It was another dark and gloomy visit to the Potteries for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal as they were caught cold not for the first time there, Peter Crouch capitalised on some poor defending by Hector Bellerin and tapped home past a helpless Damiano Martinez who conceded his first goal in 3 games. It was a typical start from Stoke who took complete control. Arsenal on the other hand were lackluster, uninterested, their passing was abysmal and void of any kind of purpose.
The only surprise was that it took 35 minutes for Stoke’s 2nd, John Walters broke free on the right and whipped in a delightful cross and with one touch Bojan Krkic dispatched instinctively passed Martinez. The home side’s tails were up and they could sense blood, the provider turned goalscorer just before the break as Walters smashed home from just inside Arsenal 18 yard box.
This was looking like it could be a rugby scoreline for the hosts which would be ironic for what they have been labelled in the past, memories of shambolic defending from last season are still fresh in the mind. The worry was this could be another loss similar to the 6-0 at Stamford Bridge last campaign.
Danny Welbeck came on at half time for Bellerin which saw Mathieu Flamini drop into the right back spot, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain went centrally alongside Aaron Ramsey and Welbeck filled in the right hand side in support of Olivier Giroud. It was a bold move one that fans had been calling for, for weeks. The game if not already out of sight could have been, Bojan had a 4th goal disallowed as Mame Biram Diouf stood in an offside position. It wasn’t until the 68th minute when Arsenal got one back, Alexis Sanchez who had been quiet by his standards was felled in the box; Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot. Santi Cazorla stepped up and buried it past Asmir Begovic.
Was this to be a mere consolation or was a fightback on the cards? just two minutes later it was 3-2 Aaron Ramsey volleying past a rooted Begovic could this be a reverse of the 3-3 they suffered at the hands of Anderlecht? in short no it wasn’t. Arsenal had chances but could not complete the fightback and in truth it would have been a steal. Anthony Taylor’s performance left a lot to be desired and the sending off of Calum Chambers was harsh to say the least with a lot worse challenges going unpunished by the referee who was in festive mood as he couldn’t help but hand out cards on command. That being said Stoke were well worth their three points and Arsenal need to go back to the drawing board for the trip to Galatasaray but more importantly the visit of Newcastle next Saturday.
The performance at Stoke yesterday was another woeful display not just defensively but as a team, you would be hard-pushed to find a worse 45 minute performance than yesterday’s first half. It was void of any conviction, application or desire and this is why fans feel frustrated and almost cheated by the current regime that oversees the club.
Yes Arsenal had appeared to have turned a corner with three straight wins but lets put this into context. A home win against an under-performing Dortmund side and two very unconvincing 1-0 wins against teams that if Arsenal have any kind of designs on winning or even competing for silverware this season they should be performing at a higher level.
There is a serious lack of ambition from the board and the manager alike, they both seem content with finishing fourth and yes that is an achievement but that should never been something that a club strives for that should be the minimum that is acceptable.
Yesterday Chelsea lost their unbeaten record which saw Arsenal’s invincibles still being the only team to achieve such an accomplishment in Premier League history and while I adored that team the current crop are absolute eons away from even being able to stand alongside that squad.
The current squad needs a complete overhaul. Per Mertesacker can be a good centre back and can be commanding but yesterday showed that he does not have the stamina to be playing 2 games in a week and with someone as quick as Bojan running at him he is an easy target. Calum Chambers is a good defender and will improve in the coming months but for him to be seen as a mainstay already just shows the lack of depth within the current squad defensively.
The Arsenal midfield is where a lot of the deadwood remains and unbelievably have not been moved on and been replaced. Mikel Arteta who amazingly sees himself wearing the captains armband and Abou Diaby who should by now resemble Frankenstein’s monster the amount of times he has gone under the knife ; remarkably could be ready to sign a new deal. Tomas Rosicky who has been used “sparingly” this season maybe has something to offer but if there is any ambition he should be another one out of the door. Arsenal used to have a policy of if you are over 30 years of age your time is up. Now it seems it is the opposite, with Arteta and Flamini effectively the only holding midfield players at the club it is a major concern, they are treading water and every opposing club can see that. They are the main point of weakness and this area still has not been addressed, if this remains unrectified in January the Arsenal faithful can wave goodbye to Champions League football next season, and yes it really is that simple.
Arsenal’s forward line still leaves a lot to be desired and there still is a lack of a World Class striker, Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck although can be good on their day they do not possess the level of consistency for Arsenal to be seen as contenders for the Premier League title. Alexis Sanchez has carried the team this season and before yesterdays loss he had scored 8 in his last 8 games which is up there with the best this season. Sanchez alone is not enough, he cut a figure of frustration and anger yesterday and you just wonder how much longer players like Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will hang around if performances don’t dramatically improve.
It is clear for all to see, there has to be a dramatic change at the club and that starts with the seemingly unsackable Arsenal Wenger. The club has under-performed for a decade now and there is only so long a manager can live off his past achievements. 11 seasons on from the remarkable accomplishments of the invincibles in 2003-04 the legacy that he built and many will always remember and thank Wenger for is the same legacy he has let crumble right in front of his eyes. Wenger who is now in his 18th year has let the club become stagnant and his “tactics” leave a lot to be desired. In those 18 years over half have been seasons steeped in failure.
Problems surrounding replacing Wenger is there is little managerial availability, Manager’s generally don’t leave mid-season unless they are sacked so the managers available may not be ideal so it could be a case of waiting it out until the Summer. There is a chance to be taken every time a manager is replaced but I would expect the board to already have a list as long as their arm as this will no doubt be Wenger’s last contract. Their is an option for Wenger’s assistant Steve Bould to take the reigns for the rest of the season and keep the seat warm until Wenger’s successor can be appointed which would be a good move.
There is a desire to see Jurgen Klopp at Arsenal even though he has had a poor season at Dortmund this season and he looks like he is ready for a new challenge after seven years at the Bundesliga sleeping giant, this would be a good move for both parties but the problem could be Wenger. Rumours have it that many people at the club see him moving upstairs which will only see him have even more power than he already has. For there to be a change of focus all ties must be severed to the current manager who is by my reckoning the only manager to have ever appointed his chief executive. Wenger’s legacy is falling away and the only way he can save face is if he goes immediately.
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