By Dan Ferguson
Preston NE 1 Arsenal 2
This FA Cup Third Round tie was a game of two halves.
The first half was atrocious, and the second was average with flashes of mild quality.
While it was an exciting game for the neutral, it leaves so many questions unanswered.
As my stat-man Alan keeps saying to me, “That’s the magic of the cup!” Well if magic is being humiliated like Michael Douglas in David Fincher’s The Game, then count me out. By the end of it you feel like you are lucky to be alive.
If we are setting the bar so low against Championship opposition, then there is a serious problem in our preparation.
More on that in a second. The first half was an embarrassment that showed us the complacency throughout the team. Some just didn’t look ready or fresh, others looked like they found it an insult to be demoted to what was in effect Arsenal’s 2nd XI.
A prime example of this is The Ox. In my opinion, he is so blessed with skill and stamina, yet he cannot beat his own demons and limited attention span. He then runs about with a model’s pout, waiting to be substituted so he can look even more forlorn.
The Ox is the closest thing we have had to a David Rocastle for quite a long time.
He has the body strength, the skill set, the speed and the ability to produce the unexpected. The thing that sets Rocastle apart was his character. He knew he would make mistakes, and Rocastle made plenty and was robbed often, but he could atone, defend and always put the team first.
Ramsey is a major worry. He is going backwards.
Goal aside, he needs to stamp his authority on games. The main concern is that he is being used now as a right midfielder, or a defensive midfielder, when he was bought as an attacking midfielder and a luxury.
He is a goal scorer and like the Ox, deep down probably wants to be the number 10 as well, (or at least a high line 8 with no responsibility). We have a team of players who all fancy themselves as a 10. Some can work their arse off in other positions and get over the dream. Others play with a lack because they are out of what they perceive to be their natural position. Ox – 10 (poor), Ramsey -10/8 (poor), Santi – 10 (very good), Alexis – 10 (great diva), Ozil – 10 (10), Wilshere – 10 (sulk), Iwobi – 10 (good and gets on with it).
Some of them like Iwobi understand you can do a job in a position to help the team, and still get a good chunk of the game that you can affect like an alternative 10. Others hide and are bloody passengers or even worse, a liability.
Then you have the players who just aren’t ready. Maitland Niles is point in case.
He got turned inside out too often. Mick McCarthy said some nice things about him at Ipswich, and he knows the Championship style quite well, so his muted game was all the more surprising yesterday. He wasn’t appalling, but Arsenal’s game is often won or rescued by the input of the full backs, and he doesn’t look like he has that about him at present.
The more established players also deserve a kicking, but at least they had the 2nd half to call some kind of redemption.
My concern is that this is the second game in a row where we have been picked to pieces by lesser opposition. I don’t buy into the “Wenger is no tactician’ argument, but as someone who trusts their players to prepare themselves mentally and intelligently, I think he is as guilty as the players in his failure.
Luckily he trusts them enough to get him and the team out of trouble. More often than not, they will. More often than not will get you 4th place in the league. It will get you to the final of an FA Cup. It will get you to the last 16 of the Champions League. More often than not you won’t win any trophies.
So Giroud, who is a great get out of jail card, but we still cannot work out how to dismantle the best teams with him starting. Becomes even more of a headache for Wenger, because he knows that we cannot beat Chelsea with him starting, yet he will probably play quite well and score against both Swansea and Burnley.
It is a difficult decision because Giroud is proving he has bigger bollocks than a lot of his critics have seen. However, on the flip side he is scoring the majority of goals at a time when most fans are seething because Arsenal have played awfully against teams we would have turned over if we just had more fluency. It is a bind. You can’t make him faster or teach him to play off the shoulder of the last defender. So we have to play to his limitations.
Anyway, Wenger’s record (which comes with no trophy), is 21 years of not going out in the 3rd round, or to lesser opposition, or whatever meaninglessness it is. Bah humbug.
Looking ahead, we next have Swansea, another team who have just sacked their manager, followed by Burnley who won’t sack their manager (and rightly so), followed by Round 4 of the FA cup, immediately followed by Watford who will definitely have sacked their manager by then, followed closely by Chelsea who won’t, followed by Hull who have just sacked their manager.
If the galvanising effect takes hold, then the winnable games become less winnable because these teams will look to draw against us. So we have a series of parked buses to prepare for, and the only prospect of an open game in the next month is against Chelsea.