Read Alan Alger's Last Word on another frustrating evening at the Emirates after Arsenal lose 1-0 to Burnley following Granit Xhaka's red card...
In an alternative reality Arsenal nicked a scrappy 1-0 win against a resilient Burnley side, went up a place in the table and reflected that, although the performance wasn’t there, we now have something to build on in the Premier League.
Unfortunately we live in the reality where Granit Xhaka is a well-paid and senior member of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal squad.
It’s not just the stupidity of his red card on Sunday evening that infuriates.
It’s the ridiculous timing of the throat-grab on Ashley Westwood.
We had laboured in the first half against a side who will be in a relegation scrap. We had a good chance or two, they certainly had one. We know the script of this type of match in the last few seasons. Sides like this come to the Emirates to kill time and our play. Patience is key.
Reflections on Arsenal's defeat
Then, just when we were getting on top of the game and their defending had become more desperate, we go and gift them the lifeline of playing against ten men.
We then go and gift them a goal which subsequently leads to a defeat that then breaks a number of unwanted records. Spiralling from that moment.
It could have been oh so different heading in to the Southampton match in midweek, just that jolt of confidence a scrappy win could have brought might have just led the Saints to alter their game-plan. They will now, justifiably, smell blood.
Questions to be asked of Arteta
While the finger of blame has to point squarely at Xhaka on his moment of indiscipline, you do have to question Arteta’s teamsheet for this match.
Maybe he thought that Burnley would be such a pushover he could wait an extra game until infusing some of the Europa League top-performers into our league line-up.
If this was a last chance for some of the more established names before he makes wholesale changes then there are a few senior players that need to join Xhaka on the sidelines. One will join Xhaka on the suspended list anyway.
It’s become difficult to criticise Hector Bellerin in the last few seasons as he is clearly someone that ‘off the pitch’ campaigns for the right issues and takes his position of influence seriously. A good human being.
As Arsenal fans we know that personal character and behaviour away from the game is more of a ‘nice to have’ than an essential for performance where it counts. Bellerin just hasn’t been up to the right level for a very long while now.
I’d even question Bellerin’s ability before his unfortunate injury. His trajectory still screamed out a mid-table Premier League player at best.
He still doesn’t know how to defend, how to throw, how to scan for runners in behind and, as evidenced by Burnley’s big first half chance, how to hold a line. He has one stand-out quality and that’s dangerous balls whipped in diagonally from his edge of the area when pressing forward. The bad far outweighs the good.
Elneny and VAR
Mohammed Elneny seemingly wanted to join Xhaka and Bellerin in the stands on Wednesday night as he inexplicably challenged James Tarkowski before the corner that led to Burnley’s goal.
It comes to something when officials are not wanting to pile more pain on us, as I’m convinced if we weren’t already down to ten the sanction would have been more severe after the VAR check.
Souness on Sky
I felt Graeme Souness hit the nail on the head when discussing this incident on Sky.
He hinted at the legacy issues of senior players not being able to do simple jobs properly and harked back to the man who signed Elneny (and Bellerin and Xhaka).
The name of that man trended once again on Twitter as fans of other clubs, misguided journos and the loyalists within our fanbase still somehow forget the state he left us in. Arsene Wenger.
Arsene Wenger: Discuss
I don’t for one minute blame Wenger for Xhaka’s red card or the result of this game.
But, as I have stated many times before, I believe he fostered a culture of not sweating the small stuff, which is now coming home to roost long after he has left the building.
He takes a portion of the blame for Hector Bellerin not being able to defend properly (having been charged with the job of teaching him for nearly five years), but we cannot blame Arsene for Bellerin starting the Burnley match.
That nuance might help some others see the great man’s faults and start to accept that he set the club on a downward path and gravity took over.
You can’t blame him for Emery’s and Arteta’s decisions and management, but you can blame him for what they had (and in Arteta’s case have) to deal with.
Get behind Arteta
We’re now hearing more and more from inside the camp and with numerous leaks it’s already not looking pretty.
One thing Wenger deserved credit for, among many other successes, was his ability to keep things like this in-house.
It’s getting nasty and as fans we have a choice.
Get behind Arteta and give him the backing and confidence that he can start to manage the bad apples – out of the door if necessary.
Or see the players oust another manager by downing tools and see who else can come in and get something out of them.
Southampton at the Emirates on Wednesday
Southampton are interesting opponents on Wednesday as they have a squad that, despite really large dips and blips, bought-in to what their manager was doing.
They are reaping the rewards.
If you are lucky enough to have a ticket to Wednesday’s game please make sure you give the team more vocal support than what they got on Sunday.
You could have heard a pin drop, it certainly doesn’t help!