Aw, c’mon guys. Why so glum? We ripped Besiktas apart, 1-0, over two games! We beat Crystal Palace, 2-1–but it was at the Emirates! 17th place Crystal Palace! And Red Bulls! Wait, we lost to the freaking Red Bulls? On the bright side, we face Aston Villa on the road in a few days. 2nd place, undefeated Aston Villa. No sweat.
WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!?
Arsenal has seen worse Champions League losses for sure. But yesterday kind of felt like that competition’s version of the 8-2 at Old Trafford a few years ago. Gibbs looked pretty decent yesterday. And Ox, for that 30 minutes he played, was great. But one of those two will be hurt by October, so don’t get too excited. Szczesny kept it from being 4-0 or 5-0 (but so did Dortmund’s serial diver, Mkhitaryan, with his repeated shots off target). Yet even the Arsenal keeper couldn’t stay focused, almost caught by an onrushing Dortmunder whilst getting cute with the ball at his feet. I guess the away/Cup uniforms did okay. But only okay! Everyone and everything else, from the manager to the players’ equipment, just stunk up the joint. I guess after nearly ten years with no losses in Germany, it was bound to happen eventually. It’s a German kinda year anyway.
The manager, courtesy of the official team website, summarized the entire game quite eloquently as he explained the first goal. Try not to laugh:
“We had still three against one at the back and that’s still difficult to understand how we conceded the goal. It’s true that we lost the ball 80 metres from our goal but after that I think there were enough people to stop the goal.” Ha. I said don’t laugh!
In a game with many keystone cops in shades of blue, the sheriff had to be, conveniently, a German. The game was perfectly epitomized by Podolski being unable to find one of his shin pads only minutes before being subbed in, after warming up for much of the second half with no shin pads on. (Keep calm! Turns out he’d simply posted the shin pad on Twitter from the locker room at halftime.) Real pro-quality stuff. Game faces were worn yesterday, for sure. I don’t know what was more hilarious, exasperating, and embarrassing, the length of time Poldi was shown on camera looking for the elusive pad, or the almost disgusted manner with which Ozil removed one of his and tossed it at him. Lukas, didn’t your mom ever tell you that if you don’t keep track of your shin pads, you’ll have to wear a sweaty, used one as punishment? (There is one consolation, and it consists of imagining the thoughts of Aaron Ramsey, who had a front row seat for viewing the shin pad escapade, seated between Ozil and the frantic Podolski. Imagining the exchange in German, or in English with thick German accents, either way, is hilarious. It was a surreal night, indeed.)
At this point, we will pause the rant so that you can Google “Podolski shin pad pics”. By now you’ll have done this and learned that there are at least four pictures of four different pairs of shin pads available for viewing within seconds. Each shin pad of each pair of shin pads clearly says “Poldi” in various large fonts as designed by the respective sponsors. I suppose it’s fitting that on this day, the guy who loves to be any place where there is a camera, who loves Germany almost as much as Germany loves him, who was nearly transferred from his club this summer because there is just something about him that doesn’t click for his manager, who has his name in large letters printed on his shin pads, was shown in front of a worldwide audience in Dortmund just prior to entering a game which might push him up the pecking order if he could help engineer a comeback, looking for his lost shin pad. When it rains, it pours.
And subbing him in for the shockingly rusty (or just downright poor) Arteta with only 12 minutes to play? Professor, what kind of go-for-broke risk-taking was that? It’s a six-game home and away group stage where goals for and against might make a huge difference. So as the chances of merely pulling even quickly faded, Arsene got super crafty. Like, so crafty that even he might have had a glass of wine after the game and seriously pondered why he doesn’t play fantasy or FIFA more often. He took out our normally solid-tacking, smart-passing, traffic-directing, well-positioned, protector of the defense, our captain, and replaced him with the best shooter on the team… who has played 14 of 360 minutes in the league season so far. (Did you know that he couldn’t even find his shin pad?) It wasn’t necessarily a bad move, as Podolski has scored for Arsenal in Germany before. But he didn’t appear to slot in next to or behind Welbeck. It actually looked like the German took over in Arteta’s position for at least a few minutes. Brilliant! Klopp surely wasn’t expecting that.
But imagine that perhaps Podolski was in reality the only defensive option Arsenal had available in Germany yesterday. It’s not hard to do. At 2-0 down, with nearly every player behaving as if it were his first professional match, in the scary witch’s large, boiling, black pot–“cauldron” is so overused–that is Dortmund, I think closing up shop might have been a good idea in the 77th minute. (This wasn’t what happened, for Arsene will always try to get a goal back rather than prevent more goals. But let’s just say that he wanted to shore up the defense.) Imagine that he looked up and down his bench and decided not on [Jenkinson-on loan and injured/Debuchy-didn’t make the trip because he’s injured/Monreal-didn’t make the trip because he’s injured!/Flamini-didn’t make the trip because he’s injured?/Chambers-did make the trip but was eating raspberry sorbet on the bench–with a shin pad marked “Poldi”, as there aren’t any spoons in Dortmund, you sissyfrau!–because his tonsils were on fire/Vermaelen-because Wenger is either too uncompromising or too nice, never in between, and in this case he was the latter and now Vermaelen’s gone, and probably about to be injured in Barcelona]. I guess it’s fathomable that he could have needed a defender and said, “Le fuck it. Poldi, you’re a defender now. Please pad up.”
Regarding the injuries, the manager again spoke to the official website. This isn’t taken from 2011, 2012, or 2013. Nope, it was yesterday’s post-match interview:
“Jack Wilshere has turned his ankle, it’s difficult to say how bad it is because I am a bit cautious, normally it’s not very bad but because of his history I’m a bit cautious. Apart from that no player I took off was injured.” Double-ha. This is getting so old that it’s not funny, because it was already so old that it was funny, after it was so old that it wasn’t funny anymore.
That should be enough to sum up the game. But there is also the slightly depressing fact that, including the Man City game, Welbeck has missed the goal on at least four occasions when plenty of strikers [Theo-didn’t make the trip due to injury/Giroud-didn’t make the trip due to injury/Sanogo-okay, he would have missed/Campbell-hmmm?/Podolski-shin pad] would have put it in the net. Not easy goal scoring opportunities, but great opportunities nonetheless, which must be capitalized on at this level, against this level of competition. This would be a pill more easily swallowed if it weren’t for the fact that the word on Welbeck prior to his transfer, from just about everyone, was that he just needs to work on his finishing.
At least there is the new formation! Ah, the 4-1-4-1. Wenger hasn’t tried that one yet, so why not! With Ramsey now a household name, Wilshere finally free from injury (prior to yesterday, that is), and two pricey, world-class signings, why not try something new that leaves them all running around confused and switching places? The tactic is meant to get the most of the box-to-box capabilities of the two British midfielders, and not consign the German or the Chilean to the bench. The main problem with this, aside from all the running around looking confused and occasionally getting each others ways, is that things worked quite flippin’ well when Ramsey sat deep with Arteta, made charging runs forward, and sprinted back to make tackles. And perhaps that might have been helpful on the road in Dortmund. Maybe? You know, the stuff that worked really well last year? Though it’s early, the formation is already enough to make one wonder if Ramsey and Wilshere are the new Lampard and Gerrard: can they both occupy the center of the midfield and succeed as individuals as well as teammates? What if they both occupy the center of the midfield while a German phenom mopes around and a Chilean constantly dribbles into much larger men? But honestly, does anyone know what formation Arsenal actually played against Dortmund yesterday? I don’t, but I think it involved decimals.
For me the biggest problem with the formation is that for two enormous games in a row, Santi Cazorla started on the bench. The little wizard, soon to be heading into the twilight of his career at Arsenal simply because of his proximity to 30, is just too valuable to leave on the bench. He dribbles, he slows the game down at the right time, he buys time for teammates to get into better positions, he passes on a dime from any distance, with both feet, and he scores FA Cup comeback inspiring free kicks and sometimes other pretty goals. With both feet!
Of course, Cazorla on the bench is less a result of the new formation and more the consequence of so many great attackers in one team. But I think he needs to be in there. True, having so much attacking talent at one’s disposal is, as the saying goes, “a good problem to have”. What it isn’t is a cute way of finding unique defensive cover. And it is also, thankfully, not my problem.
So, nowhere to go from here but up. Maybe it’s best to have gotten the most difficult game out of the way while the team is still settling, then spank ’em good in the return leg. Eh, why not not. Countless ways to remain positive.
Yes, I think Welbeck will score crucial goals of varying degree of difficulty. Yes, Arsenal will weather this injury crisis (because let’s face it, in the dictionary under Arsenal it says “injury crisis”). Yes, the players will start clicking. Yes, Ozil will finish the season on the bench. (Look, I like him; it’s just a prediction, and if it’s for the best then so be it. I’d love to be proved wrong. We still have Theo coming back very soon, and if everyone is healthy then there will have to be some serious talent left on the bench this year.)
Yes, Arsenal lost to a very good team yesterday. Yes, Arsenal will finish in the top four. Yes, Arsenal will once again get out of the Champions League group stage, making it harder on ourselves than we should.
Yes, I’m exaggerating my annoyance at yesterday’s game for the sake of ranting, and I’m ranting for the sake of enjoying my own words. Yes, I will surely change my viewpoints multiple times this season. Yes, I will contradict myself before I finish writing this.
Yes, I’m a Gooner. Yes, I trust Arsene. I don’t really have any other choice, do I? Besides, it’s just boring to do things the easy way. We are Arsenal, and our shin pads don’t always match.