Wenger’s legacy is fundamental. Free flowing, attacking football by a club with integrity and class.

Arsenal Struggle To Draw With Crystal Palace – Any Progress Over Two Years?

#ARSCRY: Granit Xhaka, top rated player from both sides (8.1 score)

An Arsenal game at home to Crystal Palace will always arouse my interest beyond normal because that was the last fixture I witnessed at The Emirates in April 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic put paid to my plans of treating myself to at least one live game annually before retirement.

Interestingly enough, in that game, 19 months ago, Arsenal was defeated 2-3 to a Palace that comprised much of the same cast of characters that were on show last evening. Benteke, Zaha and MacArthur were all scorers while Guaita, Kouyaté and Milivojevic also started for the south London side.

Easy to forget those were heady days for those fans who saw Unai Emery as the Savior from all the “sins” of Arsene Wenger. If Arsenal had won that game we would have been in the top-3; instead the club stumbled through the business-end of the season just making top-6. But Emery was redeemed by taking Arsenal to the finals of the Europa League and the promise of not only a major trophy but of entrance into the Champions League if he prevailed over Chelsea, just as he had done three times on the trot with Sevilla. We all know how that ended in tears.

The point of that little journey back in time is to establish that in yesterday’s fixture Arsenal is currently not even a top-10 club although it may have pretensions of excelling in the Europa League when that competition resumes in a couple of weeks. But readers should be mindful that the upcoming round of European football will be a far sterner test than the likes of Molde and Dundalk as it will involve quality teams who qualified for the champions league on merit but have dropped-down to this lower level having not made the cut in the league round of the bigger competition.

Decline in forwards and midfield

Furthermore in this latest fixture while Arsenal could still call on Leno, Aubameyang and Lacazette as starters, it must be noted that, like the equivalent stalwarts from Palace, our two forwards in particular are not the same threats they were when I last saw them. Aubameyang scored that day on his way to the golden boot. Today he looks a step slower and genuinely struggling for goals.  According to statbunker.com he is currently 51st, yes 51st, in goalscorers (3-goals) and this is almost halfway through the season. Yet many Arsenal fans and pundits from mainstream media complacently suggest it’s just a matter of time before he starts scoring again. Nobody wants to admit it may have been a major error giving a striker over 30-years old a massive long-term contract. Is it because Wenger, that old miser, would rather have sold him than take the risk of a major commitment in a player so reliant on his speed to score goals?

But even more glaring, unlike two years ago, Arsenal no longer has experienced technical players that Emery could call on when facing difficult opponents. There was no Ozil yesterday, who two years ago scored the opening goal in what was for him a season of modest returns with 5 goals and two assists from 24 PL games. Yesterday we had young Smith-Rowe floating as a #10 behind three forwards with hardly the guile and experience of Ozil. He was in and out of the game as the Palace defenders made sure he hardly had any time on the ball.

Lets be honest here; Palace were not the easiest of opponents yesterday. Most of the starters were very experienced veterans under the wily leadership of 73 year-old Roy Hodgson. They sit deep with a counter attacking style, very reliant on their wingers, especially Zaha, to run at defenders on the break. When going up the middle they are not afraid to sling long balls in the direction of Benteke for him to knockdown or hold up and lay off to a posse of willing runners. They employed similar tactics against us three years ago and were far more successful in the goal-scoring department. Yesterday, they only had 2 shots on target from 11 shot attempts in contrast to 7 on target from 16 attempts two years ago.

The Arsenal flurry and decline

What of Arsenal today? Under Arteta, we had an initial flurry of attacking play at the start of both halves but eventually it petered out into a slog-fest with lots of sterile possession but little cutting edge. Clearly there is talent available to Arteta as evident in those spurts but for some reason it peters out into nothingness as players choose to make safe backwards and sideways passes after taking 2 or 3 touches. I have repeatedly stated my opinion that this is due Arteta’s inability to set up his team to play attacking football.  I am open to alternative opinions.

At least one thing in favor of Arteta; despite all the moronic attacks and calls by fans and pundits for his exclusion, since he became manager he always selects Granit Xhaka to be his anchor in midfield. The player is consistently Arteta’s coach on the field barking out instructions to his teammates and leading by example in breaking up attacks and starting off moves. According to footballcritic.com he was the top-player from both sides with rating of 8.1. Yet there is a section of Arsenal fans who refuse to give Xhaka his due. Is it any wonder we are in our current state?

After our recent 4-game winning streak, am reluctant to count out Arsenal and declare the good times are over. In fact Hector Bellerin is quoted as saying “his side missed the speed and creativity Kieran Tierney brings to the team.” But when I look back over our experiences with Crystal Palace these past two years it seems to me there is a lot more pieces missing than Tierney. Time will tell.

15 Comments

  1. Rosicky@ArsenalJanuary 15, 2021 at 3:25 am

    Nice read Shotta. Re Aubas decline can we assume it is basically due to lack of opportunities which a playmaker provides or it is because Auba has lost pace or has lost his interest in the game and not putting the right effort.

    Reply
    • While Auba has suffered from the lack of a playmaker it is becoming clearer with every game this season that he has lost a step and he I no longer able to explode past his maker. If I am right that’s another 300k per week down the drain.

      Reply
  2. Excellent blog my friend. I can’t bring myself to do one.

    Reply
  3. foreverheadyJanuary 15, 2021 at 10:38 am

    I think this is a very fair response to a disappointing performance. Crystal Palace and Southampton are two teams that always seem to play better against us than just about anyone else, and so it proved once again. Frustrating.

    With regard to the progress that this Arsenal side might make, I really don’t know. We seem to be between things – and unlike many I don’t necessarily blame Arteta for that.

    I can see why people felt it was time to change the bath water, its just a shame that they managed to throw the baby out with it too. As has been repeated on many occasions, those that felt a bit of modern day practicality would easily build on AW’s efforts were always guilty of underestimating the genius and magic he provided.

    And of course the long list of injuries was always going to take its toll eventually. Many of the players we lost from his last years were irreplacable. Diaby, Wilshere, Cazorla,

    The referees haven’t helped either – and they continue to hinder, even when they are not permitting all-out assault.

    I can understand why the club decided to look for an upgrade on Ramsey (due to his injury record) but surprised they felt it would be possible to find one for any money they could afford. To me the inability to replace him is the reason why we are struggling.

    I suppose the opposite thinking was there with Auba: we can’t afford to replace so we must stick and hope.

    And I am left with the feeling that most of our players are just a little bit mid-table average. Tinkering here and there by the manager might produce the odd good result, but I don’t really believe that many of them are capable of freestyling and magic. I also feel that because of the successes of AW (and the club) that too many of them are on wages inflated beyond their true pay grade and lack hunger as a consequence.

    Reply
    • Solid points there Heady. When writing this blog, at the back of my mind was how to remind the readers, without making the piece too long, that Mikhytaryan was on the bench that day and Ramsey was available to Emery from time to time. We all know, whenever he was in crisis and needed a result, the Spaniard always fell back on Wenger’s key players. But I chose to focus on the players that remain two years later, especially Aubameyang who to my eyes is no longer the player he was.

      Obviously we now have Saka, ESR, Martinelli coming through to be added to Tierney and Partey as the core of the team going forward. But seeing how we struggled against perennial mid table Crystal Palace you have to marvel how Arsene Wenger kept us evolving year-after-year, even when he lost big players, still able to play to play positive, attractive football and make the top-4. I didn’t see any sign of that yesterday. That is my worry.
      two years ago although he did

      Reply
  4. Red_QuadrantJanuary 15, 2021 at 12:00 pm

    Nice read my man.

    No doubt we have gone backward, and it is mainly down to the Owner.

    I don’t want to go over old ground, but the folly of sacking Wenger is the price we are paying for our shambolic mediocrity and a cold realisation for many stupid people who sought his removal.

    It is instructive to note, that empty vessels make the most sound. The talking heads bloggers like Arseblog are their ilk were no better than than Arsenal TV in terms of stupidity, despite different modus operandi. These are the empty vessels that made the most sound. Today, they hide behind any reason (like Arseblog, unforgivable and cowardly scapegoating Xhaka) but look in the mirror and take responsibility.

    On Auba’s decline, I am minded to add, it is the system and the way we set up to attack. The attack at present suits Laca more and he has improved immensely. I thought Auba showed good improvement physically and in terms of attitude, but struggled alongside Niles. IMHO, he would have been much better alongside Tierney.

    All it took was the loss of one key player (Tierney) and we were severely blunted as a team. Wenger for years works miracles with 3 to 4 key players out injured and got results.

    But we will be asking for major problems if we are relying on Saka, Rowe and Martinelli for the rest of the season. Ozil must be included in the squad immediately if the player stays. If he goes, then they must go get another player in that position.

    I see us as a mid table team at best this season. The sooner we as supporters wake up to our real problem and start working together to be rid of him the better for us all. We are only going down with Kroenke.

    Reply
    • Thanks highlighting the dishonorable role of Arseblog and the gang around him who all interact with each other and with mainstream media via podcasts, the Athletic and their occasional paid gigs in commercial media. They legitimized the attacks on Wenger over the past 15 years. My 1st memory of Arseblog was his undermining of young African players like Eboue and Song whom the club had to recruit when it couldn’t afford the Invincibles. His language was tinged with coded racism and scorn. From then on I knew they were scum. Now we are reaping the whirlwind. As for Owners, unfortunately I think trying to change them is a dead end. We need to get a manager who is far more qualified than Arteta fully empowered to do what is best for the team.

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  5. I fear that the ESR et al revolution is now over and he is likely to be reconsigned to the bench in the near future,

    I only saw the last 30 minutes, but is was turgid typical Artetaball, with the occasional interpassing with ESR, but which got nowhere.

    If what had gone on before was worse, and by all accounts it seems so, then we have not progressed at all and the magic of the win over chel$ki was very shortlived.

    I suspect that that is exactly what Arteta wants, because he cannot cope with anything other than “his style” and nothing else.

    Evidence for that, apart from the general negative and unimaginative style of play that we were seeing, is the substitutions.

    He took off AMN, who had a few minutes before shown more dribbling skill than Pepe has shown for many games if not all season and replaced him with Pepe who proceeded to achieve nothing constructive. Why a £72,000,000 player is incapable of taking on the defender and beating him is beyond me.

    In so doing he moved firstly Xhaka and then Saka to left back effectively neutralising any positive effect they may have.

    Finally, he replaced Laca, who had been at the forefront of the revolution instead of Auba whose contribution had been negligible and promised to continue to be negligible for the rest of the game.

    I think the four wins have saved Arteta’s skin for the time being, and he now feels safe so it will be, as you were.

    Reply
    • I think we should be balanced in our critique of the performance yesterday. As I wrote the team had these initial flurries at the start of each half but once they failed to score it was back to the worse of Arteta-ball. Sorry you missed seeing that part of the game JJG. But you are right about the uninspiring substitutions. I was thinking during the game that the idiots usually criticized Wenger for his typical 80th minute substitutions but I would have expected him to throw 2 strikers and an AM on the pitch for 10-15 minutes to go get a victory. The Artetas of this world don’t have the guts of Big Weng.

      Reply
  6. ianspace2014January 15, 2021 at 5:37 pm

    Auba’s problems are not just in front of goal, his all round game is awful and gives the team nothing. If Giroud didn’t score it wasn’t so much of a problem because of what he gave to the team. Unfortunately I think it’s time for Auba to go.

    Reply
    • Aint going anywhere soon. Just signed a 3-year contract on big wages. He joins Willian in the club of older, non-productive players on long contracts with big wages. Do you remember how Leeds in 15 years got flushed down to League One from being in the semi-finals of the Champions League?

      Reply
  7. Nice work Shotts thank you.

    I remember that game so well for many reasons but as you describe resting some players for the europa league did not mean Emery had to show so little ambition.

    It may be that without a change in owner a good coach/manager will not arrive. It’s hard to have much confidence in those that spent so much on this squad. Not a good record.

    As for Arteta. It’d be easy to forgive him as a rookie overplaying Tierney who unlike Bellerin and Holding wasn’t given a rest if not for all the other stuff. And there’s a lot of it. Stuff.
    Yet perhaps Luiz played to rest Mari? The cup victory will still give him credit in places and I speculate Edu’s plan whatever it may be needs Arteta to stay for a bit longer at least.
    With Arteta locked in for now it’s going to be tricky. And turgid. The last attempt to sign creative technical player resulted in Willian who has apparently only ever played RW. What will the next attempt produce?

    With his job in the line he can’t risk resting Saka much and yet who else can really play LW in this squad with Martinelli out after being overplayed on return? All concerns on Auba and the misuse of players of age on the wing are fair but is he fully fit?
    Odds on Saka at LB next game? When there’ll only be 90mins to try and score. Hmmm.

    Reply
    • Finsbury knows! For the past 15 years, together we have seen it all. Arteta overplaying his young stars in a desperate effort to keep his job. No, it can’t be happening.

      Reply

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