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Tuesday 23 December 2014

The Ghoul Of Christmas Past

Hi All,

I wrote all this before seeing the analysis of Martin Keown and Phil Neville on MOTD2 on Sunday night (shame on Boom Boom for plagiarising BFR's catchphrases!), but then it really didn't require any great insight to spot that the Gunners midfield trio were over-run in the middle of the park by Liverpool's four and as I've said below, there was a far more basic problem in our failure to turn up and switch on against the Scousers.

What did bother me on watching the analysis on the box was the sight of Per Mertesacker being shown turning his back and pretty much bottling out, to equally calamitous effect as was witnessed in our defeat at Stoke.

Sadly such pictures leave me with the impression that the BFG has reached a stage in his distinguished career where he's no longer inclined to put his body on the line for the Gunners cause, as if he's taken sufficient punishment over the course of his playing days that he's now looking to his younger, more motivated colleagues to be taking these sort of hard knocks.

Giving Blood For The Cause
In this era, I can fully appreciate the possibility that at his age and at the tail end of his playing days, with plenty of moolah in the bank, Per no longer has anything to prove and that he might be disinclined to go in for the sort of challenges that might leave his brain rattling around in his head, but frankly, in return for his obscene wages the BFG is obliged to undertake exactly this sort of robust physical endeavour!

Moreover, it wouldn't feel nearly quite so galling if it wasn't for the fact that Mertesacker is wearing the captain's armband in the absence of Arteta! If Arsène's "leader" out on the pitch is seen bottling out of such challenges, just what sort of example is this setting his team mates? He's hardly portraying the spirit of the "never say die" sort of dogged warrior creed that is demanded in a team of winners.

Perhaps it is being a bit harsh to pick on Per purely because of these two particularly significant moments, when one can doubtless find countless examples of him fearlessly throwing himself in front of the ball, without the slightest hint of self-preservation. But it's the specific circumstances, which makes it so much worse, with our defence so decimated and already looking devoid of composure, in the absence of a second recognised centre-back, where more than at any other time his colleagues at the back must be looking to the BFG for the sort of staunch demeanour that might offer them some reassurance.

In many instances I'm left reflecting on matches, trying to work out whether the outcome was due to the fact that the Gunners were that good, or that the opposition were that poor. I was left in absolutely no doubt after Sunday's game. For all the plaudits Liverpool received, I suspect it might be proved by the Scousers results in forthcoming encounters that they only managed to dominate us because it was quite such a dreadful Arsenal display.

As a result, for all the agony of conceding a last gasp equalizer, things were looking so bad at halftime that I would've bitten the hand of that had offered me a draw at that stage and bearing in mind our 5-1 humiliation back in February, ultimately I think we should be counting our blessings after coming away with a point from quite such a bad day at the office.

Onwards and hopefully upwards
Keep the faith
Yellow Army
Doubtless the sports scientists will contend that the rigours of our hectic festive footie schedule are entirely bonkers. Some of the game’s less committed mercenaries have been known to invite the convenient booking, to enable them to join everyone else with their feet up in front of the telly, stuffing their faces with turkey as they spend Xmas suspended.

Yet those of us on the terraces wouldn’t have it any other way because it just wouldn’t be the festive season, without the relentless rash of games that offers the added frisson of knowing the results between now and the FA Cup 3rd round weekend at the start of January are likely to make, or break most clubs’ campaigns.

With this in mind, I can appreciate the logic of Arsène giving the lads a “calm before the storm” breather with three days off this past week. But if you wanted evidence of quite how fatal such a break in their routine can be, it was witnessed in the woeful first-half performance at Anfield, which was without doubt our worst display of the season. It was agonizing watching the slapdash efforts of a Gunners’ side who played like eleven strangers and who’s football was in such complete contrast to the fluid, rampant team that rolled over the Toon only a week before.

After being blown away in the opening twenty minutes at Anfield back in February, it was a relief that we somehow managed to negotiate the opening period on Sunday, without our goal being breached. But finding oneself constantly glancing at the clock, wishing the time away so early on, was indicative of quite how much it felt like we were struggling to cling on, against a Liverpool side in the bottom half of the table.

Time was when we used to taunt the Scousers “We’ve got Silvinho, you’ve got our steroes” but it would’ve been the Arsenal doing all the thievery, if we’d have somehow achieved the travesty of stealing away from Anfield with all three points in the bag.

With so much being made in the media build-up of him opting for the Arsenal, instead of Liverpool, it was somewhat inevitable that Alexis would have a bad day at the office. But considering the Chilean’s amazing level of consistency thus far, you knew we were bang in trouble, when even Sanchez was as off colour as the rest of his colleagues. You can talk about systems and the fact that we were over-run in the middle of the park by Rodgers’ 3-4-3 until you are blue in the face, but ultimately our formation was irrelevant because we were never even at the races.

The Ghoul Of Xmas Past
Somehow I just knew that when Škrtel spent so long on the deck having his bonce bandaged this was bound to come back and bite us on the backside during an interminable amount of injury time. Sadly the Gunners inability to close out a game is an age-old phenomenon that doesn’t appear likely to be cured any time soon. A draw was the very least Liverpool deserved and the question for me was not if they were going to equalize, but whether their equalizer was going to be late enough in proceedings for us to be able to snaffle a point from such a pitiful display.

Nevertheless, in spite of the nine added minutes when the clock crawled past the ninety, at that stage, I couldn’t help but begin to feel some slight hope that we might just scrabble over the finishing line. In truth, it would’ve been a whole lot less cruel, if all such delusions had been eviscerated by an earlier goal. You’d think I’d know better by now, as the patently obvious leadership required to exude the calm and composure necessary to wind the clock down to a win isn’t likely to suddenly manifest itself amongst our bunch of headless chickens, even with a numerical advantage.

Mercifully, with matches coming thick and fast, we’ve an opportunity at home to lowly QPR on St. Steven’s Day to begin again where we left off against the Magpies. Thereby proving that Sunday’s worst possession statistics since OPTA started counting was a soon to be forgotten anomalous aberration.

Yet what simply cannot be ignored is the fact that our defending is no less panic-stricken than Liverpool’s. With it being likely that Koscielny’s Achilles issue will need to be nursed over the remainder of the season, Arsène has absolutely no choice but to add essential defensive reinforcements in January, joining the queue with Man Utd and all those other clubs desperate to bolster their backlines. Let the bidding mayhem commence!

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