A lot of times in game recaps, we try to dissect what happened a bit, try to put some thought into the game to explain it. I’m not here for that today. Today was an unmitigated disaster. Today was probably the worst I’ve seen Arsenal play in a decade. Today was worse than the 5-1 here in 2014. It was arguably worse than the 8-2 loss to Manchester United in 2011, because at least in today’s game Arsenal fielded a full strength lineup; that 2011 mauling featured a lot of young-ish players, because the likes of Wilshere, Song, and Gervinho weren’t playing.
There is no excuse for what happened today. There’s no “it’s early, they’ll be fine”. Did you watch the game today and, at any point, think “this team’ll come good soon enough”? Arsenal’s problems are myriad, they’re all related, and, unless something drastic happens, they’re here to stay for at least two more years.
I rarely agree with pundits, but I definitely agree with Robbie Earle here - this is inexcusable in a Premier League game:
It’s inexcusable that players aren’t paying attention to the game. It’s inexcusable that they would need coaching during a game. It’s inexcusable that the coaching staff spent so much time talking to the players like that. Coaching should be done during training. In-game communication needs to be brief and, y’know, not distract or interrupt gameplay. Is this a big deal? I’ll grant you that it’s probably not as big of a deal as I’m making of it.
But it’s symbolic. It’s symbolic of a team that doesn’t know what it’s doing right now, isn’t prepared for the challenges it’s facing, and, most bafflingly, didn’t show up ready to play at all. For only the second time in eight years, Arsenal failed to register a single shot on goal. Certainly, Liverpool played a part in that - they were good today. But Arsenal were shambolic. And that’s on everyone - coach, players, everyone. Nobody came out of today with any sort of credit at all.
I’m not the kind of fan that wants empty gestures. I don’t care if the manager or the team apologizes for this display; that means nothing to me. What would mean something is if the team would go out of its way to ensure that this kind of game never happen again. What would mean something is some visible sign that someone at Arsenal understands that 20 straight years of Champions League qualification means nothing without recognizing that the club achieved that streak almost in spite of itself in the last several seasons.
The almost annual midseason-swoon-then-improve-and-sneak-into-the CL (with the notable exception, of course, of 2016) did the club almost a bigger disservice than a benefit; as long as the streak continued, there was an element of “as you were, this’ll be fine” around the team. After all, being perpetually in the CL was a huge achievement, right? And yes, it absolutely was.
But unless you’re constantly improving your team on all fronts, all that qualification means nothing, because once that “guarantee” goes away, you’re left with what Arsenal are now - a squad with no clear direction, no coherent plan (let’s start with a back three! Then change it in the 60th minute!), and no roadmap pointing the way out of the mess they’re in right now.
People keep talking about the Big Six; Arsenal are very much on the outside of that particular room right now, and, like that hallway in the Shining, the path to it just keeps getting longer and longer, and the door to get in just recedes into the distance. This isn’t about transfers (mostly); it’s about a team that doesn’t seem to have too much of a clue and, worse, don’t seem to want to find one, seemingly preferring instead just to forge on and hope everything will fix itself. SPOILER ALERT: It won’t.
Solutions? Sorry, I don’t have any right now. We’ll talk a lot about ideas in the coming days, I’m pretty sure.
Arsene Wenger’s contract runs until June 30, 2019.