Luiz Horrorshow No Way To Exit Lockdown

Online Editorial: Gunners suffer badly at empty Etihad

Luiz Horrorshow No Way To Exit Lockdown

Players take the knee pre-kick off in a deserted Etihad Stadium. Photo: Offside

This morning, you have to wander whether abandoning the season after all might have been the better option for Mikel Arteta, such was the potential damage of the visit to Manchester City to play the first Premier League match to suffer postponement over three months ago. Online bookies such as bet365 had long odds on anything but a home win, and they weren’t wrong. The only upside of the evening was that Sheffield United, above Arsenal in the table, were only denied extending the points gap even further due to some dodgy officiating at Villa Park.

It was always going to be an interesting selection for the first game back, and up front, it was a case of youth being given its head with Nketiah, Saka and Willock making up three quarters of the attacking players. Alex Lacazette and the expensive Nicolas Pepe were on the bench and Mesut Ozil was not even in the 20 man squad, with the head coach citing tactical reasons. Maybe the club have got wind of a likely offer for the player and don’t want to chance him getting injured? Or is Ozil simply not producing in training? Claimed he was ill? Who knows. Sad to say, his replacement Willock was largely anonymous, unable to influence the game against far more experienced direct opponents. The centre-back pairing was Mustafi and Mari, with the first choice full backs and Guendouzi and Xhaka in front of the backline.

Arsenal flew up not too long before the game, presumably observing the agreed protocol for these behind closed doors matches. Foul weather greeted them as Manchester’s reputation for rain was confirmed. The players came out to a largely deserted stadium, except for some City employees. We had the ridiculous contrast of subs sitting two metres away from each other in the stands (although at least that kept them dry) wearing face masks, whilst their colleagues on the pitch were playing without a second thought about contracting a virus. And everyone in the stadium had been tested before being allowed in.

Still, on with the game and the players took the knee immediately before kick off as well as the player names on the shirts being replaced with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ wording. This will happen in all of the Premier League games over the coming weekend. Football in this country has worked hard to stamp out racial prejudice, although how much influence this will have when it comes to stuff like job opportunities remains to be seen.

As for the game, pretty much everything that could go wrong did for Mikel Arteta. Granit Xhaka was injured early on, with Dani Ceballos replacing him. Ceballos did ok in the earlier stages of the game, adding a bit of thrust to the Gunners’ play. There were some sniffs of danger for Eddie Nketiah, but he wasn’t able to get any meaningful attempts in. For the most part, City were in control, and Arsenal’s situation worsened with another injury – this time to Pablo Mari, who was replaced by Luiz.

What can be said about the events that followed? The Brazilian, whose defensive abilities have always been the subject of debate, gave his team-mates no chance of getting anything from this match with his contribution to the first two City goals, before leaving them a man short. Arteta, after the match, indicated he wanted Luiz to remain for the final year of his deal. Really? Maybe he felt he couldn’t say anything else, but contractually, it may be possible to stop paying the player on 1st July. Luiz didn’t make a great case for his retention and with the club’s financial position getting unhealthier by the day, it’s not hard to see that the bean counters and football executives have already slashed the cost of the Brazilian after the next fortnight. He could play again in the Sheffield United FA Cup quarter final, but I don’t see it. The player seemed unhappy that a decision has not been made already, but surely the writing is on the wall. Luiz’s likely final appearance in an Arsenal shirt will be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

There’s not much else that needs saying about this game. Even under normal circumstances, it was a home banker. I watched the match in the company of the Highbury Spy, who I normally sit next to at home matches. He had subscribed to NowTV to watch the game, which meant we had no choice but to hear the crowd effect soundtrack. A shame, as I would have been more interested in hearing the players and Arteta shout, but there you have it. What I will say is that although, visually, it was odd, actually hearing a crowd noise did take away from the reality that this was not a normal football match. It did seem to matter in terms of perception – the players were competitive, it wasn’t like a training game – at least until City were 2-0 up, but that was nothing to do with the atmosphere.

Arsenal started with a back four of Bellerin – Mustafi – Mari – Tierney, and ended with one of Bellerin – Mustafi – Tierney – Saka. David Luiz’s contribution in that sandwich has already been discussed. Who will join Mustafi at Brighton? Sokratis? Rob Holding? They can’t do any worse than Luiz.

The task now for Arteta is to focus minds on the matches against less daunting opposition in the hope he can salvage something out of this very strange season. Brighton, Southampton, the quarter final, and Norwich. Then a sequence of Wolves, Leicester, Spurs and Liverpool. Confidence needs to be restored, no doubt about that. Arteta’s decision to field such a young striking line-up last night may point towards the future, but these players are going to have to do better. I guess, for most of the first half last night, the team were in the game, at least going by the scoreline, but Leno had already pulled off a couple of excellent saves before Luiz entered the fray. It really did feel like only a matter of time before the goal would come.

Credit to the ten men for holding out for so much of the second half, but in fairness, City were playing in flip flops by then. It’s one game. A bad one. We’ll have a better idea of just how much trouble the club are in by the time they entertain Norwich in two weeks’ time.

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11
comments

  1. Moscowgooner

    Jun 20, 2020, 12:37 #116855

    I think this combination of the wholesale politicization of football (although perhaps the Poppy on the shirts started that slide downhill....), the empty echoing grounds and an abysmal Arsenal performance might finally be enough to end my love affair with Arsenal FC, which started in 1970 and endured through even the worst days of the Don Howe and Wenger regimes. I gave up watching this game after about 20 minutes. Don't intend to watch any more of this season. Maybe next....

  2. Paulo75

    Jun 18, 2020, 22:31 #116850

    Arteta admittedly has his hands tied trying to make do with what’s at his disposal for now. However his apparent faith in the likes of Mustafi, Luiz, Xhaka etc is disturbing. Until we address the lack of power in midfield and the error prone laughing stocks we continue to employ in central defence then zero wins away at top 6 opponents will continue unabated. Sort it out FFS

  3. Paulward

    Jun 18, 2020, 17:56 #116849

    Millionaire footballers and an uncomfortable looking set of officials bending the knee in an empty football stadium ... I find the whole thing a bit strange to be honest. And what would/ will the reaction be if a player refuses to play ball on this? Very easy to make gestures, rather more difficult to make meaningful change happen.

  4. John F

    Jun 18, 2020, 15:44 #116848

    I am looking forward to the West Indies Ron.One of my few pleasures is listening to 5Live x TMS commentary team while I am doing my Gardening Job .

  5. itsRonagain2

    Jun 18, 2020, 15:37 #116847

    John F - a GG wouldn't last half a season as a coach in today's snowflake World. Player power would see him gone after a few weeks. MA as a coach is touchy feelly. I dont think he ll take AFC very far to be honest. He seems a really nice guy, but hes putty in the hands of that owner. Its why he got the gig probably.

  6. itsRonagain2

    Jun 18, 2020, 15:27 #116846

    At least the score was the usual. Cant fault Arsenals consistency can we! I only watched about 20 mins of it admittedly. Couldn't stand it anymore. Dreadful. Not so much the poor showing ( thats just normal Arsenal|) but the SKY drivel. The 'look how morally upright we are' message and the ' look how we re so much better than everybody at ensuring COVID 19 guidelines are followed '. Having not set eyes on Neville or Carragher since March or heard the lip spittling, creepy Tyler for even longer, it reinforced just how awful SKY is. I shall miss the cricket coverage though in a week or 2 when my time with SKY ends as they do that well admittedly. The pundits and players are a class apart though and a different breed entirely. No more of these atrocious closed doors matches for me. Its a charade.

  7. Bardo

    Jun 18, 2020, 14:27 #116845

    No shots on target in 90+ mins of football tells the story. We were second best by a country mile. Arteta needs to get ruthless, instil some core values and get rid of half the squad. Depressingly familiar.

  8. John F

    Jun 18, 2020, 12:39 #116844

    We do have a good core of young players Tierney,Martinelli,Saka,Smith Rowe.Saliba is well thought of as is Balogun and Ballard.Nelson and Nketiah could come good as well.This is a transition period is like the mid eighties and we have to hope that Arteta has a bit of George Graham and not the later Wenger in him to be able to guide this team through it and get rid of a few who are either disruptive or just not good enough.I would be harsh and get rid of Bellerin,Mustafi,Luiz,Xhaka,Ozil,Kolasinac,Sokratis.If Auba is going through the motions to get a move and who can blame him then try and get as much as we can for him. I am yet to be convinced by Lacazette but would give him another season.With the money raised and saved start to rebuild starting with making our midfield more intimidating.The defence rightly gets a lot of stick but has FA protection from the middle. .It may take a couple of seasons but there is hope as long as Wiggy doesn't try and make money by selling the younger players.

  9. Paulward

    Jun 18, 2020, 11:34 #116843

    Zero positives, and as I said on here last night we should just be grateful that we scraped those 9 points just before lockdown. We are not even a top half team now, and you would not fancy us in a relegation scrap one little bit .

  10. John F

    Jun 18, 2020, 10:06 #116842

    Auba appeared to playing within himself either to avoid injury before his next move or he is fed up with being asked to play wide yet again.I couldn't understand why Saka was played on the right hand side after his success on the left.I was looking forward to seeing Saka combine with Tierney.The squad has a few players that would struggle to get in a championship side and need to be shipped out so why handicap it further by playing players out of position and not playing to their strengths.The players did not look to be too happy when they came out compared to City and I am wondering what is going on behind the scenes regarding the relationship between certain players and the board.

  11. Wengerballs

    Jun 18, 2020, 9:24 #116841

    Where are the real men and leaders in this squad ready to stand up and fight for this great Club and set the example for the younger players? Our senior and/or most expensive players were all missing or complete gash today. Lacazette missing, Ozil missing, Pepe missing, Sokratis missing, Kolasinic missing, Xhaka off at the first knock, Luiz gash, Auba gash. It looked like a B team put out by Arteta. Boys against men.