On Saturday, I published a piece about how winning trophies wasn’t the be-all-end-all for supporters. I did so fully in preparation for Arsenal losing in the Carabao Cup final just a day later.
In a way, that was me making peace with the fact that they were going to lose. In the absence of a trophy, solace had to be found elsewhere.
Only, there was no solace from that game.
Arsenal were nothing. The usual language came out on Twitter and from pundits – shameless, spineless, gutless, shambolic, woeful, etc. – but it’s lost all meaning by this point. There are only so many times you can call Arsenal “bad”, in whatever fashion that pleases you most, before you realise that, actually, this is just normal.
The only thing this Arsenal side has going for it now is it’s ability to enrage Gary Neville.
Back in August, Neville acted as if he was personally insulted by Arsenal’s performance at Anfield. The sheer incompetency of it was an affront that whatever slivers of professional pride he had left.
On Sunday, it was the same again. Amid the dressing down of the team and even the club itself, Neville said one thing that everyone should now be aware of: Arsenal don’t even play good football anymore.
It used to be a point of pride for the whole club that even without success, it could boast attractive and entertaining football. That reputation endured many years of average performances. It had become part of football’s staggeringly large book of clichés: Arsenal were soft, they never won anything, but hey, at least they were good on the eye.
Only, when you sit down and watch them, they turn out to be an eyesore. They’re this bizarre mix of expensive players who can barely do the basics right, and a team based on possession who can’t keep possession under any sort of pressure. They’ve spent £108m on two strikers yet their top scorer has only nine goals this season, while Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Sergio Aguero are into their 30s. Defending, midfield, attacking – everything about the side is broken.
To think that it wasn’t that long ago that they were better than Manchester City.
City weren’t fantastic on the day, but in the second half they demonstrated a quality and intensity that Arsenal simply didn’t possess.
The most admirable thing about that team is how well-drilled it is. Every player knows how and when to press. They know how to position themselves in defence so they’re not caught on counter attacks. They know how to set-up on set-pieces to compensate for their lack of height. Then, when they get the ball, there’s always an option.
Pep Guardiola came into England with this reputation for being evangelical about possession-football, but what went unsaid was how relentless he was in drilling patterns into this teams. What City are now isn’t a result of a man saying “okay, we’re going to pass the ball a lot”. It’s a result of someone obsessed with the fine details and ensuring his side is machine like in how they execute their plans.
That’s how football is at the top level now. In the Premier League alone, you have Mauricio Pochettino, Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte, each with their own style, yet unified by an eye for detail and small moments that can turn matches.
Then you have Arsene Wenger, a manager who sees the same problems again and again but doesn’t do anything to solve them. The type of manager who will blame intangibles like concentration, physical sharpness and desire before he blames the tactical approach.
So, it’s really no surprise that Arsenal play the way they do.
Anyway, that’s enough of me talking them.
City have claimed the first bit of silverware this season and will end it with at least a cup double. It also means that sixth place in the table is now a Europa League qualifying spot, which is currently occupied by… oh. Well, silver linings and all that.
They play their game in hand on Thursday, for some bizarre reason. As if the FA Cup replays are going to be any sort of competition for Sky.
Tuesday sees Swansea play Sheffield Wednesday for the right to play either Tottenham or Rochdale. Those two meet at Wembley on Wednesday. A couple of upsets would do me some good, but I’m really not expecting anything.