If you’re a non-Arsenal fan who enjoys #narrative, today’s match was a good one. Arsenal remained a club in crisis, the injury disaster got worse, Alexis Sanchez scored after being booed every time he touched the ball, and Ole Gunnar Solskjær continued to look like the second coming of Sir Alex Ferguson. If you’re an Arsenal fan, well, at least it was just the FA Cup.
Arsenal started the match on the front foot. The passing and movement was solid and the Gunners were getting the ball into dangerous positions. Once in those dangerous positions, however, there was a complete inability to find the final ball. That’s fine when you’re putting the ball into touch. It’s more of an issue when you’re turning the ball over. It’s especially problematic when you’re committing 7 and 8 men forward, including your fullbacks, and giving up counters.
It came as no surprise when United scored their first goal off a counter that started from a terrible Alexandre Lacazette turnover. The striker dribbled into four defenders then tried a pass even Mesut Özil couldn’t pull off. The play came back 3 on 2, and Alexis Sanchez scored. Two minutes later, another counter, another United goal.
While it’s tough to blame the keeper for conceding on a counter (United’s third also came on one), Petr Čech probably should have stopped at least one, possibly two, and definitely made mistakes on all three. The rebound he surrendered on the third goal was particularly egregious. He had a great career and some great moments for Arsenal, but it’s pretty clear that the game has passed him by.
Going out of the FA Cup isn’t the worst thing in the world for Arsenal right now. It allows the club to focus on winning the Europa League and its outside shot at the Top 4. Yeah, yeah, I know everyone says “it’s not that bad” when they bow out of a competition.
What is much more concerning for Arsenal are the injuries on defense. Both Sokratis and Laurent Koscielny picked up new ones today. Of the two, I’m more concerned about Sokratis. He did something to his ankle and looked in considerable pain / quite disappointed to be coming off. Hopefully his expression was more about being forced out of the match and not because he could tell his injury was severe. Koscielny took a boot to the face, had a nasty cut by his ear, and a swollen jaw.
The Gunners now have only two fully fit, natural centerbacks - the untested Dinos Mavropanos and the erratic Shkodran Mustafi.
Arsenal also lack creativity and variability in attack, a problem that was very much on display today. The plan seems to be push the fullbacks forward and have them cut the ball back. That’s it. That’s all they’ve got. It’s entirely too predictable and when it doesn’t work, there is no apparent Plan B.
If only Arsenal had a world-class creator they could put on the pitch who specializes in making the near-impossible, unpredictable pass...
For the record, Mesut Özil was subbed on in the second half today, but he needs to be the focal point of the attack, not an afterthought.
This club needs help before the transfer window closes. Thankfully, Arsenal have the money to do some loan deals /sarcasm.