical questions of his tactical decisions yesterday, including the timing and manner of his substitutions, Arteta’s tactical ability is one of his big strengths, as he has proven many times in the past.
But let’s try and put ourselves in the very shoes that Mikel wears. That is what I did again this morning. It is all good and well to let off steam and put our keyboard-knives into some human flesh, but if you were to be Arteta how would you have managed this situation? The BoD have put a bomb under the already fragile club-supporters relationships: they gambled badly and are now licking their self-inflicted wounds from an ocean’s distance. Supporters gathered outside Ashburton Grove not to cheer on the team but to protest against the ownership right before kick-off – anything but ideal. Furthermore, Arteta knows that what this club needs more than ever is CL football; his very future will likely depend on it. European football is nice but, very sadly, the beautiful game for a club like Arsenal fully depends on the elites’ cash-cow that is the Champions League. Covid-19 has made this an even harsher reality. He clearly has prioritised winning the UEFA League over the Premier League and it showed last night.
Can I blame him for this? Of course I can because also I have a keyboard. But I am not going to. If I was Mikel I would have done exactly the same. Arsenal are missing key players and we cannot afford anymore injuries.
We are three games away from winning a big trophy (which matters more to me personally than playing in the boring Champions League next season, but now I am once again not standing in Arteta’s shoes) but with Laca and Tierney out, and Auba and Ode being fitness doubts, Arteta just cannot afford anymore injuries. Yet, for various reasons, he could also not afford to stage a second-tier team last night. So he sent out a strong team on paper with the nr.1 instruction to avoid getting injured at all costs. To me it showed as the likes of ESR, Saka, Xhaka and Partey normally always put in a full performance, but not so last night. If you think about it, it all makes tactical sense. Arteta has one golden nest for the club left and all its and his eggs are in it.
Stand behind our manager and players, put on your favourite Arsenal shirt on Thursday and sing our famous songs with existential gusto; the boys need us now more than ever.