When routine bites hard
And ambitions are low
And resentment rides high
But emotions won’t grow
And we’re changing our ways, taking different roads
Then love, love will tear us apart again
Love, love will tear us apart again
My dishes sat over night in a stinking pile. I “soaked” one pot that I had used for baked beans. The water and sugars combined with the 90F weather yesterday proved the perfect environment for fermentation and my kitchen is pregnant with the sickly sweet smell of garbage. It was entirely predictable. If I had thought about it for 10 seconds I wouldn’t have soaked that pot. I’ve done this before and every time I get the same result: me waking up to a sink full of regret.
Arsenal’s result yesterday was equally predictable. Before the match we all had a nervous chuckle about the center backs and a few moments of discussion about who Wenger would plop in front of them. The debate was divided between those who thought Wenger would look to cover the center backs with Coquelin and those who said he would look to have ball control with Elneny. Everyone assumed Arsenal’s near record midfield signing, Granit Xhaka, would start.
In a shock move, he played Coquelin and Elneny together with Aaron Ramsey.
Nothing about that pairing worked. Coquelin didn’t shore up the defense and Coquelin-Elneny-Ramsey couldn’t get the ball forward from the center backs. Alexis had just one shot in the entire match. He also was forced to try to win 8 aerial duels, each time challenging for the ball, each time getting beaten, and each time rasing his hands to say “why are you doing this to me?”
There will be those who say “yeah, but the first half wasn’t bad” and statistically they are correct: Arsenal and Liverpool played a relatively even match in the first half with both teams showing defensive frailties and a common inability to get control of the ball. But the difference was that Arsenal were riding their luck in midfield and tactically we were playing a bankrupt system that was bound to collapse.
Arsenal left the center backs exposed time and again in possession. The few times Elneny dropped to collect the ball he was instantly pressed by Liverpool. He was the better of the two center mids with the ball at feet. Coquelin also was instantly pressed and unlike Elneny who was pretty tidy, Coquelin turned the ball over. Running full-speed with the entire Liverpool midfield bearing down on Arsenal’s two center backs, Liverpool were literally just a few offsides and a scuffed shot away from totally dominating Arsenal.
Note that I didn’t mention Aaron Ramsey as part of the Arsenal midfield. He really wasn’t. He rarely is. He loves to play as a forward. He’s not a “Lampard”. He’s not a “#10”. He’s a striker. He was dribbled by Mignolet. He had more shots than Alexis. His shots were from deeper in the box than Alexis. Alexis played an overlapping ball to him. He had zero tackles and zero interceptions along with zero through balls and zero key passes. He is like Falcao, a player who only passes so that he can bomb forward and try to collect the return pass. He is not a creative midfielder. He doesn’t drop to collect the ball. He is not a midfielder. He once was. He’s not any more. And I’m not sorry if that makes you angry. It should make you angry.
Liverpool’s domination was coming but didn’t come until the 46th minute. Coming right out of the half, Klopp instructed his men to give him 20 minutes of pressing and told them to attack down Monreal’s side of the pitch. That’s exactly what they did and they put on a clinic. It wasn’t until Arsenal were forced to sub off Ramsey and Iwobi that they gained a foothold back in the game. And eventually Wenger took off Elneny for Xhaka and Arsenal actually took control.
Arsenal did score 2 goals to their 3 in the second half and made it look like a closer contest than it was. In the 20 minutes that Liverpool scored their three goals, Arsenal were rumbled. That was the worst I’ve seen Arsenal play in recent memory.
Before the match, most Arsenal supporters were worried about the inexperienced pairing of Chambers and Holding but Klopp didn’t attack through the middle, he focused on Monreal and exposed the more experienced defender badly. Pep also attacked Monreal last season with Bayern and while his team were able to generate shots, they couldn’t finish. This time, Klopp attacked Monreal and his team were able to finish. Three of the four Liverpool goals were produced through Arsenal’s left back area: Lallana scored Liverpool’s second when Monreal was caught too centrally and leaving two players open in the box on his far post; the Liverpool third was a bit of a lucky goal but Clyne beat Monreal to put in the cross; and the fourth goal was simply Mane beating Chambers and then Monreal to scoop home the ball.
No wonder that after the match, Wenger said “Maybe we lacked a bit of experience but if you look well at the goals, I don’t think it was necessarily the inexperienced players that cost us the goals today.”
The biggest problem, though, is that this was supposed to be a well prepared team. Wenger has put off all talk about buying players and has said time and again that his focus is on the team we have and his current players: about specifically preparing them for the new season. He has spoken time and again about the importance of continuity and of how his players are growing and getting better every season. He can’t even use the excuse of Mertesacker and Gabriel ruining his preparations. Mertesacker was injured a month ago and surely Wenger has been working with Holding and Chambers since then to get them up to speed?
Wenger also wanted to lean on the excuse that his players were tired. Yes, that’s true. Alexis and Ramsey played this summer, also Cazorla wasn’t 100% and Xhaka wasn’t 100% either, I guess. But the players he had on the pitch didn’t play this summer, so they aren’t tired. Those players didn’t give the effort needed to stop Liverpool walking through their lines. Even the commentators on Arsenal.com, who are like Baghdad Bob when it comes to Arsenal, complained that the Arsenal midfield wasn’t giving enough. Elneny and Ramsey combined for ZERO tackles and just two interceptions.
Where were the players running for each other? Where was Ramsey, the supposed number 10? Where were the players presenting for each other? Pressing together? Where was this much vaunted teamwork that Wenger has spent the last two weeks drilling into his players?
The bare fact is that Wenger’s team was unprepared. They were unprepared for the press, they were physically unprepared, and the starting XI looked like he threw it together at the last minute. Buying players will certainly appease the Arsenal fans for a little while, but the fact that Wenger’s team was dreadfully unprepared for a press that EVERYONE knew Klopp would apply is the canary in the coal mine.
If Wenger isn’t going to buy players and he’s instead going to talk about how important it is to keep his team together and to work with the players he has, then it’s entirely his fault when those players don’t perform. And yesterday, in the home opener, Arsenal didn’t perform.