Time to accept that the good just aren’t good enough

There can be very few complaints about Arsenal’s performance against Barcelona this Tuesday at the Emirates Stadium, a tie many deemed would be a walk in the park for the Champions League holders. Arsène Wenger’s tactics proved to be spot on, stifling the Catalan’s attacking trident for large chunks of the first half and, despite the visitors dominating possession, Arsenal looked equally as threatening going forward when the opportunity presented itself.

However, in the Gunners’ success to go toe-to-toe Barcelona is perhaps where their greatest disappointment originates from. The manner in which the North Londoners executed their plan offered hope of an equally euphoric night of football akin to the one at home versus Bayern Munich back in 2015 but we lacked the ability to make Barcelona pay in transition. As the game went on in the second half, chasing Luis Enrique’s men eventually took its toll and Barcelona scored twice thanks to Arsenal’s own mistakes.

Barcelona are clearly the best team in the world at the moment, but as dignified as the defeat may appear to be, a club like Arsenal must strive to do better. Wenger surprised many by branding his players “naïve” in the wake of the loss, yet it is his naivety in the transfer market that has cost Arsenal on multiple occasions throughout the years, and this season hasn’t been dissimilar.

Although it’d be harsh to point the finger at the likes of Olivier Giroud or Francis Coquelin for the defeat against Barcelona, one fact can’t be taken away from the midweek disappointment and that is that all of Arsenal’s well-documented deficiencies cost us to a particular degree. That perceived “naivety” is as much on the players as it is on Wenger and it’s about time he began to move the pieces on the chess board.

Arsenal’s most immediate need for evolution comes at the defensive midfield position, which would see Coquelin lose his spot in the first team. The club owes a lot of its recent success to his ascendancy to the starting line-up when coupled with Santi Cazorla. Coquelin remains a useful tool for the Gunners in the middle of the park, but for the purpose of controlling play, the foundation of Arsenal’s system, the ‘Coqzorla’ duo presents us with a flawed framework.

coquelin look

Coquelin did reasonably well in at least facilitating the initiation of counter attacks for the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain versus Barcelona, but you’ll also note that his lack of imagination also lured him into moving the ball out of the final third as he retreated from Barcelona’s pressing and misplaced a pass that subsequently led Lionel Messi’s first goal.

Cazorla’s presence alongside Coquelin aids the latter’s inability to build from the back and progress forward with the ball under pressure, but to combine the two Wenger has to resort to playing Aaron Ramsey wide to then help Cazorla with his defensive imperfections, sacrificing an outlet in attack. This would be simply unsustainable long term, as exemplified from August 2015 onwards.

Olivier Giroud is one man whose personal assessment ranges from that of a quality striker to a much-maligned lamppost-like figure. The Frenchman was castigated again on Tuesday, this time for fluffing a lay-off for Walcott in a position where many world class strikers would have gone for goal themselves. To judge Giroud up against the expectations of a world class striker is our biggest error as critics, as it undermines the fact that he’s simply a good striker solely carrying the burden of goal scoring consistently.

With Arsenal’s stature and optimum conditions to go onto become a real force in football, Giroud should be considered no more than a second choice striker, at the very most an alternative to a striker with opposing attributes. The club has done Giroud’s reputation a cruel favour in failing to add to him for four consecutive seasons and it remains yet another area in need of an urgent remedy.

Per Mertesacker’s role at Arsenal is one that’s on par with Coquelin and Giroud in that he’s a player who still has a lot to give in the famous red and white, but yet another whose evident limitations need to be amended with additions to the personnel. Despite a severe lack of athletic attributes and inelegant appearing technical ability, Mertesacker often organises the defence like no other and helps the back four maintain its posture brilliantly, but that doesn’t discard the fact that he’s an oddity among the very best of teams throughout Europe whose weaknesses will continue to cost Arsenal in particular moments.

Perhaps worse than seeing the team suffer due to its imperfections is to see time fly by some of our best players without us taking full advantage of their qualities. Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez have all been affected somewhat by the team’s deficiencies in certain sectors of the pitch; meanwhile the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Petr Čech and Nacho Monreal are all deep into their peak. To let this current crop disintegrate without winning a league title would be a great shame and you can have no doubt in what direction the critics should and will point to if we fail to do so this season.

Next season promises to be even tougher with the introduction of Pep Guardiola, José Mourinho’s swift return and the potential arrival of Antonio Conte at Chelsea. Jürgen Klopp will also get to officially lay down plans of his own at Liverpool and Tottenham will be sure to stick their noses in the tussle too; therefore it’s paramount that Arsenal find it in themselves to evolve from its current form.



Patrick Ribeiro

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