Arsenal’s third round Carling Cup game yesterday was played to a slightly different tone to the corresponding fixture in previous years. It is usually an exciting chance to see the new crop of young players coming through the ranks under little pressure while the team is flying high – Arsenal’s continental fancy dans traditionally enjoy the long, warm summer evenings of August and September.
Tuesday’s fixture was played under a general sense of panic. Two years after saying that Arsène Wenger all but had a job for life, head executive honcho Ivan Gazidis had to deflect questions about a potential sacking of the long serving manager. A brief trawl through Twitter and Arsenal message boards show fans to be in disarray and captain, Van Persie was quoted as feeling ‘frustrated’ by the teams consistency – or lack of it.
Despite general thoughts that it might be better the give his hastily assembled first team some game time together, Wenger maintained his policy of giving youngsters Carling Cup game-time and named a reasonably inexperienced line-up. A mature second half performance saw them overturn a one goal deficit to win 3-1 but the boos ringing out after Shrewsbury Town’s goal and the first half frailty to a League Two side show that all is not well amongst the whole squad at present.
The loss at Blackburn at the weekend was tough as a fan. But for me it was not as tough as it should have been and that is worrying. The inability to play with any control over a game and without any defensive uncertainty seems to have become ingrained and now expected.
Admittedly over the past few years there have sporadically to intermittently been wobbles at the back but the ability to keep the ball and pen opponents back onto their own eighteen yard has meant that the back four has on the whole been protected. Unfortunately the end of last season and the beginning of this has seen a worrying trend that teams at both ends of the table not being controlled and being able to bypass the midfield, therefore exposing the back four.
The defence has been much maligned over this period. Although it is not entirely their fault, I think it is rightly so though. It has stopped being a case of individual error however. The lack of Vermaelen has been a loss but I think it has become a problem larger than the particular men in position. A variety of personnel have been used in all four slots and no combination has looked entirely happy. Even a highly experienced German who captains his national side has looked at sea in the centre of the choppy defence. This surely cannot be right. For me there has to be something more inherent about the system or how they are trained.
I have written before on the long-serving coaching staff and I stick by my previous assertion that there needs to be freshness, a hunger and possibly some new ideas instilled into the Arsenal team. Without new faces behind the scenes, I’m not sure that is now possible.
I will finish with two positives though. The second half performance shown by the youngsters this evening was exactly the way to control games against lesser opposition; maintain possession, box teams into their penalty area and once in the final third play with quick, clinical movements.
Secondly, Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain looks like he might become the player that everyone hoped Theo Walcott might be. Tonight he was quick, showed a great awareness and an appetite for goals. The worst league start since 1953 but there is hope.