Remember when they told us one of the drivers behind Project Restart was to boost our morale?
Well, how’s your morale this morning?
Since that first ball was kicked against Southampton, it’s not just been the stadiums that have been soulless. City’s lack of quality has been laid bare for the watching nation to see but more concerning has been the dearth of heart and energy.
We don’t look like a team that’s straining every sinew to extricate itself from relegation. No fire and brimstone.
Instead, to us on the outside at least, there appears to be an acceptance of their fate. An exercise in going through the motions until the inevitable happens. An inexorable slide back to the Championship with the bare minimum of resistance.
And it’s really hard to watch.
Team Farke will most likely have data that shows the players have run as many kilometres as their opponents and some graphs to show that their physical shape is also comparable but in reality, we don’t really compete. Not in the way we so want them too.
Okay, so against Man Utd in the FA Cup we played quite well and did that glorious failure thing in which we specialise, but there’s been nothing remotely glorious about any of the three league games.
In each game, we’ve come up short, and not just a bit short. Zero points from a possible nine. Eight goals conceded. None scored.
Incredibly, we’ve barely lost any ground on those above us, with the bottom six yielding just two wins from the 24 games they’ve played or, to spin it another way, accumulating a collective total of 11 points.
But let’s not get bogged down in this, ‘if only we can muster a win we’re still in this’ nonsense. There’s no evidence whatsoever of us mustering a draw let alone a win. And while we’re at at, let’s also draw a line under ‘the best team ever to be relegated from the Premier League’.
Little has happened since the turn of the year to suggest this is even remotely close to being true.
Looking specifically at last night if I must, it’s hard to be angry with Tim Krul for his schoolboy error – even though we have every right to be. He’s been outstanding this season, thankfully, and already has both hands on the Barry Butler trophy.
What Krul really needed was his teammates to rally round and help him out, as he has done them on numerous occasions this season. But no… nothing. Just some more sloppy tracking back that enabled Granit Xhaka – hardly known for his goalscoring prowess – to open his account for the season.
We were to offer more generosity of that ilk later on when we afforded Cedric Soures – a full-back not renowned for his goalscoring – a chance to score within minutes of making his Gunners’ debut, but not before Josip Drmic had put the horror in horror show with a pass so careless and carefree it wouldn’t have looked out of place in an under-10s Saturday morning kickabout.
No wonder Aubameyang was smiling. Two gifts, neatly wrapped in yellow and green paper.
It should be said the second-half, despite producing the same number of Arsenal goals, was significantly better than the first and a change in shape to a back-three did have a positive impact on the performance if not the scoreline but, let’s be honest, by then it was game over.
Adam Idah was the obvious plus to emerge from the wreckage and given Teemu Pukki’s very clear struggle – for whatever reason that may be – there can surely be nothing to lose from giving the Irish youngster a start.
Mr Drmic has had a few chances to impress but since the restart has looked so far off the pace we may as well be playing with ten. Idah’s earned his chance.
But it’s unfair to pick on Drmic alone. So many have looked out-of-their depth, including, oddly, Kenny McLean, who prior to lockdown had been one of our better players.
He, along with others, has struggled physically to cope with the intensity and it’s long been established that a midfield shield which comprises him and Tom Trybull is unfit for purpose.
And with that in mind, a few random notes I scribbled down during the first half in the order I wrote them…
- Not strong enough
- Lacking in physicality
- Losing too many (all) 50/50s
- Overwhelmed in midfield
- Possession conceded cheaply
- No belief
- No tempo
The very obvious theme is around oomph and our lack of it. All season, even on the good days, it’s been a huge struggle to compete physically with just about every other team, so it should have been no surprise that with Alex Tettey being asked to play as an emergency centre-back, we were extra-lightweight in the centre of the pitch.
But it’s not just in the engine room. All over the pitch we get bullied. We lose out in tackles. We get caught dithering. It happens far too often and if there’s one thing that needs addressing in this window, when it really kicks in, it’s that. We need technicians of course – Farkeball demands it – but we also need to be able to match those who try and out-muscle us.
Naturally, the blame game has begun and, disappointingly for me, Farke and Webber are in the sights of some. Both, of course, have made mistakes and by their own admissions are looking at 5 or 6 out of ten seasons, but they were handed a near impossible task.
To keep this squad in the Premier League armed with the most minuscule budget imaginable (by PL standards) needed the stars to align, but they’ve done the opposite. Almost everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong, starting off with an injury crisis that’s robbed Farke of, at any time, having a full squad to pick from.
The gods haven’t been kind but we’ve also been the masters of our own downfall. To have lost 22 games in a season while not once gaining a single point from a losing position, comes down to more than just technical inferiority.
This is just grim.
A tough few weeks for us, the fans, will be followed by some even tougher ones for Stuart Webber as he tries to put together a squad that will be Championship-competitive. One that will no doubt be stripped of some of its best players.
Good luck, pal.