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Arsenal Audit : April 2017 - Part One - Au-revoir Arsène, thanks for the memories

By Neil A. Fry

April’s matches and more

“ ”. Owner

Palace away - Sir Chips couldn't bear it any longer

“ ”. Chief Executive

“We are fully aware of the attention currently focused on the club and understand the debate. We respect that fans are entitled to their different individual opinions but we will always run this great football club with its best long-term interests at heart. Arsène has a contract until the end of the season. Any decisions will be made by us mutually and communicated at the right time in the right way.” Chairman, 9 March

“We need to use recent disappointment as a catalyst for change”. Chief Executive, at Fans’ Forum 2 April

“What is important is a good football team, who play good football – all the rest is literature and we can debate, speak and organise forums … My battle in my whole life is to improve and to be better. That is evolution, not change. Change is the heart of who you are. That’s difficult. Evolution? Yes.” Arsène Wenger, 4 April – Manager, de facto director of football, head of recruitment, club controller

"I think they wanted it more. You could tell from the first whistle". Captain, 10 April following 0 -3 defeat to Crystal Palace

Sir John Chippendale ‘Chips’ Lindley Keswick, the Arsenal Chairman, is reported to have promptly exited as Crystal Palace scored their 63rd minute second goal as evermore disenchanted Arsenal fans’ chants of “Arsène Wenger, we want you to go” rang around. There was a different sting in the tail for the players this time around. First, they refused to return the ball to Hector Bellerin and loud mass chants of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” were directed at the Arsenal players. The players and manager suffered further abuse closer up as the Club coach went to leave the ground once the match had finished. Arsenal were fortunate that match- captain Walcott’s interview had not been widely heard by the long-suffering Arsenal away fans.

In part one we examine the month through the portal of familiar long-term management issues and tidy up match loose ends. In part two we first travel back in time even further than the usual 13 year time-frame. First we look back at two key moments in Arsenal’s history when the Chairman and Board took decisive action to take the Club forward. We look back at the appointment of Herbert Chapman in 1925 and his subsequent achievements - he really did build the Club. After the Crystal Pace defeat, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher reminded us, as if we needed reminding, of “the George Graham era [when] you think of Arsenal and you think you've got a right game on your hands”. His appointment wasn’t straightforward and came with the Club floundering badly since his own playing days. We finish by bringing things back to the present and the Board’s governance - with Arsenal floundering once again - and how they should take some lessons from their once-great club’s history.

Arsenal 2–2 Manchester City
Having lost captain Koscielny at half-time to recurring Achilles problems, remarkably, no one took over the armband. It simply didn’t occur to the players or the manager. Monsieur Wenger regards the appointment as largely ceremonial and more a long-service award. Nevertheless, Arsenal coped much better than they had done against Bayern, and Gabriel filled in decently at centre-back. Shkodran Mustafi arrested his ailing season with a better performance against the opposition’s silkier threats, and his strong header giving him an assist for Theo Walcott’s first leveller before he gave Man City a dose of the Dawsons to level a second time himself, seven minutes after the restart. Returning star signing Mesut Özil, looking totally bereft of confidence, helped gift Man City their second goal and missed chances of his own. Whilst the former didn’t lead to Monsieur Wenger prowling the touchline barking orders and tactical niceties, he did hurl his water bottle at the floor in disgust. From his seat. Offensively, two late (67 & 76 minutes) substitutions added little sparkle to another dour offensive effort. Monsieur Wenger spoke afterwards that “We have shown great mental resources … we have certainly shown some mental strength”. Yet Arsenal conceded just 91 seconds after Walcott’s goal and just before half-time. And Arsenal seemed to have acquired a new problem period, straight after Monsieur Wenger sends the team out - in five of the last six games Arsenal have conceded inside the first 15 minutes, losing four and winning none.

Arsenal 3–0 West Ham United
Earlier in the season, Arsenal Audit applauded arsenal.com for the uncensored honesty of their commentators in openly commenting on some of the footballing issues and imponderables of Monsieur Wenger’s current reign – for instance, the 45 to 70-minute problem. Tonight, it was more like Chelsea’s version of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s Pravda as they announced, at the start of the match, that the “crowd was now flocking into the stadium and noise levels have erupted”. With the 13 minute 13-years-without-the-Premier-League-trophy protest imminent, and rising apathy from supporters, the number of empty seats suggested it was more like back to the library. Having given opponents on a bad run a leg-up - Everton, Manchester City, Watford and Liverpool - Arsenal didn’t repeat their largesse against a West Ham, with four successive defeats, again with relegation fears. With Mesut Özil scoring from outside the penalty area and assisting Captain Walcott to register Arsenal’s 100th goal of the season, and super-sub Olivier Giroud scoring again, Arsenal had their first win against a league team since 11 February.

Crystal Palace 3–0 Arsenal
Another Arsenal Audit theme has been Arsenal’s struggles away against overtly-physical teams, especially those managed by Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce. This season, Arsenal lost to both within a month, conceding six. As Allardyce explained, "Tactically the players were aware of how to beat Arsenal. The first thing was to defend and frustrate them, keep them playing sideways, then use the space behind the full-backs. Arsenal have been weak defensively, they leave the centre-backs exposed.” Thereafter, Christian Benteke was told to dominate Arsenal up front and feed his wingers. Having admitted the Palace players wanted it more from the start, Theo Walcott, captain again - with de facto captain Koscielny injured and the near season-long absence of actual club captain, Per Mertesacker - claimed “This isn’t Arsenal in this moment in time.” Sky pundit Jamie Carragher took a much longer term and very different view and returned to a match he played in back on 31 March 2007. With Peter Crouch bullying Arsenal and scoring a hat-trick, Liverpool ran out 4-1 winners against Arsenal whose defence consisted of Eboué, Touré, Gallas and Clichy, and had Diaby and Denilson in front of them. Many others, not least Didier Drogba, have profited similarly. Arsenal Audit returns to further thoughts of Carragher in part two.

Middlesboro 1–2 Arsenal
Monsieur Wenger’s six changes weren’t quite the drastic reaction - the most since 1997 - it seemed. De facto captain Koscielny and Petr Cech made inevitable starts returning from injury and Shkodran Mustafi and Danny Welbeck were injured. Only Hector Bellerin, Mohammed Elneny and Theo Walcott were really dropped. What was drastic was that, as a number of supporters and pundits have been suggesting to remedy Arsenal’s defensive frailty, albeit with little expectation of it ever happening, Monsieur Wenger changed to three at the back and played 3-4-3. The last time, in 1997, it was Keown, Adams and Bould. This time, rather less illustriously, it was Gabriel, Laurent Koscielny and Rob Holding, starting his first Premier League match since August. Having gone into the lead just before half-time through an Alexis free kick from outside the box, five minutes after half time Koscielny tried to karate kick the ball away when staying goal-side and heading it, and Arsenal lost the 45–70 minute period once again. A minute later, a rare Aaron Ramsey assist, only his second in the Premier League this season (0 goals), set up Mesut Özil. Nevertheless, the worst attack in the four leagues, the worst at home, and the only winless team in 2017, managed 15 attempts on goal and had five on target and three-at-the-back looked a far from resounding success.

Arsenal 2–1 Manchester City
After struggling to bed in the new formation against goal-shy Middlesbrough, Arsenal Audit, pundits and many supporters were astonished to see it continue against the very different threat of Manchester City’s offence and in an FA Cup semi-final. Many expected, and Monsieur Wenger hinted at, a return to the hitherto sacrosanct 4-2-3-1. At least, for once, the opposition manager had something to ponder in preparing his team for the match. But with a little help from the officials, and after some initial difficulty, the system started to work. Yet again Arsenal lost the 45-70 minutes period as Ramsey was caught in possession near the Man City penalty box and Arsenal exposed again positionally on the counter-attack (and, again, Petr Cech’s reactions). Yet Arsenal had much improved after the half-time team talk and both wing-backs combined superbly to draw Arsenal level one minute after the problem period. Decisive finishing from Alexis won the match in extra-time but Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gabriel, Monreal and Holding were the real stars. Rob Holding - having played at right back and centre back regularly for Bolton and always so comfortable in possession - looks born to play in a three. Before the Middlesbrough match, Monsieur Wenger said that commitment, so absent against Crystal Palace, was more important than the new system. At Wembley he was awarded with both – and one week of respite. It was the first-time Arsenal had come from behind against the current top-six since November 2012 (from 0–1 to beat Tottenham 5–2).

Arsenal 1–0 Leicester City
In extremis, Monsieur Wenger has recently resorted to the previously unheard-of changing of formation from his sacrosanct 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 (partly due to unavailability) and now three at the back and has even made a couple of half-time tactical substitutions. With Arsenal recovering from 120 minutes at Wembley and with the game at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, whilst keeping the three at the back, he surprised everyone again and, at long last, sensibly rotated the team for a Premier League match. Against a team that were likely to park the bus, Francis Coquelin’s selection seemed rather unnecessary - although he had a decent enough game and provided one of several, no longer prohibited, long-range shots. More welcome, was the return to the false-nine position of Alexis that had been puzzlingly dispensed with after Christmas. It was a major positive of the first half of the season, with Walcott and Özil making good use of the space he vacated, and Arsenal operating a high press up the pitch. Giroud, lacking the pace to play in such a system, became a highly effective super-sub when Arsenal struggled. Unfortunately, the sideways offensive movement still continued, which in 2017 has been very much out of last season’s textbook. With a stalemate beckoning, the substitutions still waited to the 68th and 75th minutes. With Hector Bellerin marauding forward an also-returning Theo Walcott seemed ill-suited to the system, and was one of those substituted. Nacho Monreal, now playing left centre-back, provoked the late own-goal winner. With rising numbers of seats empty for a match where the live Sky Sports commentary had been embarrassingly pulled, many missed out on what the arsenal.com commentators bizarrely claimed was a “huge absolutely massive” win and “pivotal moment in Arsenal’s season”.

Tottenham Hotspur 2–0 Arsenal
Monsieur Wenger continued with the 3-4-3 but undermined it in his team selection. In the semi-final, Rob Holding looked born to play in a three and Nacho Monreal excelled at left wing-back. Yet Kieron Gibbs started two successive games for the first time in two years for no discernible reason, Monreal was shunted inside and Holding dropped out. Even more baffling was the selection of Olivier Giroud. In the FA Cup semi-final, there was no indication that he was any more suited to starting in a 3-4-3 than he was in the pre-Christmas high press and he was a spectator for most of this match as Alexis, on the left, continued to demonstrate his total disenchantment at Arsenal. Xhaka and Ramsey were in the centre of the four again but overrun by faster, stronger, better-drilled and more disciplined players and the dysfunction without Santi Cazorla is no closer to being solved. Arsenal somehow went in level at half-time, but rather than take advantage of their good fortune Arsenal, yet again, conceded in the 45–70 minutes slot. And for good measure, twice in less than 21/2 minutes. There was nothing wrong with Petr Cech’s reactions today and he repeatedly saved Arsenal from further humiliation. Monsieur Wenger’s struggle against the newer breed of modern managers continues and he has yet to beat Pochettino in the Premier League. Arsenal’s terrible record against key rivals is getting ever worse. This season, Arsenal are bottom of the big-six mini-league and the only team averaging less than a point a game. With one win, three draws and five defeats Arsenal average just 0.667 points a match. It is not a good football team and neither does it play good football. The cancellation of St Totteringham’s day saw Arsenal trailing the much less expensively assembled and much lesser financially rewarded - but title-chasing - local rivals by 17 points. Clearly, the players no longer believe in either the fourth-place ‘trophy’ or the manager and, even in the North London derby, the dressing room has been well and truly lost. It is time for real change.

Sources:

Had his Chips:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-4410292/Arsene-Wenger-blow-chairman-walks-Palace-game.html

http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/20170309/comment-from-Arsenal-chairman

Catalyst:
http://www.standard.co.uk/sport/football/arsenal-chief-executive-ivan-gazidis-promises-thorough-review-of-the-club-as-fans-clash-over-arsene-a3505751.html

Unfit to wear the shirt including video:
http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/arsenal-fans-chant-youre-not-10199892

Fan fury including video:
http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/arsenal-fans-furious-arsene-wenger-10199160

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/apr/04/arsene-wenger-pep-guardiola-fourth-place-winning-trophy

Carragher’s 10 year view:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2017/04/10/jamie-carragher-tears-arsenal-cowards-extraordinary-rant/

http://www.skysports.com/football/news/29327/10833346/jamie-carraghers-passionate-analysis-of-arsenal

Yet more ‘mental strength’:
http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/20170402/wenger-that-will-help-us-restart

6th May 2017 09:58:49

(7.8/10)

Comments and Reaction

User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.

mbg  11:44am 6th May 2017

Another drawn out piece of crap dressed up as something it's not from a chief wengerite, and as usual of no interest at all and telling us what we already know, and there's another one ? Why? Don't give up the day job. Good photo of dumb and dumber though. #no new contract, We want wengerout. - Post No. 106969


gooner.ed  13:07pm 6th May 2017

Response from the author to mbg (as he is not registered to post, he requested that I post this)... mbg - I am not a Wengerite and ever since I started writing Arsenal Audit's in 2011 never have been, please desist from defaming me as such. That I am not and I want no contract renewal should be apparent to anyone who read the articles properly, although I do accept that their length is not to your liking. Thank you, Neil. - Post No. 106970


mbg  17:57pm 6th May 2017

Neil, fair enough point taken, I can see how that is defaming, welcome to the club. We want wenger out. - Post No. 106972


Paulward  19:49pm 6th May 2017

Our great leader well on the way to turning Rob Holding into the new Calum Chambers, preferring Gabriel or an out of position Montreal for no apparent reason. Fully expect Mourinho to do another number on Wenger tomorrow and finally kill off the pretence that we are a top four team. Crowd reaction could be interesting. - Post No. 106973


CORNISH GOONER  20:02pm 6th May 2017

Is it just me or has the whole drawn out agony of the ground hog day scenario just become BORING? Wake me up when Hulot leaves the building. - Post No. 106974


mbg  2:31am 7th May 2017

Paulward, yes indeed yet another decent prospect that he'll ruin, if he hasn't already done so. Go now you waste of space, we want wenger out. - Post No. 106975


markymark  7:47am 7th May 2017

Cornish - absolutely they'll let the whole thing turn into a complete bore fest leaving us with barely the will to live and then guess what the smirking imbecille will be pictured pen in hand. Ye gods we suffer! One point I will say they can give him one year, 2 years or Squeaks 10 years. It'll all be the same result, that is a sacking halfway through next season when we are in 10th the crowds down to 35k ish and ****balls being thrown at the wrinkly one (who by then looks like death warmed up) - Post No. 106977


Issue #265 - Out Now!

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28th May 2017

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