Alexis’ thinker moment

I wonder…

Is zero a real number or imaginary? Does zero not exist on the axis of both the real numbers and the imaginary numbers? So what is zero? Is it just a special number, one that is able to straddle the complex and real planes? The intersection of both the real and imagined? Or is zero a nothing?

What is nothing? What thing do we make much ado about? Nothing? An o thing? She has an o thing between her legs? She has nothing between her legs? Do we chase endlessly after the nothing? There must be more to this than the nothing. Eventually all of us become the nothing.

Wasn’t the nothing the thing that threatened the world in the Neverending Story? If I am fighting the nothing am I Atreyu or Bastian? I think I’m Atreyu, a character in a story, a hero, someone who is destined to save the world from the nothing. But maybe I’m just a kid in the attic reading a book about another guy who plays football for a living. It makes about as much sense as anything happening here right now.

Isn’t this a nothing? This thing we are doing here today? Playing a game against Manchester City? How can I save us from this nothing? I already created the goal for Theo Walcott, what more can I do to save us from this nothing?

Have you ever read Momo? It’s another book by Michael Ende, the human who wrote The Neverending Story. It’s a book about a little girl who saves the world from the time thieves. These thieves, the Men in Grey, entice humans to “save time” and put it in their bank where they can earn it back later with interest. Once you enter into contract with the men in grey, who all wear bowler caps and carry briefcases, you spend all of your time worried about “wasting time”. Since you’re trying to save as much time as possible, you don’t want to waste time. Any time-wasting activities, like taking a long walk with your dogs and just enjoying the English countryside, is abhorred.

Time is all that we really have. But we really can’t worry about wasting time. Because if you do that, you end up wasting time worrying about wasting time. It’s a catch 22.

What am I doing here?

Am I wasting time?

I could be playing with Atom and Humber. Instead I’m playing with Özil and Coquelin. And we are outclassed yet again by a big team. PSG did it to us, twice. Man U. Liverpool. Even Everton dominated us just a few days ago. And now Man City. Guardiola. How did bringing on Sagna change the game so much? How did Arsenal go from a team who were playing pretty well in the first half to a team which saw almost none of the ball in the second? And didn’t we want to win this game? I mean, once Sane scored their equalizer, why couldn’t we get back into the game? Worse, what happened to Arsenal as a team who could dominate all opposition with slick passing and great ball control? When did that team die? How is it possible that Arsene Wenger, the coach of that once great side, is incapable of replicating that with us? Was it Guardiola’s Barcelona who killed that Arsenal? Was it Guardiola’s Bayern who killed that Arsenal?

Wenger’s 442, with Coquelin in midfield, doesn’t seem to be working against the big teams. If you’re going to play two men in midfield, against five, which is what Guardiola was playing with his 4141, you better have the very best two midfielders in the game, with great support on the wings. Xhaka is great and he is often compared to Emmanuel Petit. But Petit had Vieira next to him. That’s how that worked. Arsenal don’t have a Vieira.

Guardiola’s entire coaching philosophy is geared toward snuffing out counter attacking teams. He works tirelessly to prepare his team to target the players on the opposition who are the gears which start the counters. Wenger played right into Guardiola’s hands not only with the counter-attacking set up but also by playing Alexis as a false 9, playing Özil as a false 10, and using Coquelin as a false 4. These are all innovations that Guardiola himself has used. Pep knew what to look for. Pep knew how to counter us and the second half was one of the low moments of my career. We only took two shots from outside the 18 yard box. Awful.

I don’t think we can play against big teams with Iwobi and Walcott on the wings. They simply don’t offer any midfield play. They are sprinters and we can lump the ball up to them. But bringing the ball out of the back and organizing the middle of the pitch? Nope.

If we are a counter attacking team, shouldn’t we be better at defending? We don’t seem to be good at defending. We keep letting opposition teams have great shots. We have taken a page out of Leicester’s playbook from last year: we want to be a counter-attacking team. But the problem is that Leicester got lucky last year. Chelsea, Liverpool, Man U, Arsenal, and Tottenham all sucked. They aren’t sucking this year. And so now what?

Elneny isn’t the answer. He’s soft as lanolin. Him and Özil on the same team? Arsenal would be parted like a nothing. Plus, you’d just see me running around closing down space and those two pulling out of tackles. Could you imagine Xhaka and Elneny? Oh wait, you don’t have to imagine it. It’s been tried. It’s the worst.

Just trading in Coquelin isn’t going to solve the problem. Arsenal need players all over the pitch who can take control of a game. Özil? Never. Walcott? He works hard but he’s another Coquelin, in that he can’t help with the build-up play. Ox is injured, not that he’s much better than Walcott. Ramsey is injured and would offer an option in midfield, if we can contain him in midfield.

Anyway. It doesn’t matter. The season is over. Not statistically, of course. Anything could happen from now until the end of the season. But as Guardiola says, you have to be within 3 points of the leaders in December if you’re going to seriously challenge for the title. At this point Arsenal have to win 3 more than Chelsea, in other words, Arsenal have to be perfect and Chelsea have to lose three games, just to catch up to them. Next up is West Brom. They are going to give us as much difficulty as Everton and Man City.

I wonder what it would be like to play for Guardiola’s City? He’s a tireless worker and he can be too full of ideas sometimes but it would be better than this: getting our asses handed to us by every big team that comes along. Ooohhh, or Antonio Conte. His team is organized. They control both the ball and space. That would be fun to try once in a while.

Or maybe China. I’ve already won a ton of trophies. Six trophies with Barcelona. The FA Cup with Arsenal. And I go home, when I retire, to Chile where I’m a national hero having won the Copa America twice, back-to-back. Sure, maybe I want to win the Champions League. If that’s my last goal in club football, I have to ask myself if I’m going to achieve that here, at Arsenal, where we get manhandled by Everton? And if Man City, Chelsea, or Liverpool don’t want me? I’ll go to China. Earn a billion dollars and buy all the land in Chile for Atom and Humber.

Maybe I can even get a luck dragon. I’d love a dragon-dog!

But whatever I’m going to do, this sure wasn’t part of the plan.

Qq

71 Comments on Alexis’ thinker moment

  1. That picture of Alexis is one of the saddest picture I have seen in football for some time. To make it worst, it was his birthday the next day. Imagine how heart wrenched Alexis felt while leaving the stadium.

    Tim, there are people quickly pointed out after the game how poor Cech’s distribution that night, and few more wants Arsene (or whoever managing Arsenal next year) to bring back Szczesny next season. What is your personal view about it?

    • When you look at a Keeper’s distribution ask yourself three questions:

      1) How long is he kicking it?
      2) Who is he kicking it to?
      3) Why is he playing it that way?

      1) Cech was kicking long.
      2) To Arsenal’s diminutive front line.
      3) Because Arsenal’s midfield was hosed.

      In that situation, any keeper is going to suck.

  2. Footballers these days have the option to move clubs easily enough. Especially those running down their contracts, and even contracts don’t mean much if they really want to move. We know that by now. But why do fans assume that will be their default option? I mean for me, Alexis is a fighter, and a fighter wouldn’t give up being 9 points down at this stage. Wouldn’t give up on the team less than halfway into a season. I don’t think he was thinking anything in particular at this moment. Makes for a good story, and speaks to some fans’ fears I guess. But not my thing this sort of speculation.

    Well written though.

    • This speaks to what I’m feeling while reading reactions to the loss. A collapse of confidence and results occurs at the same time AFC is attempting to convince its two best players to sign contract extensions. I think the anxiety, weighed down with the heartbreak that comes with ending a 14 game unbeaten run by going 9 points down from the top, is soul-crushing. I do not, however, buy the notion that our best player thinks this way also. It seems to me that professional competitors, especially those as irrationally energetic as Alexis, would not give up the fight so easily. We’ll see how the team responds, but we must avoid projecting our own feelings and disappointment onto our players, for whom such a response would be not only destructive, but self-defeating with respect to career goals.

    • Sometimes there’s no explanation, you just know when try at moment arrives. With RvP, remember the home game against United, when the Ox was giving them troubles and with the score at 1-1, Wenger hooked him (Ox) for Arshavin? RvP (and the entire Emirates) protested loudly and visibly. And in that moment, I knew he’d be playing for someone else the next season.

      • So is this that moment for you with Alexis?

        Because you see, while I completely understand what you’re saying, we don’t actually know. We just ‘know’. I ‘knew’ we wouldn’t win the League Cup in 2011 the day before. How did I ‘know’ this? The universe felt like it was cocking things up. And it, or we, did. Does that mean I knew? Not really.

        I don’t think Alexis is going anywhere because of this week. There is however still a lot of uncertainty around Arsenal with his, Ozil, and the manager’s futures all to be decided. As also, for the season to be decided, because despite the hysteria, it hasn’t been yet.

        • I completely disagree.

          Reading people’s emotions is not psuedoscience. It’s basic humaning. I got the exact same vibe off Alexis yesterday. He’s going to be a professional but I think he’s done with us.

          I am also the one who predicted Szczesny never returning, I think Wilshere is gone for good as well, and Mertesacker will only play for Arsenal if there is a dire emergency.

          I was raised in an abusive family. Reading emotions is one of my skills.

          Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think that he was bent over like that and in that contemplative pose for no reason.

          • It wasn’t no reason. But we’re taking a 2 second snapshot and saying that is indicative of the guy’s career decision. Just like we’re taking a week’s snapshot of the season to say this is what we are.

            When I said I don’t think he was thinking anything in particular, I meant it was one of those empty contemplative stares where you’re not consciously thinking. Not that he was devoid of all thought.

            Not that he couldn’t leave. He’s going to have options where he can earn more money and perhaps be a part of a better team. But ManCity? Chelsea? I don’t see Arsenal sanctioning a sale unless Alexis stops being professional.

          • Oh, but that is on the premise that it will still be Wenger at the helm. If Wenger is retiring, a new manager is to come in, and Alexis wants to go, perhaps the board take the money and give it to the new guy. Or perhaps, Alexis wants to stay and give it a shot with the new guy. (The uncertainty then being if he would be willing to sign an extension or let his contract run down)

            Although I think keeping Alexis and Ozil are important for the team, Wenger’s future determines more of Arsenal’s future than either of those.

            And that future depends on this season.

        • Shard,

          Between my realistic-pessimistic bent, the fact that he’s obviously the best player on the team (a fact he’s undoubtedly aware of) and the fact that he’s nearing the final year on his contract (corollary: offers from other teams with better chances of success), with a soupçon of our rotten form at perhaps the worst possible time. It’s not just flying blind, or reading tea leaves. There’s some logic to it.

        • Here’s another scenario, Shard (this is my real life, not a hypothetical situation):

          I have a master’s degree in applied statistics, but my current job barely touches statistical analysis – disappointing given that the aforementioned degree was crucial in my hiring. The money’s decent, very much so, but I know I can do at least 20% better elsewhere AND actually be a statistician. Plus, I won’t be nominating my manager for person of the year any time soon. In my case, I’m in my mid-twenties and have my entire career ahead of me. If I’m thinking of finding a new job, why not Alexis, in much the same situation but actually 28 years old in a relatively short career?

  3. Bleak, Tim. But although justifiably so, let’s retain some hope and hope for some change.

    Because we support Arsenal, we expect to be competing for the title year in year out. But perhaps if we temper our expectations, we’ll be able to enjoy our team more. We are not a championship winning team, but a champions league and a Top 4 one. The FA Cup would make me very, very happy. Statistically we have a chance, but we can all see what’s in front of us.

    Let’s not go too bleak. Our kid didn’t get into Harvard, but Penn State is a decent school.

    • But why aren’t we a championship winning team?
      It’s not the money. Leicester proved that.
      And Arsenal have a lot of money (or at least enough to be considered a valid title challenger before the start of a season the last couple of years).

      And it’s not like Chelsea have spent a ton of pounds buying Costa, Fabregas or Kante.
      They have a team that contains probably two world class stars in Diego Costa and Hazard, and a very good midfield player in Kante. Everything else is more or less average, some of them being even worse then Arsenal’s starters.

      One could say: “Well, they are not playing in the Champions League”. But if I recall correctly, Arsenal won every game that followed after a CL game this season and are still trailing 9 points behind a team they beat very convincingly.

      So, why should we temper our expectations?
      We have no excuses to do so, apart from the narrative created by I don’t know who that somehow every other team has some invisible advantage over us and we should be happy with what we have.

      • Why think that playing in the CL only affects performances directly after CL games? This obviously doesn’t follow. Another way it is likely to affect performance is in increasing likelihood of injuries and fatigue (which in turn increases likelihood of injuries). And aside from the obvious disadvantage of losing good players, injuries prevent playing a settled side. And settled sides breed good form, usually, and certainly when you’ve already started winning they breed confidence, familiarity with teammates, and more winning. Chelsea have had this advantage. Of course, that advantage doesn’t explain terrible performances like against Everton and City.

      • It was mine as well until some time ago.
        But funnily enough, I remember the exact moment I stopped enjoying watching Arsenal.
        It was this stupid CL game against Anderlecht when we blew a three goal advantage. I don’t know why it was exactly then, but that was when my coping mechanism said: Screw this.
        The way Arsenal lose is unique, it is rarely straightforward and there is always this false moment of hope that maybe, just maybe, this could be it.
        And then it crashes down identically, as if this club runs on some software creating a losing pattern, in which the players may change, but the unfolding of events can not happen any differently.
        And after more than a decade of my life experiencing the same emotions, it just becomes a bit too much.

    • I don’t demand that we win the League.

      I would like it, however, if we could have a legit title run once in a while. Last time was 2007. That was 10 seasons ago.

  4. Liverpool: From the 2014 season we have won only 2 points
    United: 4 points from the last three seasons, I believe, or probably even further
    Tottenham: Honestly, the last win against them I remember is the 0:1 with the Rosicky goal. Remember Rosicky? He used to play for Arsenal.
    Chelsea: From 2011 we’ve won a grand total of 3 points
    Man City: Ok, here we fare a bit better, trading draws and the occasional home win for each team
    Koeman: Last three games against Wenger won
    To me, this season finally proves that a part of what made Wenger great back in the glory days was perhaps the lack of real managerial competition. Even then he spent substantial amounts of money on players, but he only had to deal with Ferguson.
    You could point to the stadium building years as proof of his managerial prowess, but wheb I look at the current top ten managers and Wenger’s record against them, defending him as a world class manager becomes a very difficult task.

    • Damn… I knew it was bad but this is epic bad. Also look at the record in the Champions League against top clubs.

      Arsenal have a massive fan base, one of the biggest in the world. We have much much money. We should be a top club. But we are pretty far away from that.

      • A list of all the Arsenal’s results against top clubs in the PL and CL in the last 12-13 years
        could make for a very grim reading for a lot of AKB soldiers.

        • That’s absolutely revisionist. It’s quite unfair to judge Wenger in this manner. Houllier and Benitez were once considered to be top coaches and yet were consistently put in the shade by Wenger. Indeed, up till around the infamous Pizzagate episode at Old Trafford in 2004, Wenger actually had an overall winning record against Ferguson. What happened was that Wenger, like Arsenal, became static during the Emirates years. That should not take the shine off Wenger’s glorious first epoch.

    • First off, the stats you decided couldn’t possibly “prove” the claim you make about Wenger’s performance in England from 15-20 years ago.
      Second: isn’t the “world class” label (whatever it means) inevitably dependent on the year of a person’s career we’re discussing? Michael Jordan was a world class basketball player while with the Chicago Bulls, not so much with the Washington Wizards. By the same token, I think you do Wenger a disservice by suggesting that he only had success early on in England because Fergie was the only other top manager around (which probably also is unfair to some of the other managers of that era). He was absolutely world class then (and before someone brings up his poor record in Europe, keep in mind that Fergie’s record in Europe was also very mediocre throughout that era, and even when he retired it looked pretty disappointing relative to his tremendous domestic success). It’s not that the PL now has more top managers (which it does) so he’s somehow being found out as mediocre, but rather that the league is full of younger managers with newer, more innovative methods, and maybe Wenger is falling a little behind them. But that doesn’t take away his past status in the game as one of the best. It would be like bringing Thierry Henry back after playing in New York and seeing if he was still one of the best strikers in the PL, and when it turned out he wasn’t, declaring that that shows he was never world class and only dominated because the quality of English opposition was weaker in the early 2000’s (which it was, but not so much as to detract from Henry’s achievements).

      • Well, to be fair, I think almost everyone will agree that during the Arsenal trophy years, the only other real challenger for the title was United.
        At that time, Wenger was probably the only foreign manager in the League and apart from Fergie, it’s not like the other ones were lighting the football world on fire. And how many of the best football players at that time were playing in England as opposed to Italy or Spain?

        Also, Wenger and Ferguson probably had more money to spend then the rest. So, it would be fair to say that we are judging Wenger on a period in time in which he had objectively worse managerial competition.

        Also, Ferguson’s poor record in Europe still ended with two Champions League titles, which may not be a lot, but it’s more than most of the world’s football managers have.

        And comparing Wenger to Jordan is interesting but not quite correct in my opinion.
        Jordan was not the same player at the Wizards because he was 36, older and slower.
        With the Bulls, he was in the prime of his life and he was destroying some of the best opposition players the NBA has ever seen.
        So, in that case, the player changed but the circumstances of the game did not.
        If Jordan was still 25 while playing for the Wizards, he would have still be His Royal Airness.

        Meanwhile, Wenger got older, but that doesn’t mean that suddenly he should start thinking slower.
        In his case, the player stayed the same, but the game changed.
        And when it did, it severely exposed his shortcomings.

        The stats I mentioned show a really bad head to head duel with the best in the game.
        And as time passes by these stats only increase.

        You also somehow manage to prove my point by saying that now that the League is full of younger managers with more innovative methods, he is falling behind.

        I look at it this way: Christopher Nolan is a phenomenal director reinventing cinematography with movies like Memento and Inception, but Scorcese still won an Oscar for Departed.
        So, if Wenger doesn’t win another Oscar before leaving Arsenal, his image in my eyes will be severely diminished, as much as I admire him and respect every principle he stands for.

        • In time, we’re going to look back on this 12-13 year period and say it was what brought the glory to Arsenal. If nothing else, it has definitely solidified our position at the top table, if not quite the prime seating of Europe. Something which is now used to beat Wenger and Arsenal with.

          The ‘player’ changed too by the way. He changed because Arsenal needed to change. He could have gone to Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, and you can’t tell me he wouldn’t have won trophies there with their spending power and status in the game. He chose not to. He chose to adapt to Arsenal’s need to break up the Invincibles. It wasn’t a coincidence that we struggled to keep Edu even though we knew Vieira was leaving. (And no coincidence that we had Fabregas waiting to stake his claim) We built the stadium at just the time when money started to explode in the PL. And we got damn close to winning things even during that period. We battled referee injustice (what might a title in 2008 have done to change the narrative) broken legs, squad upheaval, and then not being able to offload the players we did keep because we needed them then. All this is in that 12-13 year period you talk about. And how many times did we finish higher in the table than these modern managers that show Wenger up?

          I’m not saying nothing’s lacking. There is clearly some way to go before we can stake a claim to being the best in the league. But let’s not pretend that we’ve been held back all these years by a manager who was just lucky in his timing, rather than one who braved the different challenges the league offered.

          Wenger’s our Cruyff. Maybe even more important to our history. His legacy will be alive and flourishing well after he’s out of the managerial seat.

          • I don’t think we were held back all these years.
            But looking at right now, yes, that feeling is becoming stronger.
            Judging by the names in the squad, I sincerely believe we have a title winning team.
            Judging by the performances and stats, I’m shocked that I actually fear they won’t be able to clinch a top four spot.

        • I don’t “prove” your point. That’s not the way these kinds of arguments work. At best, I’ve made a point that you think *supports* the point you’re making (I don’t think it does, but whatever). But no one has proven anything.

          Of course comparing managers to footballers, to other sports stars, and to directors is drawing a bunch of interesting but inevitably imperfect analogies. The only point I was trying to make with the analogy to Jordan is that whether someone counts as world class relative to their peers can change throughout their career. If Jordan had been 25 when he was playing in DC he may have still dominated the league. But he wasn’t. So he wasn’t still world class. But that doesn’t mean as we look back we can’t now say “Michael Jordan was a world class basketball player” on the basis of his Chicago years.

          And surely, as a rule, when saying someone is one of the “greats” we compare them to their peers at the time of their greatness, so it’s actually irrelevant to their greatness even if the game does move on. The NBA may not have moved on so much in 2001 that Jordan wouldn’t have been able to dominate it then, but it may have moved on enough that (say) Bob Cousy would have been all at sea. But Bob Cousy is still a basketball all-time great (or Puskas in football, or Rod Laver in tennis, etc, etc). Guys from the 1950’s shouldn’t be expected to compete with the very best in 2016, for a whole host of reasons we can’t go into. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t all-time greats, or weren’t world class when they played. This should go for managers too (would Matt Busby or Brian Clough or Bill Shankly be able to compete today? Doubtful).

          So, likewise, it would be bizarrely unfair to claim that the innovation of younger coaches has shown, NOT JUST that Wenger is a bit past it (if it has indeed shown that; and by the way, even if old age shouldn’t mean he’s “thinking slower,” it might mean his overall managerial powers have waned, e.g. ability to communicate with the younger generation of players, etc), but that HE WAS NEVER MUCH GOOD IN THE FIRST PLACE!

          Lest I be accused of erecting straw men, I should say the last sentence is hyperbole for rhetorical effect: you never said he wasn’t any good, just that today’s game has “severely exposed” the shortcomings he’s always had. Again, this seems uncharitable in the extreme. There’s two more charitable ways we can interpret the evidence (assuming we agree on what the evidence is, i.e. that he’s struggling against the “younger breed”): 1. his shortcomings are being highlighted, but they have gotten worse with age, so it’s unfair to claim his 2016 self is the best representative of his managerial ability through the years; 2. what are now shortcomings weren’t really problems for a manager 15 years ago, so while the game has moved on, that’s no mark on AW’s legacy: he was a truly great manager 15 years ago, and it’s not his fault that he stayed so long as to lose ground in any ever-evolving, hyper-competitive international sport.

          • I agree with a lot of the things you say. I don’t know why but my English has gotten a little worse these past few years and perhaps that led to some slight misunderstandings in our communication, such as the “proving” part which obviously sounds a lot different when phrased “supporting the point I have been trying to make my good Sir”, but far from it I believe I can actually prove anything on such an abstract measuring stick.

            The comparison of different era personas is a futile exercise due to many different factors, and I believe we can agree that it also doesn’t lead to a conclusion.

            But my main argument was that regardless of budgetary constraints, managerial competition, Wenger always had difficulty against top class teams, and even with the Invincibles at his disposal, he couldn’t come close to a CL final, let alone winning it.
            It is fair to say that his most epic success happened in the Premier League, and it is a fact that at that time his only rival was Manchester United.

            Does that make him a bad manager? Absolutely not. For what is worth, I value his managerial skills more for the success of coming fourth with a team of Denilsons than coming second with Ozil, Sanchez and Cech.

            And what he managed to do holding the club together will be remembered with even more significance, or like Shard said above, he could be our Cruyff.

            But does winning those three titles with a once in a lifetime generation of talents make him world class? I’m sorry, but lately I find it more and more difficult to believe so.

  5. Players have their pride like any other worker.

    We all want to show ex-colleagues and the world that we may have left a superb company, but we now work for one that’s just as great or up and coming. Being seen to have taken a step down is a no-no.

    We also can’t match City, Chelsea and United on wages if push comes to shove. Sometimes there’s more to it than that (fit, compatibility, happiness, being appreciated, developing), but if Alexis is really thinking WTFAIDH, it’d be a human reaction.

    But hey, he may the hunched down out of sheer exhaustion.

    • Of course he’s thinking about staying at Arsenal or not. Of course this game won’t have pushed him towards staying. I could take a picture of any one of us on this forum while we are having a bad day of work and develop a plausible case, in the absence of direct contradictions, that you are contemplating leaving your job.

      And that’s ok. We all have bad days, and Sanchez totally had a bad day on Sunday. He may leave Arsenal, and that’s OK too. We’ve survived worse. I just hate all the wailing and moaning about it; it’s not like he owes us something. And it’s not like Arsenal can tell him what to do. This is football, players come and they go. Appreciate Sanchez while he is still here.

  6. when i saw this image of alexis during the game, i, too, thought he was doing some serious contemplation. while no one can really say what he was thinking, a picture is worth a thousand words. i even gave props to the production team for catching that image of alexis on the previous thread.

    we’ve seen plenty of top quality stars leave arsenal in recent years to pursue glory and solidify their legacy. while we all love arsenal, no one wants to be associated with failure to achieve prominence, especially when you give everything you have and you talents suggest you deserve prominence. alexis gave absolutely everything yesterday but he is only one man and this game requires eleven all involved in the battle. if alexis decides to leave, i wouldn’t condemn him, just like i have never condemned fabregas, nasri, or van persie. when your talent is as significant as the aforementioned, you can’t afford to waste your time at a team that seems averse to winning.

  7. The title is gone, Arsenal have been over performing their underlying stats all year and I can’t imagine that they turn it around to play well enough to average 2.5 points per game the rest of the way.

    They have the 6th best chance quality (xG) differential, they have the 5th best Big Chance differential and the 6th best danger zone shot differential.

    I am concerned about them actually holding on to the top 4 as I think Manchester United are better and they are on the same level as Tottenham. Luckily Man U already dropped a bunch of points so they have a 4 point lead but Tottenham are right behind and might seriously overtake them.

    This season could get ugly.

    • In just about every reproducible metric, this team is closer to dropping out of the top four than the title. Defensively, of the “big 6,” we’ve given up the most in total shots against, total shots on target against, shots in the box, and big chances against. In some of those metrics, we trail Evrton and Southampton. If our favorable shot conversion rates, both for and against start regressing, we are in trouble.

  8. I was just saying something is missing in this his contemplation when you came up with it … the dragon-dog. Lovely post.

  9. Sanchez is a fighter who never says die. A showman extraordinary also. Who says the two can’t go together. That pic is full of fight and grace and that’s what we demand from the team.

  10. Great article as always Tim. Alexis will seriously have doubts on renewing his contract after the past week. But what frustrates me the most is Ozil. He has been well
    Below par and hopefully he is the first to see that. When Giroud got on there were a couple of times he just one touch passes it back to giroud and then the opposing defender on giroud nicks the ball and that was when Ozil was in space and Giroud was clearly marked. It’s as if he doesn’t has a football brain or just wants to pass on the responsibility. Extremely frustrating. Kevin De Brunye on the other hand is class and like Lee Dixon said one of the smartest footballer out there. If you compare the two, I can’t see why anyone would prefer Ozil over De Brunye.

    • I’m not going to argue that De Bruyne isn’t better than Ozil, but the suggestion that Mesut Ozil doesn’t have a football brain is absolutely laughable. Let’s step back from the game and have a little perspective, people.

    • Mesut is a much better player than Kevin De Bruyne. He wasn’t yesterday, but he is, generally.

      And the richness of his footballing brain is in no doubt whatsoever — space, movement, positional awareness, touch, technique, weight of pass. Our German is an exceptional offensive talent.

      By himself Ozil has scored the 3 most sublime goals this season, against Swansea, Stoke and Ludogorets. He’ll want to consign yesterday to history.

      • Ozil just hasn’t delivered in the big games and that is a fact. We need him to deliver against the bigger clubs… against the smaller clubs he is a luxury. Thing I’ve noticed is that against these so called bigger clubs they can turn on a semi-decent press and Ozil becomes ineffective. In short, we can easily beat Ludrogrets/West Ham etc. without Ozil. But can we beat the big clubs with Ozil? I love Ozil and got his jersey before he played his first game but there are times you have to criticize his footballing brain. How many times have you seen him pass and not shoot? And against Everton that big miss when he could have easily taken a touch and placed the ball given how much room he had on that cut-back but then blasted the ball into the stands. Against City, can clearly see Giroud being tightly marked and we needed some form of possession and he still one touches the pass to Giroud when he himself is in acres of space – that’s a bad pass but probably won’t be recorded as such. All of these are about making the right decisions… I’m not questioning his ability, we all know he has loads but he doesn’t always get the decision right.
        PS. SANTA give us Cazorla asapppppppppp

        • 1. No player makes the right decision 100% of the time. They’re human, after all.
          2. It’s not obvious to me Ozil had time to take a touch and then shoot against Everton (good aggressive defenders close space down quickly and throw their bodies in front of shots), but even if so, choosing to take the ball on first time from that position hardly shows a failure in his footballing brain (i.e. understanding of the game). If that’s the stick we’re going to use to measure footballers’ intelligence with, than every footballer who’s ever taken one too few or too many touches will be labeled a moron.
          3. If you take out all of Ozil’s contributions from all of the games against “lesser” teams this season, are you really suggesting that we would have won all those games “easily” anyway???? This seems more than a little over confident in the rest of our team…
          4. As for the “fact” that Ozil hasn’t “delivered in the big games,” (any of them? really??): If you go through Ozil’s stats since he’s come to Arsenal (to say nothing of his time in Madrid and for Germany), I think you’ll find plenty of examples where he’s scored or assisted against bigger/harder teams. I’m not saying I don’t want him to be more of a big-game player, but a little more perspective and nuance in your judgments is called for, I think.

  11. That’s precisely the pun Shakespeare makes in the title, “Much Ado About Nothing” (‘nothing’ was slang for female genitalia). I’m not sure if you knew that before writing this piece, but if not, you certainly worked it out!

    Not too worried about the loss to City. As I said a couple of days ago, only people who believed Arsenal could win a title are seriously worried right now. The only justified belief in any given season is top four. No matter the results, no matter how we play, no matter who plays, some Divinity has ordained us a seat at the Table (which doth not lie) as a good team but not a great team. Come on people, believe! Fourth place is our destiny!

    This is why, furthermore, it is needless to worry about whether Alexis will sign a new contract. Change the personnel however you like, do it over 12 years, and voila: same result, or thereabouts.

    I am at peace. It has taken me a long time, but I know, finally, where my team fits in the Great Chain of Being.

    Anyone reading anything good these days? I just finished reading “Hillbilly Elegy,” and found it…surprisingly good, and not at all what I thought it would be when I first opened the cover. Highly recommended.

    • “I am at peace. It has taken me a long time, but I know, finally, where my team fits in the Great Chain of Being”
      This to me is probably the most profound sentence on this thread.

  12. Chelsea running away with the title like ManCity had done at the start of the season. More than a couple of bad results (and performances) for them didn’t shake the neutrals’ faith in Pep or City. What lessons can we draw from this?

    1. Perhaps fans aren’t the most rational in judging where their team stands.
    2. Familiarity breeds contempt.
    3. Write a book, Arsene!

  13. As always in sport, it is the hope that kills you. And I did actually have hope during that unbeaten run after opening day that maybe, just maybe we could mount a serious, legitimate title challenge this season.

    Sure we were punching above our weight in a couple of games and sure we got lucky a time or two as well. But I felt we were good value for our results and our form was genuinely good.

    How we fall off in such sudden and complete fashion though, is the most Arsenal of qualities. A week ago were top of the table however briefly and today we are 3 games behind.

    And with hope so quickly and thoroughly extinguished I too can relax and take a deep breath secure in the familiar role of fighting for Champions League place and maybe 3rd or like last year, a distant 2nd to avoid that tricky European qualifier in August.

    More than anything else it’s who we have been as a club these last dozen years.

    I am reading one of my daughter’s Christmas gifts (shh!), BARKSKINS by Annie Proulx. I got it for her because she is absolutely a “tree-hugger”, passionate about biodiversity and environmental welfare.

    This remarkable novel illustrates humanity’s rapacious relationship with nature beginning with two woodcutters who arrive in the New World (Quebec) from France and chronicles the generations of the two families over some 3 centuries and the world over within the context of the timber industry, climate change and more.

    Two thumbs way up.

  14. I understand the Michael Jordan comparison but I feel a more apt one to be the late Dean Smith, Michael Jordan’s college coach whom he professes to be the most influential of his career, on the court and off. Being a Univ. of North Carolina fan all my life I’ve often thought of Arsene Wenger as professional soccer’s Dean Smith. Both men strive(d) to do more that teach X’s and O’s. I wonder that regardless of how successful Coach Smith was for 30 years, would he be successful in college basketball today? I’m not sure he would, but that doesn’t remove him from college basketball’s Mount Rushmore. Forgive my ramblings about college basketball but I find their situations quite similar. Men of extremely high character that believed that sport could be more than a game, that valued the beauty of the game as much as, if not more than the outcome, who remain(ed) at the helm of one team for decades revolutionizing their respective sport and consequently becoming a victim of their own success.

    • Wenger’s biggest error, and the club management has a larger share in this, was breaking up the Invincibles too quickly. We know it was a cost-cutting operation, removing high profile heavy earners from the payroll in order to pay for youths of great potential and still be able to pay for the stadium build. You don’t replace winners overnight. Who knows how season 2007/8 would have turned out, despite Eduardo’s traumatic leg break and Rosicky’s ill-timed season ending injury, if the likes of Pires, Ljungberg, Bergkamp, Henry, Edu and Kanu had been kept around for an extra season or two? They were past their best but knew how to win and their belief and a few telling cameos might’ve helped keep our noses in front instead of tailing off badly and ending up four points behind the EPL winners. Even Sol Campbell, who was on big wages but was no longer at his peak, could have been persuaded to stay rather than passively allowed to leave after one or two dodgy performances in the 2005/6 season (including an infamous roasting at the hands of West Ham’s Bobby Zamora). Although Campbell’s on field replacement (William Gallas) was a brilliant defender, he was a self-absorbed individual who couldn’t get along with his partner (Kolo Toure) and other team mates. Gallas absolutely failed to unite and rally the troops when victory was still attainable. The rest is, sadly, Arsenal history…Up till the breakup of the Invincibles, Wenger still had a winning record against Ferguson. My recollection of the turning of the tide, result wise, was a 4-2 home defeat in season 04/05 when Vieira and some of the other redoubtables started showing their age. The jaded backs-to-the-wall FA cup penalty shoot-out win over Man U simply showed that change was needed. Not a revolution (as Wenger and the board opted for) but a rejuvenation. Ferguson always chose rejuvenation, a seamless changing of the guard, and often kept the wise old heads on well past their sell-by date so as to keep a winning mentality and nous within the dressing room.

      • I’m sure he would have liked to keep some of them around. Gilberto should have been captain instead of Gallas, and the same season Diarra also left in January because of Flamini’s form, who left on a free in the offseason. The other miss was Reyes getting homesick. That guy had the ability to be our spearhead through the post Pires-Henry era.

        I’ve read somewhere (though no idea about the veracity of it) that Arsenal were 2 or 3 weeks away from defaulting on player wages in 2005. If true, this probably spooked the board enough to speed up the process.

        • That defensive midfield shambles of 2008 was the ultimate nightmare scenario! We lost Diarra because he was impatient for starting opportunities at Arsenal having endured the same misfortune at Chelsea. He left in January. Wenger kept faith with Flamini in the hope that he would reciprocate by signing a new deal. Alas, after the only truly world class season of his career, Flamini left for Milan in the summer. That same summer we lost the increasingly marginalized Gilberto. So, in the space of seven months or so, we lost two young battlers with their best years ahead of them as well as an experienced and calming authority figure. The most painful was Lassana Diarra, a truly gifted enforcer with every potential to become world class under his countryman Wenger. Instead, Wenger (and Fabregas!)was stuck with the flawed Song and Denilson and the forlorn unrequited hope that the prodigious Abou Diaby would someday overcome his injury problems and at last fulfill his massive potential. What a sad sequence of events.

  15. Was Alexis the thinker contemplating Kant or was he having a thought for Ozil? Was his thought treading the Way of Grief as it trailed Ozil being led to be hoisted and nailed to the cross for a sin he did not commit?

    Calm and relaxed in both mind and body is the usher of awareness, vision, intelligence and creativity. Ozil resides on this edge of the spectrum. At the opposite edge of this spectrum resides Gabriel, psyched up, full of determination and graft, but lacking in awareness. He too is walking the Way of Grief and sooner than latter, I fear, would be hoisted and nailed to death.

    We the throngs keep demanding that Ozil should add to his, the qualities of Gabriel and Gabiel add to his, the qualities of Ozil. And already there are shouts of crucify him, crucify him, Ozil getting the bigger at tension.. But what we don’t know is that one quality can only grow at the expense of the other. Ozil’s intelligence has to diminish, for endeavor and determination to grow. To build he has to destroy.

    Degrade intelligence? That sounds like sacrilege. No and I would instead say, feed intelligence with the food that it needs, cloak it with the right flesh, put it in the right environment and it will glow even more brilliantly.

    Ozil needs plenty of skill and intelligence around him. Yes, Sanchez is there but Ozil is not seeking just a company, he is asking for a party. He must be missing Santi, craving for Wilshire and dreaming of a Thiery incarnate. Build a team around him and Ozil will rise up on the third day!

  16. We don’t deserve a brave player like Alexis. Wenger would kill him and turn him into another gutless player. We have lots of them infact our whole team is made of bunch of gutless player. They lack courage they lack strength they lack a spine to face an opponent.
    The way we give up a game is astonishing. Even a team with way less resources than us would give a better fight.

    Old age has taken over our manager and the team shows the same mentality.

    The league is lost already and soon the Champions league would be lost in the knock out and we will be cherishing the coveted 4th spot at end of the season.

  17. I usually don’t look at fixtures ahead and try to predict results, but I am looking at the fixture list till Feb 1st.

    Chelsea – Bournemouth(H), Stoke(H), Spurs(A), Leicester(A), Hull(H), Liverpool(A) (and then they face us)

    Liverpool – Stoke(H), ManCity(H), Sunderland(A), ManU(A), Swansea(H), Chelsea(H)

    ManCity – Hull(A), Liverpool(A), Burnley(H), Everton(A), Spurs(H), WestHam(A)

    ManU – Sunderland(H), Middlesbrough(H), WestHam(A), Liverpool(H), Stoke(A), Hull(H)

    Spurs – Southampton(A), Watford(A), Chelsea(H), WBA(H), ManCity(A), Sunderland(A)

    They all, even Chelsea, have some potential banana skins. Some of them play against each other. On short rest. Of course, so do we, and we’ll need better performances, and more rotation. (and some luck) But if we can find a way to win all our games over that period (There’s FA Cup too) with a more favourable fixture list, then we could be back in the title race. Lose one or draw two and it could be too far, especially because we’ll have tough fixtures later in the season. But so much is linked with confidence. Win 6 on the trot and it could be a different story when we go to Chelsea.

    At least that’s how our players should be approaching this. Hey! Maybe that’s what Alexis was thinking.

  18. Some of you touch on background to add colour to your views. So I run companies and before that advised companies to help ’em become great etc. I am surprised there haven’t been PhD thesis on Arsenal FC yet (may be there are) esp if they’d focus on corporate governance, branding, operating models etc contemporary issues. I’d hazard a guess that findings would be rather dim when empirical evidences are stacked up to peer ‘companies’ / benchmarks / best practices.

    Simply put, emotion, respect, etc aside, it’s a half a miracle Wenger is still the manager in *this* PL era. When you start peeling the layers of issues/ problems to try to get to root causes, invariably you touch the Board and majority owners. So depending on how you’d like to angle the arguments, the ‘blame’ for having a less than robust Arsenal FC, with the level of resources at our disposal, would land squarely with these parties (Board, owners).

    In a way, don’t blame Wenger. As much as some of you talked about thinking about new jobs in the case of the Alexis pondering moment, as a ‘very good servant’ (the way Brits like to put it), why would Wenger not take the massive wage/bonus, perks, power, etc that floods his way? I will, you would.

    Again, if the track record of Silent Stan’s teams in the States is an indicator, you already know how AFC would end up. Mediocre. Well, sometimes better and gives you a tinker of hope until, well, Jan, Feb or earlier.

    A mate strongly believed at the beginning of season (and after transfer window closed) that Wenger had changed and we can compete etc. I disagreed and suggested only when Wenger clears out the junk (or his babies) such as Sanogo, Ox, Wilshere, Jenk, Gibbs, Coq, (even Ramsey) and replace them with some *decent* (not even top or WC) players, AFC aren’t going to win much other than the occasional FA Cup.

    Most important issue, in corporate world, you pay for what you get . Bat @AFC, do we? Until Wenger abandons his ‘infamous socialist wage structure, we aren’t going to win things. Case in point (actually way too many), Iwobi is ok, played decent for 10 games (some subs) or so and Wenger put him on 30k pw?? WTF? You know what Rasford is on? If Iwobi (etc) don’t want to play for the badge and flock for the cash, fine. Let ’em go as this will happen after all. You see players aren’t playing for Arsenal nor Wenger these days. One reason I feel the team has no spirit, sparks, fight in ’em. As soon as we went 2 – 1 (even 1 – 1) in the last two games, I just knew, barring luck (eg last grasp penalty) we’re done.

    For the team like Arsenal, it’s astounding we couldn’t keep ball these days…playing counter attack or not!! We can’t shoot properly. We scored quite a bit this season but mostly hi scores against ‘weaker’ teams. Well, maybe against Chelsea too but that’s almost an exception which you always get from time to time. And exceptions is what we could only hope for that happen (will) to our competitors leading to end of season.

  19. So much gloom.

    I think Alexis has more intestinal fortitude than that. Rather than contemplating his navel and plotting his escape don’t you think it’s more likely that he’d be pissed off? That he’d go into the locker room after the game and assert himself as a team leader? Call a players only meeting and rip everyone (including Ozil) a new one and by doing so change the dynamic of the team? Look at the difference refocusing on playing both sides of the ball has made for Theo.

    Second, it’s only December. As someone else mentioned, Chelsea hasn’t exactly been dominating of late. Sure they destroyed Everton and came back to beat City. But four of the last seven have been narrow 1-0 wins against middling to bottom opposition.

    A lot can happen over the next six games. Costa and Kante are suspended, maybe Jack will do us a solid. Shawcross could cripple Hazard. Kane could recover his worldy skills. Vardy/Mahrez could rip them apart like they did to City. Klopp could gegenpress them into submission. For all you know, we could be above them in the table before our next meeting.

    There are six quality teams fighting for four top spots and they all can take points off of each other. As City proved, each team will have it’s ups and downs. Let’s see where we stand in February.

  20. I love this blog, and the commentators are fantastic. But I wonder if fans of other clubs, say Liverpool, melt down the way we do after a couple of disappointing results. Ozil was brilliant a couple of weeks ago (remember that goal from the headed chip?), and now he is a useless slab of butter, melting in the sun. Really? And while we played poorly against City, we could have won it if two of the three offside decisions had gone our way instead of theirs. I bet the post-match narrative would have been very different from the doom-and-gloom that now pervades the Arsenal fandom!

    • Of course fans of other clubs melt down. Especially the big clubs.

      No, we could not have won it against City if the offside decisions went the other way. City was so utterly dominant and Arsenal so complacent that it would have been a grave injustice for City to lose that game.

      I’ve often criticized Ozil for his softness.

      And yes, the post-match narrative would be different if Arsenal had won. But Arsenal didn’t win. And Arsenal doesn’t win these away games against top opponents. This is an ongoing problem since 2008. If you want the narrative to change, Arsenal have to change. It’s not the narrative that’s the problem, it’s Arsenal.

    • If only, Doc, if only.

      No one is arguing that Ozil is useless. Some are saying he had a bad game. Others are saying he generally has bad games against big teams, with some exceptions.

      Being brilliant one game doesn’t make one immune from criticism for the next.

      The person here failing to exhibit a sense of proportion is Rocha.

  21. We were under prepared for the opening game against Liverpool. They had played 10 games compared to our 5 in preseason.

    Mentally we were shambles at Old Trafford & tactically we were left wanting giving United’s thugs the freedom to the play.

    I felt we were better against PSG compared to the rest of the big games. Even though we have Cavani to thank for some below par finishing, we played just enough to draw.

    Against Everton, we were physically over powered. Build up play seems to have gone missing. We didn’t win second balls, scored first and dropped back to defend. Its a cancer within the team.

    And finally, against City we gave the match to them on a plate. We stopped closing them down, got closed down and sat back.

    Questions -> Why does this team fall so slack in the second half of games? Why does the team start defending as soon as they take the lead? Why does the team feel so much pressure to control games when teams start closing them down?

    Alexis up front might work if you had another Alexis on the wings. Iwobi, Ox, Monreal, Coquelin all seem to be an elaborate plan B, not plan A. We need a commanding figure like Viera, a tireless worker on the wings and a proper centre forward. We don’t have that and I have stopped kidding myself that this team can go any further.

    • A front 3 of Alexis, Alexis, Alexis would win any league you want (unless another team had a front three of Messi, Messi, Messi. A front 3 of Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldo would collapse inwards on itself under the weight of its own ego).

  22. I’m a huge fan of Wenger and what he has done and continues to do for this club. I never felt he should leave as I felt he deserved 3 seasons whilst the club can spend big where he can finally buy big players and build a big squad to cope with the injuries we get every year.

    In 2013 he signed a world class player in Ozil followed by another world class player in Alexis in 2014. We can now give world class players world class wages too. He has signed numerous reliable squad players to cope with injuries.

    This is now the 3rd season since signing Alexis and 4th since Ozil. With these recent defeats there is no title challenge this year either. It’s finally become clear to me that Wenger has taken this club as far as he can and is failing to get the best out of the players he has on a long term basis.

    We should be looking for a long term replacement and Wenger should stand down as soon as we find one.

    • I’ve agreed with this for a while. I supported Wenger always, and have said to give him time, but it has been long apparent that the mental issues with this squad start and end with him. Wengeritis.

      Seriously, look at this team. There is pure quality all over the park. From Cech, formerly world class and still top class, to the defence – Kos and Mustafi are excellent all-rounders, Bellerin is the best RB in the league, Monreal is solid. The midfield two in Santi and Coq have proven themselves to be an excellent partnership – one is a WC winner and the other has earned his place (he is replaceable but not a real weak link). The forward line contains two world class players, an assassin with a specific job on one side (Theo) and a young powerhouse on the other (Ox).

      And we have depth in all these positions (save RB, but we can manage). I would argue that this team has more quality, and is more complete, than all our rivals. City have aging fullbacks and a questionable defence; Chelsea have a specific system and it remains to be seen if it works once injuries set in; Liverpool lack depth; Man Utd have gaps as well. We look complete.

      And yet we’re out of the title race. Why? Wengeritis. Every time we hit the top of the league, we get a nosebleed and plummet. Every time we face a ‘big team’ – even if it is Monaco in the last 16, or even PSV in the last 16 (bad memories), we drop dead. This is Wenger, he is the only commonality.

      I think a new coach could do wonders, invigorate the same players. If Conte had come to Arsenal, I think he could have emulated his Chelsea system with us – not 100%, but close enough to work very well:
      Cech
      Mustafi Koscielny Monreal
      Bellerin Coq (or Kante?) Xhaka Ox (or Gibbs)
      Theo Sanchez Ozil

      My hope for a while is that Wenger leaves (he’s no longer the big name draw he used to be, and it may be just the opposite) and we bring in Diego Simeone. He may be struggling a bit in La Liga but they still have the 2nd best defensive record, and topped their PL group. And Klopp has shown us that a bad year after a few years with a team you’ve done very well with is no death sentence.

      Bring on Simeone, let’s go defensive. I’m positive the fans will be happier with a string of low scoring wins and a genuine title challenge (a la Conte) than what another year of Wenger.

      It would be sad, but it has to come eventually.

  23. The best modern coaches have tactical acumen and a top mentality. They bring smarts and steel. Conte and Klopp spring to mind. Mourinho maybe too, at least until the players get tired of his ego. Guardiola too, even Pulis. Players feel the energy, they know giving up is not an option, they feel the eyes of their coach on their back, always, pushing them, judging them. I don’t think Wenger is that coach, anymore if he ever was. He is a gentleman, he is smart, he has indeed a strong character but, somehow, he doesn’t convey that energy, that uncompromising approach to the sport. When he booked his greatest successes, he put enough steel on the pitch to compensate for his own lack of it. Now, the team lacks steel and does have those awful moments when it cracks under pressure.
    This is a vicious circle: the coach will buy players mirroring his values and beliefs (keep Ozil on the field, keep Xhaka, the undisciplined tackler, off the field: Sanchez an obvious counter-example). Also, the lack of success slowly destroys the charisma, instills doubt…
    In short, he needs to buy steel or go. Sorry for the lack of nuance, not worthy of this brilliant blog!

  24. Hey Tim, just read in one of your comments that you were raised in an abusive family. Hi five mate, join the fucking club.
    Now I’ve joined the second family that keeps on giving me shit, the Arsenal family.
    You’re there as well I see.
    Brother from another mother you say?

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