Man at the match, Chary: Final day win in vain as Europa trapdoor opens

Despite a comfortable three goals to one win thanks to strikes from Bellerin, Alexis (as expected) and Rambo a win for Liverpool at home to already relegated ‘Boro meant the Arsenal dropped into the second tier of European football for next season.

Over the north bridge for the last time in 16-17

Spring had finally arrived in North London and the lack of crowds as I disembarked at Gillespie Road suggested perhaps a stay away protest on the last day or maybe just an apathy amongst the fanbase.

Maybe the warm weather had created a sense of relaxation and reduced the tension levels so the anxiety and dissension I was expecting to see felt less likely to materialise.

The blue scousers were fairly well represented and as my seat was behind the goal in the Clock End I was, in theory, close enough to hear their chants.

“We pay your Council Tax”

Luckily, being non-conversant in Liverpudlian all their witticisms went over my head and I couldn’t pick out one of their songs.

There was little for the Everton supporters to cheer as the Arsenal started brightly and with a confidence borne of a winning run – the midfield looking lively as Xhaka and Özil connected plenty of early passes and moves, one of these resulting in Bellerin sliding in a finish after Arsenal’s forward play pressurised the Everton box.

Early goal for Hector

A welcome early goal that should have set up stress free viewing for the rest of the afternoon, but no.

A clearance from the Everton keeper landed at the feet of a team mate on their right wing, along side the East stand, and from my viewpoint I could see an Arsenal defender charge across from left to right intercept robustly.

Initially, for a split second the crowd applauded the full bloodedness of the challenge, but the realisation that it was a reckless challenge set in. Sure enough a red was issued to the offending player, Koscielny, and the Arsenal would have to play an hour of the game with ten men.

Inevitably this energised the away team and they attacked the north bank with more belief, however Cech’s improved form meant all the attacks were repelled and the reorganised back four held firm, with Rob Holding (a fan favourite so early in his Arsenal career) particularly impressive.

The urge to attack, as they were the team with the numerical advantage, was Everton’s undoing as an Arsenal counterattack, initiated by the Xhaka, Ramsey, Özil combination allowed Alexis to prod in a second goal from close range and relieve some of the tension caused by the sending off.

It also allowed us to turn to the blue corner and say

Ten men, we’ve only got ten men !

Koeman must have been dismayed to be two down to ten men.

“Do I not like that”

The half time whistle went and the home faithful were relieved to be ahead despite the sending off, and still no real signs of dissent.

Everton continued to press from the start of the second half and a clearance towards the Arsenal goal required a Gabriel interception, that was messy and resulted in the Brazilian being stretchered off and replaced by the BFG.

With Koscielny going to miss the FA Cup final due to his red and Gabriel probably ruled out through injury the BFG will be needed at Wembley, most likely in a back three with Holding and Monreal.

An Arsenal attack was ended by what looked to me a trip in the Everton area, which was not given as a penalty and sure enough seconds later one was awarded at the other end.

Wave your hands everybody !

The rather portly Lukaku stepped up and duly scored although to give credit to Cech he went the right way AND got very close.

At this point the first rumblings of dissent were heard in the form of “Kroenke get out of our club” chants.

A final half hour of hanging onto the lead lay ahead but I felt that the Arsenal team didn’t look to be the team playing a man down and I must commend them on their energy levels in compensating for the loss of Koscielny, to the extent it felt like it was eleven v eleven.

Ramsey in particular gave another of his athletic displays full of stamina and earnest endeavour.

Xhaka and Alexis then were subbed (the latter limping worryingly; facing Chelsea without him next weekend will not be a pleasant prospect) for Coquelin and Iwobi.

The change in personnel made no change to Arsenal’s attacking power and the Everton keeper had to keep out a number of chances – chances I couldn’t really see who made from my end.

A flurry of yellow cards littered the later stages of the game and just as the Arsenal faithful groaned at seeing five minutes of injury time come up – not welcome when you are hanging onto a lead – Ramsey struck a goal that even I could tell, from the other end of the ground, was a delicious finish: a curler into the top right corner.

Game over and cue an exodus from the blue corner of the stadium.

As was obvious from the lack of cheers from the crowd, that would signal good news from Anfield, the final scores read out while we waited the traditional final day of the season lap of appreciation from the players, confirmed our Europa fate. A few more anti Kroenke chants rang out before the players came out.

The players but no manager

To my mind the club has a task on it’s hands to rally the support and how it deals with this over the summer will set the tone of  next season.

Till then I hope everyone has a great summer and see you when we can start this all over again.

UTA !

By charybdis1966 (on twitter as @charybdis1966)

 

16 Comments on Man at the match, Chary: Final day win in vain as Europa trapdoor opens

  1. A fairly typical day of football around the PL .
    If your life depended on a PGMO ref making a call that benefited Arsenal FC , like pipping a rival to the CL spot, then you would be already dead.

    Arsenal got no favors from either Oliver, nor Atkinson, but really have no one else to blame but themselves for the way this season have turned out.

    Fifth, behind Liverpool by a point, after starting the season unprepared against them. And starting the crucial reverse fixture at Anfield with Alexis on the bench to make what point exactly , please remind me because it escapes me.

    I can’t quite decide in my head who’s the most incompetent at their job.
    Is it Arsenal board and Wenger for not preparing for the season , again. Calling it the World Cup of managers before its start, only to approach it like a series of 38 friendies against the likes of Steve Bruce and Owen Coyle.
    Or is it the Refs who can’t punish Arsenal players with red cards fast enough, while taking their sweet time deciding on punishment for opposition players and opting against it in the end.

    Or is it Arsenal players themselves who make some of the dumbest fouls and unnecessary challenges.

    In the end it’s probably a combination of the three that got us here.

    • Exactly. The season starts two weeks before the transfer window ends. Transfer management has been one of Arsene’s most glaring recent failures.

    • Arsene’s official explanation was that he wanted to go long, hence Danny Welbeck and Oli Giroud. The reality is that it was indended as a statement that backfired horribly once Arsene saw exactly how much the team depended on Sanchez at that point. There was clearly something swirling around Sanchez at that point and it’s possible that that impacted morale and team spirit very negatively. Does that explain the tailspin we went into after Burnley in your mind? Sincere question.

  2. Fifth by itself is not an indictment against manager or board. It’s a tough league. It is however the culmination of the flawed team management and tactics that some of us have been warning against for more than 4 years. You’re going to hear the defense that fifth shouldn’t be terminal for Arsene, and that’d be right. It would also be missing the point.

    We have a cup final to win on Sunday. COYG.

  3. Disappointed we finished 5th and outside the Champions League places. Will be strange when the draw comes around and we’re not a part of it.

  4. On the other hand we’ll be considered one of the top teams in the Europa competition, a tournament in which chances are good to do significantly better than CL.

  5. Cheers for the summary, Chary. I always like reading your first hand match accounts. Helps us state-siders feel more a part of the match day experience.

    It’s still a little too early to be writing a referendum on our season what with the cup final next weekend, but the conclusion of the PL season does require some closure, so I submit this forensic report:

    Arsenal’s 75 points represents a 4 point improvement over last year’s totals, but the relative performance of our rivals is such that it’s only good for a 5th place finish this season. The 46 goals we allowed is near to the most for the best part of 15 years and is 11 more than Chelsea and 16 more than Spurs.

    The season can be divided into four parts:
    1) After the opening day fiasco at home to Liverpool, the team settled into a very nice rhythm with the front 4 of Iwobi, Walcott, Ozil and Sanchez clicking on all cylinders. Fueled by the resurgent Cazorla in midfield, this version of the team peaked by humiliating eventual champions Chelsea and Branislav Ivanovic in particular (who hasn’t been seen since). Arsenal, briefly, were top of the table with Man City after beating Swansea 3-2 on matchday 8.
    2) Robbed of Cazorla after the win vs. Swansea, Arsenal’s already somewhat wobbly post-Chelsea form deteriorated. The above mentioned front four lost effectiveness as fatigue set in and the midfield became a revolving door, briefly featuring the ghastly combination of Coquelin-ElNeny. Giroud was restored up top and the balance the team had found earlier in the season was completley lost. We managed limp draws vs. Tottenham, Man United and Middlesboro before dropping winnable games against Everton and the also (at that time) ailing Man City. We deveoped a troubling propensity for throwing away early leads in both losses and against Tottenham, but also contrived to go 3-0 down to Bournemouth before rallying back to steal a point.
    3) The team went into a complete tailspin following another dramatic late winner against Burnley on matchday 22, at which point we were still in 2nd place and 7 points from Chelsea. Xhaka was sent off in this game for the second time this season, and the team was outplayed and took bad losses after that to Watford, Liverpool, Chelsea, West Brom and Crystal Palace. This period was the worst I have ever seen a Wenger team perform. Ozil was put on the shelf, Sanchez stropped and pouted, our defenders couldn’t stop anybody and the midfield was a sieve. Something had to change.
    4) Arsene Wenger’s change to a back 3 gave some players who had been waiting for their chance to shine an opportunity and a much needed break to some others who had been badly struggling with form and confidence. Rob Holding broke through and became a mainstay, Ozil recaptured his early season form, and Arsenal found a formation that got the best out of Xhaka as well, and found him a good partner in Aaron Ramsey. Wins, but more importantly creditable performances followed in each game to close the season except against Tottenham, who have had by far their best season since Wenger was appointed.

    I highlight the pattern above because I think it should inform the discussions that will inevitably take place this summer. The chance for the title was clearly lost in a specific point of the season, not because the team cannot maintain good form or beat good teams. Why did the team go into such a tailspin at such a critical point in the season? People point to the UCL losses to Bayern, but those were both after the Watford and Chelsea reverses and in that sense can be viewed more as a part of a broader malaise rather than the root of it.

    I’ve heard the argument many times that Arsenal wilts “under pressure” when games really mean something, because they don’t have leaders and they don’t have character. It’s a favorite trope of British pundits in particular. The problem is, you can’t prove such things, so it comes down to whether you believe it or not. For me personally, it’s not so simple. Wenger’s post-match comments after Everton promised us that one day, he would tell the world what happened. That’s a loaded comment and we can only guess what is behind it. All I know is, Arsenal started strong, they finished strong, but were utter shwite in the middle. And there is no rational explanation for it.

    • Great summary, doc, but while you say there’s no explanation for the mid-season swan dive, it has been a characteristic of Wenger sides for… oh… going on 10 years now. It has been one of his most conspicuous failures. It is an annual occurrence. The broad explanation is squad management. Pocchetino, like Ranieri the year before extracted remarkable consistency (in performance and fitness) out of a group of players that, while very good, is arguably less talented than Arsene’s. Sure Spurs haven’t won anything, but their points total would have most other years, just as ours would have got us comfortably into the Top 4 most other years.

      One explanation of Wenger’s dark comments about there being a lot more to spill, is that contrary to popular belief, deciding his future hasn’t all been down to him. There appears to have been unprecedented pressure and challenge from the board.

      • Agree with this (I think you’re right about the explanation of Wenger’s comments, too), but one mitigating factor is that, unlike Spurs, we haven’t had the extreme good fortune of stumbling on a world class, ridiculously prolific goal scorer in our academy. That sort of player can make a huge difference over a 38 game season. I know they coped ok when he was out for brief spells, but if you take Kane out of that team for 38 games, there’s no way they look anywhere near as potent in attack.
        As much as our central midfield is the heart of most of our problems this season (and last), the lack of a truly top class striker for several years now has also been a huge loss. Alexis is tremendous, but he’s not leading the line and typically not making center forward runs in the box.

    • You’re welcome Doc, I always try and get the match day feeling as I experienced it.

    • Hey Doc,
      Interesting summary. One thing that stands out to me is the dividing up of periods 2 and 3. While I might divide them a bit differently (I remember us still looking very impressive indeed against Stoke at home, which was after our tough November and the game right before Everton, if memory serves), I completely agree with the need to distinguish between these two periods.
      One thing this says to me is that often with Arsenal, when things seem like they can barely get much worse (e.g. period 2), they get a lot, lot worse (e.g. period 3). As disappointing as, e.g., the performances against Everton and City were, and as difficult as it would have been, even at that stage, for us to win the league, we were still in a VERY good position with respect to the CL places. But at the time, it felt like a huge bubble had burst, and all the fans’ autumn positivity had turned sour. The media were then on our backs with glee, and the team’s confidence and cohesion seemed to go completely out the window, not really recovering until a few weeks ago.

      A similar thing happened last season: as bad as, e.g., the loss to Man United was, we still could have come close to pipping Leicester if we had won all (or nearly all) of our, very winnable, games after that. But the team’s confidence was completely shot, and we ended up capitulating at home(!) to a truly awful Swansea team in the next game (followed by more bad results after that). This year, for Swansea, read Watford. Or Bournemouth away. Or West Brom. Or Palace. To think now that if we had won just one of those games, we’d be in the CL, is a bitter pill to swallow.

      Of course, we don’t just want to be in the CL, we want to be champions, so maybe the fans were right to get disgruntled in December after the City loss. And I’m not about to blame the fans for this mess. Such claims are silly becomes unprovable. But I will just say that the EXTREME negativity of the fans and the (truly horrible) media these last two years has been mirrored by a clear lack of confidence on the pitch in those “crisis” periods. If the team could show a bit more confidence and composure during those periods, then bad spells wouldn’t have to become disastrous spells. Losing the easiest PL title in over a decade to Leicester, and then falling out of the top 4 entirely, count as two genuine disasters. Taken together, they may forever define Arsene’s late career legacy, after a promising period (two FA cups) where things seemed finally on the way up for us.

      • And as you say, maybe there were serious issues playing out behind the scenes, that none of us have a clue about…

        • Adrian Clarke, as usual, with interesting things to say in his season review on the official web site. Worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.

    • it’s far more simple than that. the meat and potatoes revolve around santi cazorla. when he was in the team, arsenal looked more than a match for any team in europe. when he went down, it was clear to most that arsenal’s title challenge went down with him. by the way, we’ve all seen this movie more than once over the past few seasons.

      while arsenal still won games this season after cazorla was out, they weren’t playing good football. many in the media were praising arsenal for some “new found resilience”. bollocks! arsenal were winning games due to individual brilliance or dumb luck. prophetically, arsenal’s luck began to run out and their results began to match the quality of their performances. arsenal lost their catalyst to good football when they lost cazorla.

      the quality of the arsenal attack didn’t become diminished with the re-introduction of giroud. it happened before then. that’s why giroud was brought back into the side; alexis’ goals dried up. considering that alexis is not a center forward, if he’s leading the line and not scoring, arsenal aren’t creating chances except from set plays. the decision to bring giroud back into the team was the only logical choice.

      while i can appreciate that leadership is not quantifiable, wins and losses are. over the past three seasons, arsenal’s win percentage is far higher with cazorla in the side than out. it’s plain to see the difference in the quality of football arsenal played when cazorla played. his leadership kept a bunch of talented but young players organized in games where talent alone didn’t suffice.

      your point 4 is spot on.

  6. The most depressing thing about this season is how far behind our adminstration and overall approach to off field matters is compared to other clubs. Ultimately all this affects our perfomances and squad cohesion.

    (1) Too many contract issues have been played out in public (Sanchez being the most disruptive). In contrast Chelsea solved the Costa to China issue quite well

    (2) Our transfer business was so dire we effectively gave liverpool a 3 point head start and thus 1 less game to overhaul them. Liverpool were able to hit the ground running and looked fit with all their signings already inside the squad.

    • That was such a strange game. We started with Holding and Chambers as the CB duo and actually did fine until Coutinho curled in a stunner just before halftime. Then in the second half we fell apart for 20 minutes, went 3-0 down, but then with Cazorla introduced in midfield we suddenly looked like we had the firepower to tie or win the game.

      Regarding transfers: Xhaka, Mustafi, Holding; not a bad haul. Even Perez chipped in here and there. We definitely spent much needed money on much needed reinforcements which definitely improved the squad. It didn’t show in that first game, but they were bought for the long haul.

Comments are closed.