Friday 17 January 2020

Arsenal flops sinking lower into the abyss

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. Photo: Carl Recine
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. Photo: Carl Recine

Paul Hayward

In the 25 years of the Premier League, no top team have been attacked for unprofessionalism on the scale of Arsenal since their 4-0 defeat at Liverpool.

As the web seethed, Mesut Ozil took to social media to apologise for a team who do their talking on Instagram but are mute and craven on the pitch.

Three games might seem a bit soon to be starting another Arsenal inquest. But this one has been building for 10 years.

A great club have spent the summer piling up problems to add to the ones they already had.

Too many 'stars' with hopes of leaving, too many contract run-downs, too few top-class players acquired, no leaders or solid centre, manager Arsene Wenger, still behaving like an autocrat who runs away from evidence and refuses to accept change.

You can add to that a shambolic tactical plan that had Arsenal's two screening midfielders (Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey) camped on the edge of Liverpool's penalty area, blind to counter-attacks, and a €55m striker (Alexandre Lacazette) parked on the bench.

In all the Premier League's 25 seasons, no top side have stood on a Monday morning so roundly condemned.

On social media, one Arsenal fan took a carving knife and a meat cleaver to his replica shirt to remove the crest, with its cannon now firing cotton-wool balls.

Not a single pundit could draw one ray of encouragement from either the performance or Arsenal's political predicament, in which Alexis Sanchez, Osil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have been allowed to arrive in the red zones of their contracts, with Oxlade-Chamberlain seemingly on his way to Chelsea.

Graeme Souness, on Sky, was the most colourful. "I have officially given up on them," he said.

"In the past, there has been something about them to like, and you want them to show you that they have turned the corner, but what I saw today was they have taken one giant step back.

"That is a performance that gets the manager the sack. For professional players to accept that performance is beyond belief.

"Arsenal were wishy-washy, weak-willed, pussy-footed, and those are the nice things I can say about them."

A late summer squall of bad transfer-market dealing and poor contract management would be survivable, just about, though Sanchez leaving would be the worst of all outcomes on the playing side.

But all the arrows are pointing the wrong way - and have been for most of the past 10 years.

From an absentee owner who appears to want a quiet life while milking the league's vast TV revenues, right down to a team who exploit the excessive loyalty of their manager, Arsenal are an institutionalised comfort zone.

This season, they start a European campaign outside the Champions League for the first time since 1997-98.


Thursday's closing of the transfer window will not bring relief. Three days after their Europa League debut against Cologne, on September 14, they travel to Chelsea, who inflicted another mortifying defeat on Wenger: 6-0, in his 1,000th game in charge.

Another was the 8-2 defeat at Manchester United in 2011 at this stage of the season.

Even the reaction to those two hammerings fell short of the shellacking Arsenal have taken since their shameful defeat at Anfield, which inflamed doubts about the soul of the team, the real purpose of the club and, of course, Wenger's role as the last manager who gets to dictate the terms of his own employment - and when he might walk away. © Daily Telegraph, London.

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