Back to Drawing Board for Insipid Arsenal

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar June 7, 2019 13:47


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August 2019
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Back to Drawing Board for Insipid Arsenal

By Satish Sekar at Baku’s Oilmpiya Stadionu © Satish Sekar (May 30th 2019)

Telepathy Breakdown

It was, to use a very laboured cliché, a game of two halves. Arsenal held their own in the first half, perhaps even having the better of it, only to capitulate, and in the worst manner in the second half.

Claiming a telepathic link before the match, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who cost over €100m between them, seemed strangers on the pitch tonight. And without them firing on all cylinders against a Chelsea defence deprived of an injured Antonio Rüdiger, and relying on a recovering from injury, N’Golo Kanté, the chances of providing a meaningful test, let alone beating Chelsea were slim.

Arsenal were strangely vapid tonight. It was their last opportunity to escape a strange season where they flattered and then deceived on a grand scale with a trophy, and more importantly a route back into the Champions League – a result that would have belied their Premier League position, and therefore performances over the season.

Their 22-match unbeaten run early in the season counted for little now. Their defeat of Chelsea with an impressive display of tactical acumen in the league – a result that set the anti-Sarri brigades into overdrive – ultimately mattered little.

Glossed Over Cracks

In short, the high-points, pleasing as they were at the time, mattered little. Their semi-final mauling of Valencia 7-3 booked their ticket to Baku, but ultimately little else. Valencia dusted themselves off and obtained the prizes that eluded Arsenal.

Los Ches stunned Barçelona to claim their first major silverware for 11 years, the Copa de Rey – their last trophy was the same one 11 years ago under the unpopular reign of Ronald Koeman, now coach of the Netherlands – and they secured Champions League football too.

Adding great insult to injury, they achieved that with a significantly smaller budget than Arsenal. And to make matters worse, the Gunners have surrendered North-London bragging rights too. Tottenham Hotspur not only qualified for Champions League next season, but will contest the final against Liverpool next weekend. And domestically, the Gunners are nowhere near Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City team that not only has the financial muscle to compete for any coveted talent, but an academy to envy too.

Although Arsenal have spent big on occasion, Lacazette, Aubameyang, Mesut Özil, it pales in comparison with major Premier League rivals apart from Spurs possibly. They had a battle for control, and it was won the wrong party. Stan Kroenke bought out Alisher Usmanov, but his plans appear unfathomable.

A Sobering Tale – Careful What You Wish For

It sounds odd for a club that reached the final of a major European competition, but Arsenal’s deficiencies were laid bare in Baku, but what changes, and how fast? Unai Emery succeeded a club legend, and did so without being given a ‘war chest’ to go into battle with. For years Arsenal fans complained the squad and team were not being overhauled when needed. Gradual disadvantages became yawning chasms in their eyes. They wanted Arsène Wenger out.

Big money buys came and went, but in comparison to Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City the gulf grew, and making it worse, Tottenham Hotspur crashed the Big Four party without breaking the bank. Even Leicester City could achieve what Arsenal couldn’t for many years, a Premier League title.

Supporters grew even more disgruntled – Arsène Wenger had to go. Last season, they got their wish. Wenger went, but the investment did not come. Granit Xhaka’s pre-match comments in Baku were spot on.

“If you come to a club and come after a coach who was at this club for 22 years, you are new here,” Xhaka told journalists. “You have to change little things; big things, it’s not so easy.”

Only time will tell if Emery is the right man for the job, but he’ll have a wry smile at his fate with Valencia – the team his arsenal mauled in the semi-final. The naysayers were conspicuous by their absence after that result.

Emery’s spell at Valencia is judged harshly. He remains unpopular – unfairly – at least in retrospect. The football may not have been wonderful. The gap to the top two high and the results that he achieved deemed not good enough – third place with regular Champions League football, but far behind the top two – but what followed?

Emery was sacked, and Valencia slid further and further down La Liga, missing Champions League, even flirting with relegation, occasionally achieving European football, but flattered to deceive.

Los Ches took time to recover, finally doing so. To be fair they were battered by the financial meltdown – the players they had to sell making a team to drool over, but waiting a massive 11 years for a trophy – their ‘new’ stadium never completed.

Like Arsenal there were boardroom wrangles at Mestalla, which finally ended in a takeover, and followed with some investment, but the unpopular son would occasionally return with other teams and offer a reminder of what could have been.

While Valencia struggled, Emery landed on his feet in Andalusia, taking Sevilla to a marvellous and unprecedented Europa League treble, and in one final a former Che, Éver Banega, bagged the Man of the Match Award.

Be careful what you wish for!

The Gulf Widens

On the pitch at the Olimpiya Stadium Arsenal’s deficiencies were cruelly exposed at every level. Petr Čech, a Chelsea great, could do little to staunch the bleeding – he retired as a player after this match, meaning there’s a goal-keeping vacancy as well.

And adding salt to the wound the bleeding was started by a former Arsenal hero, Olivier Giroud, who beat Arsenal skipper, Laurent Koscielny to Emmerson Palmieri’s cross from the left with a diving header that beat Čech at his near post.

23 minutes later, the match was over – a 4-1 drubbing inflicted. Chelsea had their troubles too. A torrid first season endured by former Napoli coach, Maurizio Sarri, a bust up in training, the open secret of their star player, Eden Hazard wanting a move, Chelsea still brushed all that aside and put on an exhibition.

Man of the Match, Hazard, gave Chelsea the parting gift they craved. Hazard will be hard to replace – great players always are, but there are far fewer cracks for the West-Londoners to fill.
Sarri wants to stay at Stamford Bridge after winning the first major trophy of his career, but unlike Emery, he can offer the thing top players crave – Champions League football.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar June 7, 2019 13:47