Fail to prepare, prepare to fail; an Arsenal saga

"I wish Arsene would just come out just once and say not good enough.  The players would respect that" - Paul Merson

You may not always (or, well, ever) agree with the assessments and opinions of the former Arsenal man, but this is one of those exceedingly rare moments that Merson as hit the nail right on the head.  No excuses, no deflecting and no looking for positives - we blew a 3-0 lead at home.  Does it matter who it was against? No...frankly, it could have been against Real Madrid...blowing a three goal cushion when you're in your on back yard is just inexcusable, regardless of who the opposition is.

What makes that result even more frustrating than it already proved to be (apart from the obvious) was, as always, it was completely avoidable...completely.  This time, like so many others, the writing was on the wall, and it was left there two weeks ago on match day three at the Constant Vanden Stock stadium in Brussels.  Actually,'s been on the wall for years now...years, and I personally needed an extra day to regain my composure.
About sums it up to be honest...
Add to this glorious yet painful picture the blown 4-0 lead against Newcastle, and you have a lovely little synopsis on how history just loves to repeat itself with us...BECAUSE WE ARE NEVER PREPARED!

Once again, Sean did a splendid job in his post-match recap/thoughts/rant/heart palpitation moment, but there are a few point I'd like to go ahead and delve just a little more into if that is alright - let's just go to the old tried and tested bullet point for this one;

  • Wenger's inability to bring on the right players at the right time - if he's not waiting till the 75th minute in the hops that magically things will change despite that he is not on the touchline shouting instructions, he's bringing on the wrong players.  As Sean pointed out (and I must insist on re-visiting briefly), why in all that is good and holy was Lukas Podolski brought on when we were struggling to hold a lead late on?  Sure, he has goals in him and sure his left foot is akin to a 155mm howitzer, but that is not what we needed...not at all.  When we're under siege, bringing on an attacking player who does not track back and lacks any significant work rate is not the way to go about things.  The simple notion that Wenger wanted to try to get a fourth rather than look to shore up matters in the rear is completely shameful.
  • No desire, heart or self belief - this has been a problem in the squad for years...we lack any sort of leadership what so ever after Mikel Arteta, and that was quite clear when he was removed with a hamstring problem...on comes Mathieu Flamini, who's idea of leading the way is to not lead much of anything at all.  Considering the amount of experienced internationals we have in our side, and have always had, it's amazing that no one is truly willing to step up and be vocal when it matters most.  Where was Per Mertesacker's experience then?  Flamini?  Cazorla?  Monreal?  Anyone? Anyone at all?  Didn't think so, and due to a lack of leadership in the side (or on the touchline for that matter), it trickles down into the players and saps them of any sort of heart and desire to push on.  We have had mentality fragile sides for years, but mental fragility can be avoided simply by having people who tighten their belt buckle and lead not only verbally, but also by example.
  • Fatigue is not an excuse - it just really isn't, and I'll tell you why.  How many matches have Rosicky, Podolski, Campbell, Bellerin, Coquelin (and one or two others) started this season?  I guarantee you can count the number on one hand, or less.  Granted, we certainly do have a bit of a fitness issue (when do we not?), but we certainly have plenty of players who are more than capable of coming in against a side like Burnley at the weekend and getting the job done.  So, for Arsene Wenger to sit there and try to blame the result (partially or fully, doesn't matter) on tired legs, someone needs to tell him to just be quiet.  When your manager refuses to rotate the squad, fatigue will happen - news flash Arsene, that's your fault.  Oh, and how can you bang on about fatigue when we had five and six players bombing forward late on in the match?  Doesn't look like fatigue to me...

Yet again, this was another result that exposed our weaknesses in the first team...weaknesses we've had for years, but also one of a more recent nature.  Remember that time, when so many of us were screaming during the summer transfer window for us to bring in a holding midfielder as well as further defensive reinforcements?  Yeah, I remember those moments as well.  Anderlecht threatened our back four far too routinely on match day three, so did it really come as a shock to anyone that they did so again on match day four?

They may not be the best side on the continent, but the Belgian champions have a relentless work rate, pace to burn throughout their XI and they fight for each other - this was never going to be an easy match when you lack a proper holding player and when the manager is insistent on putting a mediocre left back at center back rather than putting an actual center back at center back and a right back at right back.  Why on earth is Wenger so insistent on putting Monreal in the middle, even though Calum Chambers was absolutely brilliant there in the early goings this season?  Such a move would also allow Bellerin to get a run out at right back so that he can continue to develop - playing players in their natural position is never a bad thing...just saying.

As for the midfield, while Arteta was not poor on the day, he's still not a true holding player and never has been for any part of his career until he came to Arsenal and Wenger was too stingy to stump up the funds for us to finally replace the biggest missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle.  Until a true holding player is brought in, teams that have attacking quality will always give us the same headache over and over again - after all, to get to the back four, you have to get through the midfield, don't you?  Yes...yes you do...

To be honest, as someone I frequently discuss Arsenal with on Twitter said, "Everyone in that locker room deserves to apologize to both Sanchez and Chamberlain" - no truer words were ever spoken.  The pair of pacey and powerful attacking players were brilliant from start to finish.  Ox has run into form (oddly enough just before Walcott comes back) and Sanchez is unequivocally our Player of the Season, and it's only November.  While I am never one to say "I feel sorry for Sanchez...I bet he looks around and says what the hell have I gotten into?", because no, he doesn't say that, but you CAN rest assured that when you give 110% on the pitch and your teammates do not do the same, it certainly is frustrating.  I shutter to think where we would be this season if we didn't have the Chilean dynamo in our ranks.
Go on...tell me I'm wrong...
It's hard to find any positives at all from Tuesday apart from the aforementioned attacking pair, so I've not  bothered to think harder to try to conjure up any...we were that poor in the end.  While I think a little more highly of Anderlecht than Sean does, there is still no conceivable reason to surrender a three goal cushion on your home ground...none...none at all.

Another realization comes by way of the towering Teutonic center back and the headache he's giving far too many of us.  Perhaps it was shrugged off as just a fluke by most, but does anyone else remember the moment Joachim Low dropped BFG from the German XI this summer in Brazil, and do any of you remember why?  When in the side, Germany were far more exposed at the back, struggled in the air when defending, and Mats Hummels as well as Manuel Neuer had to make up the difference on quite a few occasions.  For Low to drop Mert in favor of Shkodran Mustafi, you know damn well you've mucked it all up.  It was THEN that perhaps Wenger needed to stand up and take notice that perhaps we really do need to start looking into bringing a top rate center back to partner Koscielny.

Many Gooner's will fall back to the comfort zone of "but Mertesacker is always so much better when Kosc is in the side", and while that is true, that's not actually a good thing - it highlights that he's actually not as good as many claim, and his over-reliance on Koscielny to keep him honest next to him has clearly done more harm than good in the long run.  Many yet still will turn to BFG's international track record, citing that you don't get that many caps for Germany if you're not quality - I tell you then, to go look at what Germany has had on offer until very recently, when the next massive batch of youth players from the pipeline has only started to come through over the last few years...before then, no one else was good enough to displace him.  Simply put, while Aleksandr Mitrovic is a talented striker, it's completely unacceptable that someone of Mertesacker's experience and size can get beaten in the air...not just for Anderlecht's equalizer, but so frequently on the whole...and it needs to be addressed.

And now, to you ever so stubborn Arsene Wenger supporters, aficionados of that baguette toting, non-zipping Alsatian self proclaimed financial genius, I say to you the following; stop looking for any and all excuses to deflect the blame off the manager.  Do not blame the ref or the linesman for the botched offside call...we still conceded two goals after that, and I am pretty sure none of the officiating crew converted the spot kick or beat Mertesacker for the equalizer.  Further more, do not try to stamp out the fire by saying "it's okay, we didn't lose so stop acting like it"...we blew a 3-0 lead at home against a team that is never going to get out of a Champions League yes, we didn't lose, but we may as well have at that rate - you learn more from losing than winning anyway, or so they say.

Correct me if I am wrong, but is it not Wenger who writes the team sheet? Picks the XI? Deploys us in useless 4-1-4-1 formations that only sometimes work? Insists on not signing the players we truly need? Apparently neglects defensive work in training? The list goes on when it comes to issues we have that can only come down to the manager.  Yes, the players are also at fault for not giving their all on the pitch and for having a habit of mentally asking for the check in matches...but Wenger picks these players...signs them...and keeps faith in them even when it's no where near warranted - guess what, all of that falls on Wenger's shoulder, and far too many people still refuse to look at him and blame him for things that only he can be blamed for.

In closing, I am not sure how anyone can defend Wenger after this.  No, this result wasn't a "mistake", mistakes do not keep happening - it's like saying you kept cheating on your spouse but it was a mistake, you'll learn your lesson and it'll never happen again yet it keeps happening...but your spouse lets it happen in the first place (are you following?).  That is the unfortunate state of affairs at Arsenal these days.  It's well documented that Wenger is so revered and loved by all that no matter what happens, he's infallible.
"If Wenger has a plan, we back him.  If he doesn't, we keep quiet" - Sir Chips Keswick"
In what world is that any acceptable way to run the club? Wenger is not the club president, chairman, owner or majority shareholder...he's a club employee, one who has too much power and is no longer being held responsible for what goes on here, and it's not okay and should not be accepted by any means.

Things like what happened on Tuesday are avoidable, even in a one-off event they are avoidable if you prepare (match tapes, training, better utilization of substitutions, being able to read the ebb and flow of the match, etc. etc.) but they CERTAINLY are avoidable when your sides have a HISTORY of mental fragility and an inability to see a result out, things like this should not continue to happen.  With our history of lack of preparation and an inability to learn lessons despite having a metric ton on offer to fall back on, it's really no surprise at all that events transpired the way they did.  Like the title of this piece says, "fail to prepare, prepare to fail.", the same old saga being told and seemingly with no end in sight.