The Last Word: Alan Alger's must-read take on Arsenal's goalless draw with Crystal Palace at the Emirates on Thursday evening.
Look for Alan's opinion at the Gooner Fanzine after every Gunners game.
Last night’s game against Crystal Palace was Mikel Arteta’s 38th league game in charge of Arsenal.
38 is the exact number of games in a Premier League season, although Arteta has had the hindrance of roughly having a half of two different seasons to kick-off his reign
From those 38 games he has 16 wins, nine draws and 13 defeats. An equivalent full league season would yield just 57 points from those performances.
A total of 57 points if achieved over a league season would be one point more than last season – where Arteta, Emery and Ljungberg all had a go in the hotseat – but also our second lowest total in 25 years.
At the same stage in his Arsenal career Unai Emery had 70 points, one more than Arsene Wenger had at that time. Bruce Rioch’s sole season in charge of the club yielded six more points than Arteta managed in his 38 games. Of course, of those names, Wenger took what he had learned in those matches and turned games 39 to 68 into becoming champions – although he did only win just three of his next ten before that incredible run to the title.
What do those numbers prove?
Well you just do not know what’s around the corner. Despite winning three games on the bounce, and then edging a cup tie in extra-time, it would have taken a lot of faith to place blind trust in everything being just fine again. The Premier League is difficult, young players are inconsistent and if you are relying on such a small group of players to be part of the right blend, then injuries will interfere with that mix.
Team news ahead of the Palace game was met with dread from Gooners when the one player who has linked our attacking and defensive play recently, was declared absent.
‘Tierney Out’ was trending on Twitter, and it wasn’t a call to remove him, it was a cry of anguish and exclamation that he wasn’t going to be involved in this London derby.
It goes to show the overreliance on the young Scot that most people feared the worst just from that one alteration in the line-up.
Some folk did the Twitter equivalent of a lap of honour dragging up their old tweets about the squad being short at left-back and the fact we should have given him a rest in the FA Cup – which were both pertinent points that have bitten us very quickly.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles had a torrid time defending off his wrong foot, but even got some of the basics wrong when under no pressure and misplacing passes. David Luiz came into the back four replacing another star of the unbeaten run, Pablo Mari, a change that wasn’t as detrimental or noticeable.
Sometimes the abundance of focus and content surrounding the club can be a hindrance.
It’s been clear that having a ‘number 10’ outlet in Emile Smith Rowe has improved performances of late, not to mention our speed and efficiency of attacks. Roy Hodgson and his team of coaches didn’t have to look far in unlocking the key to killing the game. Just one or two blogs or newspaper reports would have done the trick.
The Eagles midfield stifled the youngster so much that his average position in the game was almost on top of Lacazette – as he was striving to lose the attention of the holding players in Hodgson’s line-up.
Smith Rowe’s only joy came when he was able to move into space a little wider. Some of that space was vacated by Bukayo Saka who has been on a little run of mediocre performances by his own very high standards.
He wasn’t exactly helped on the other side of the pitch by Auba who had another quiet game – despite hope he’d have sparked to life after finding the net on Saturday in the cup. Lacazette had hardly any service, partly due to the absence of Tierney’s crosses and partly due to another poor performance from Hector Bellerin.
As I’ve mentioned before in this column, my theory is that we have so many debateable players, members of the squad where we don’t have a definitive answer of whether they’re great, good, average, poor or very bad.
That whole theory was played out over 90 minutes last night by Granit Xhaka who did great things, average things and very bad things all across the match. It’s the kind of inconsistency that doesn’t belong in a team that are looking to be ‘top six’ as a bare minimum.
Elsewhere I can’t help feeling sorry for Pepe. He looks completely lost in this team and his key job of creating chances has passed him by. We kept being told that his huge price tag would begin to be justified. Most sensible fans are better placed to make judgements on players they watch week in, week out. John Terry famously said of Petr Cech, as he arrived at the Emirates, “he’ll be worth 12 to 15 points a season for Arsenal”.
It was clear from the outset that this was Terry just backing up a friend in the media, rather than an insightful take. Our points totals with Cech first choice in the side did not once go above the total for the season prior to his arrival. Pepe just does not seem worthy of that patience or claims that were made about him, yet do we have any choice other than to back him up and hope for a turnaround?
Those are the dilemmas Mikel Arteta is faced with as he comes to terms with turning all the major things around. Nobody thought it would happen quickly, yet some thought it wouldn’t take this long. Bad decisions at all levels of the club over the last decade continue to have a ripple effect. There’s even a rumour that Mari’s absence was due to an expensive contract clause last night. It’s certain that Tierney’s absence was felt much more by not having a second-choice left back.
The end of the month has difficult fixtures against Southampton and Manchester United. All teams are showing inconsistencies but we cannot afford to become a team that are in the business of streaks. We’re capable of winning the game at home to Newcastle next Monday and the retrospective picture of 13 points from a possible 15 in the league at the final whistle would surely be more palatable than the performance against Palace in isolation.