Even as the dust begins to settle on what undoubtedly was the nadir of Arsenal’s season on Wednesday night, the post-mortem continues on what was, even by Arsenal’s recent standards, a terrible capitulation.
One of the most worrying aspects of the débâcle against Monaco, was how it exposed once again Arsenal’s refusal to learn from previous reverses in the Champions League.
If there are a couple of lessons that the current Arsenal team should have learned from their recent experiences (such as last season’s reverse at home to Borussia Dortmund or this season’s unlikely comeback by Anderlecht), it should have been in the first place to understand how foolish it is to adopt a gung-ho approach, when an acceptable result is attainable given a peculiar set of circumstances, and secondly the importance of avoiding complacency at all cost in the Champions League. Ending the game at 2-1 would still have left the Gunners with a presentable chance of overturning the deficit in the second leg in three weeks time, and so a more cautious approach was required when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pulled one goal back with a few minutes to go. Instead, the emotional response to the crowd’s strident urging led to Arsenal recklessly committing more men forward, instead of the calmer, more considered approach that one should have expected from such seasoned Champions League campaigners.
The baffling question for the Arsenal manager has to be; why do his charges simply seem incapable of learning from their past experiences? It can’t be for a lack of experience as this team is no longer a bunch of youngsters. Although there were elements of tentativeness and a certain trepidation – particularly after Kondogbia’s first goal and in the way the Gunners’ seemed to let the game drift after the first ten minutes, the bigger failing was the recurring complacency that seeped into their game, the expectation, after a comfortable start to the game that this was simply going to be a case of attack versus defence and that Monaco would cave eventually.
If the problem is this recurring complacency, then the best way for Arsène Wenger to root it out and allow this team to attain it’s undoubted potential is by becoming more ruthless. Although it’s unfair to single out any individuals for particular blame from Wednesday’s game (they were all, with the possible exception of Santi Cazorla, appallingly poor), some players have shown an infuriating capacity to repeat the same mistakes and turn in abject performances when their huge amount of experience and status within the team should naturally lead us to expect the opposite. Per Mertesacker is particularly guilty in this respect and Wenger should sound a warning to him and other players that he will no longer tolerate ineptitude, by rotating him out of team and demanding better performances on a consistent basis in the future, failing which he should expect nothing less than a permanent exile from the first team. The German of course, was not solely responsible for the terrible performance, but his culpability in at least one, and possibly two of the goals conceded means that he cannot expect to be surprised if Arsène Wenger wields the big stick.
If there is a silver lining to the cloud that currently envelopes the club however, it is that the tie is not over yet. The Gunners have been responsible for spectacular turnarounds in the past and an unlikely but not infeasible comeback in the second leg is not beyond this team. The return to fitness of Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and hopefully Aaron Ramsey in the not too distant future could also help in this regard.
In the meantime, attention turns to Everton in the Premier League on Saturday. The Arsenal manager and the fans will all be expecting a reaction to the midweek contretemps and the Gunners cannot afford to fail to deliver a result. A point is the minimum requirement and a stiffening of Arsenal’s midfield which was far too open against Monaco should be the first order of business. With this in mind, Mathieu Flamini will probably make a return to the side, with Özil the most likely member of the Gunners’ midfield triumvirate to miss out. Oxlade-Chamberlain will also most likely start against the Toffees with Welbeck probably giving way. The aim should be to remain solid in the middle but still possess plenty of energy and attacking threat down the flanks.
Hopefully, this last reverse should provide a kick up the backside and ensure that there will be no further slip-ups for the rest of the season. For the team to progress and make the strides forward that are expected of them however, Wenger has to become a little bit more unforgiving.