I’m writing this in the aftermath of Arsenal’s shambolic home defeat to Monaco in the first knockout round of the Champions League; I’m still in the stage of anger and disbelief which is unsettlingly familiar around this time of the year. You’d think Arsenal fans would become desensitised to abject failure after experiencing it every season for the past decade, yet here we are – the fury is as fresh as it has ever been. I’m angry for a few reasons; none of them are things that I didn’t already know, they’ve just become more glaringly obvious.
I’m annoyed at Wenger and his constant tactical shortcomings, I’m annoyed at Giroud and his inability to show any signs of being a top-level footballer, but most of all, I’m angry at Mertesacker. Not because he played badly, he always does that. I’m mostly annoyed at the fact that I start a new job next week – if I’m incapable of doing what I’m employed to do then I would be sacked. Mertesacker fails to do his job every week and gets paid £80,000 for doing so.
I guess directing most of my displeasure at Mertesacker is possibly misplaced; who is more to blame: the incompetent employee or the one who employs him? In every big game Mertesacker’s painfully blatant flaws are brutally exposed, yet Wenger either fails to notice them or just ignores them. I’m not sure which one is more worrying. His lack of pace is so detrimental, he’s forced to stand off and let people shoot, to spare them breezing past him when he closes them down.
For Monaco’s third goal, Ferreira-Carrasco broke clear down the right, creating a situation where most defenders would have rushed across in an attempt to prevent a shot on target. Mertesacker, however, knows he’s not capable of getting across, so instead he ambles over just in time to make sure he gets a good view of the shot he should have blocked. Why is this acceptable? If anyone actually has the answer, please tell me – I genuinely want to know.
As a Gooner, it’s basically obligatory that I have a strong dislike towards Jose Mourinho, but would he allow such inept defending? Chelsea got completely outplayed by PSG last week, yet returned to Stamford Bridge with a score draw and a good chance of progressing. Arsenal got outplayed by Monaco, a team 9 points behind PSG in Ligue 1, and were effectively knocked out of the competition.
The problems with Arsenal tonight, were the same problems they encountered this stage last season, and every season, yet they’re still there. The Gunners are at their fluent best when pressing high up the pitch and moving the ball sharply; both of these require a quick centre back who’s competent on the ball. That description doesn’t sound like the tall German, does it? Unfortunately, Arsenal try and employ the same style with the slowest defender in world football who struggles to pass the ball 10 yards. As Arsenal continuously discover, problems in football generally stem from the back.
As poor as Mertesacker and Arsenal were, perhaps they weren’t helped by a few extrinsic factors; the media downplaying Monaco’s chances possibly led to a touch of complacency. Lady luck was also absent tonight for the men in red and white – the deflection for the first goal and Walcott’s block of Welbeck’s goal bound effort are a couple of incidents to point to. The most frustrating aspect of tonight though isn’t the bad luck or stagnant performance – it’s the realisation that if Arsenal had better options than Giroud and Mertesacker, they probably still would have won. For every misplaced pass to bemoan, the most significant moments were Giroud’s consistent misses of glorious chances and Mertesacker’s villainous part in all three goals. The two, quite honestly, have cost Arsenal tonight just like they do every big game. Personally, I’m sick of watching them.
The return leg in France looks to be a pointless exercise, yet the calibre of this Monaco team is so lacking, a turn-around is still possible. Very unlikely, but still possible – Arsenal are almost as proficient at producing valiant second-leg efforts, as they are at unravelling so disastrously in the first leg. One thing is certain though; any chance they do have will quickly eradicate if Giroud, or especially Mertesacker, somehow make their way onto the team sheet. If they are both left out, which primarily for the health of my blood pressure I sincerely hope they are, Arsenal might just pull it off.