Gooners endured a disappointing Saturday early-afternoon in front of the TV as a second-string Arsenal team bowed out of the FA Cup at St Mary’s.
Mikel Arteta picked a team that screamed of a last-chance hotel for many players. While some fans, mainly in hindsight, criticised the line-up - for me it seemed the perfect rotation of his squad options.
It’s not as if he played the U18s. There was plenty of international and Premier League experience in the starting eleven.
It could possibly be argued that the formation and tactical set-up didn’t suit the personnel, but again these were seasoned pros and not a bunch of kids. I called for Pepe and Willian to start this game in my last column.
We know what they’re capable of at their best, granted something we haven’t seen for a while with the duo. In Willian’s case we haven’t seen it at all, but I’m certain he was better than OK at Chelsea.
This should have been the ideal game to play their way back into the bosses options. Neither delivered.
Pepe did create the majority of our chances on the south coast, but was left wanting in other aspects of his game. Whereas Willian was just as woeful as he has been in recent outings. They weren’t the only ones to blame for a tame cup exit. Mohammed Elneny wasn’t just at fault for the Saints’ goal.
He was cumbersome in starting forward moves and generally the game passed him by. Thomas Partey replaced him and was only a little better – his wayward shooting might start to become a problem very soon. I don’t think he’s a sub that can be used as a game chaser, surely he’s a game closer!
Gabriel, while he can be forgiven for stretching his foot out for the only goal of the game, had another quiet performance by the high standards he set earlier in the season.
Martinelli didn’t get a great amount of service, but was a little rash with the one good chance he did get fashioned from a very clever Pepe free-kick.
It’s possible Arteta will still persevere with most of this team, because he isn’t flush with transfer funds. Someone who should be on the way out though is Eddie Nketiah.
The young forward just hasn’t kicked on and I guess alarm bells should have been ringing from his lack of use when on loan in the Championship. It’s sad but for the good of the club that he is moved on quickly.
The bare facts of the game show that we conceded our first goal in over 500 minutes of match action from a deflection. We were mostly comfortable through the rest of the match, but didn’t create enough to level.
The sense of urgency and adapting to the state of the game has been a big flaw for nearly five years and variations of our teams.
Those of us watching on BT Sport had to endure co-commentary from ex-player Martin Keown and it’s fair to say I enjoyed watching him play far more than listening to him. A disappointing couple of hours all round.
Something to ponder…
Talking of pundits, one of the biggest football myths trotted out by the so-called experts over the last decade or so is how performance in cup competitions can translate to success elsewhere.
What is the importance of doing well in the domestic cups? I remember the peak of this throwaway line was ahead of our 2011 League Cup final against Birmingham. I lost count of the number of people saying in the build-up that winning that cup would break the silverware drought and lead to success in the Premier League.
We didn’t get to find out in the end due to a poor performance under the Wembley arch, although I’ve crunched some basic numbers from the last 20 years of the main domestic knockout – the FA Cup - and the theory really doesn’t stand up. Looking at the last 20 winners of the famous trophy, performance in the season in which the cup was won shows an average finishing position of 4th in the table.
The season directly following that success shows an average finishing position of 5th in the table. Stretch that to two seasons after an FA Cup win and astonishingly the average finishing position of those teams dips to 6th – including two relegations to the Championship. Cup winners seemingly get worse, not better.
Put simply, an FA Cup win has absolutely no indication of the quality of a team in terms of a league campaign. Interestingly Mikel Arteta was asked in his press conference ahead of this match if lifting the cup in August bought him time for the poor period of this season before Christmas. He gave a diplomatic sensible answer.
Although the numbers above reflect that no board should be making decisions simply on cup form. That should stand to reason with the amount of teams that rest players and play a second-string squad. Some clubs in the Football League with promotions as a goal have simply thrown games away in recent seasons.
I’m writing this as someone who loves the FA Cup to such an extent that when I was a young boy growing up the eighties I always thought it was more important than the league title.
An incorrect assumption based on how much coverage it got as opposed to run of the mill league matches. Unfortunately it has lost its value in recent seasons, but we should still enjoy it and be proud of our amazing record. Although for every wonderful day out at Wembley in May we have plenty of recent examples of devaluing it ourselves – Watford and Blackburn at home, Nottingham Forest away and, of course, yesterday!
Let’s hope Aubameyang’s personal issue isn’t too serious and the rest of the current first-choice team come back in and make amends on Tuesday night!