It Must have been a Perfect Sunday for the Anti Arsenal Bandwagon By Tinashe Shamuyashe
As an Arsenal fan, every time we drop points, I have to endure the disappointment of things not going our way, and a barrage of negativity from the media, pundits, and some ungracious Arsenal fans (referred throughout this article as the tri-axis of evil). The former is a personal matter to deal with while the latter requires a public response whenever necessary. What is evident from the comments and remarks made by the tri-axis of evil is: “we told you so, Arsenal cannot achieve anything under Wenger, with players like Per, Flamini, Arteta, Giroud …”. The purpose of this article is to expose the fallacy of the tri-axis logic using match facts.
The obvious starting point will be the situation that led to Per’s sending off. Two missiles have been thrown by the tri-axis, viz: Per is finished, and Flamini is useless as a defensive midfielder. The tri-axis argued that Flamini and Ramsey failed to close down Willian, giving him ample time to pick out a pass that exposed Per. The fallacy of this argument lies in the tri-axis’ disregard of the position from which Willian won the ball, and the positioning of our centre backs, and every other player. Willian was just outside the Chelsea penalty box, the first person to try and make a tackle was Aaron Ramsey but Willian went past him. The next person he had to contend with around the centre circle was Flamini, who did not go into the tackle but tried as much as possible to delay Willian from releasing the ball. That was sensible any day because had he gone into the tackle resulting in Willian going past him it would have left the centre backs extremely exposed.
Unless the tri-axis are arguing that Ramsey should not have allowed Willian to go past him, then the criticism of Ramsey and Flamini in the build up to the Willian pass is not only uncalled for but shows lack of football knowledge. In one versus one situations the person with the ball is always favorite to ride the challenge. Probably what should be questioned is the positioning of offensive players like Ozil, Campbell, Walcott, and Giroud. The Full backs were up there supporting the attack, therefore one or two of the mentioned players must have been strategically positioned outside the box to pounce on loose balls, and that would have given Ramsey initial support in trying to stop Willian. In the first 19 minutes Ramsey and Flamini had done nothing wrong in their defensive duties. The two uneasy moments we had were down to a blind pass by Koscielny and Walcott losing the ball when trying to dribble past two players.
The second missile thrown by the tri-axis related to Per’s capabilities at the highest level. The fallacy of this argument lies in ignoring the positioning of Koscielny before the pass was made. Koscielny was too deep in our own half marking no one in particular when Per who was monitoring Costa had pushed up close to the centre line with the view to catching Costa offside. The cardinal principle in defending is for the back four to maintain a proper line so that no one plays onside an otherwise offside opposing player. With Kos deep in our own half Per could not push up to leave Costa offside at critical moments but had to try and retreat to be closer to Costa. Koscielny’s positioning and awareness come increasingly into question when one factors in the amount of time he had to adjust his positioning. When Willian skipped past Ramsey and charged forward, Flamini tried as much as possible to delay the charge or release of the ball. Willian only had one option in Costa who was in Arsenal half and level with Per. With correct positioning and awareness by Kos, the pair would have pushed up with easy leaving Costa offside as enough time to do so had been purchased by Flamini.
The person to blame for that situation, for those who like to target and blame players, was Kos not Per. It goes without saying that this was not the first time that Kos was caught out of telepathy with Per this season. In the Swansea game he was caught deep again playing Gomis onside. In the game against Tottenham Kos was deep again in our own half playing Kane onside. In that game we paid with Tottenham’s only goal that saw us drop points.
With Costa played onside, Per had to make a decision either to jog behind Costa who would have gone clear towards goal, or make a last ditch tackle. Here something has to be said about Kos. When the ball was played through, Kos was the last man but when Per made the tackle the latter was now the last man. This points to Kos trying to push up at the last minute rather than drop further to allow Per to make a tackle without risking a red card for preventing a goal scoring opportunity. In my view Kos did not help the situation full circle. First he was unnecessarily deep in our half when his partner was around the centerline, second he failed to redeem himself by making the right decision to drop further back so that he remained as the last man.
The second port of call is the substitution. Three options were available to the manager: sacrifice counter attacking threat (Walcott), work rate (Campbell), or hold up and aerial threat (Giroud). Each decision had its upside and downside. The manager opted to retain counter attacking threat and work rate. The tri-axis wants to make us believe that that was an irrational decision. For instance Petit and Schmeichel who were match analysts on the channel I watched argued that when you are a man down and a goal down you need a target man, because you cannot counter attack. Clearly a falsehood had to be slipped in to make the argument stick. Arsenal were not a goal down when the substitution was made, therefore it was clear that Chelsea would press in search of an opener. That is what would create counter attacking opportunities but Petit and Schmeichel had to lie to give a different impression. There are many occasions in the past when a team with a man down relied of counter attacks with great success.
With the counter attacking threat removed Chelsea would have had the luxury to move up their defensive line pushing us further back. They could easily have substituted an attacking player for one of their defensive midfielders, and we would easily have been out of the game by halftime. That Chelsea continued to play conservative football was down to their awareness of the counter attacking threat which we posed. That kept us in the game until the last minute of injury time. The fact that our counter attacking threat did not work out does not mean the hold up and aerial threat would have worked either. Speculating about what would have happened to the chance that fell to Flamini had Olivier been on the pitch is plain stupid. First the speculation ignores Walcott’s contribution to the chance. He was involved in the exchanges that led to the pass by Ramsey. Second, it wrongly assumes that Flamini’s presence in the box was down to Olivier not being on the pitch. How many times have we seen Flamini in the box with Olivier out on the flanks? As a matter of fact earlier on in the game when it was 11 v 11 Flamini had a chance in that position, when Giroud was wide on the right.
It is apparent that the tri-axis saw an opportunity to advance their agenda as opposed to analyzing a match as it is supposed to be. The ingredients were there to make the Arsenal family restless. Seven points dropped out of a possible 9 in three games; slipping to third place from being top of the table since 02 January; being only two points above Tottenham; and losing again to Chelsea among other factors. What was needed was the matchstick that could ignite unrest in the Arsenal camp, the Sarajevo assassination kind of, for those familiar with the history of the First World War. In our case this was to be achieved by exaggeration of facts, simplistic but populist analysis, falsehoods, and ignoring facts that would negate the narrative, among other things.
Any person with an objective mind would agree that, despite dropping 7 points in the last three matches, the team put up desired performances in those games. The kind of performances associated with real title contenders. With those kinds of performances it will not be surprising to see Arsenal sitting top of the table again by end of February. One wonders what the narrative will be when that happens, as sure it will. The tri-axis of evil can go hang in shame while real Arsenal fans continue to enjoy and endure the Arsenal experience together with the team and club.