30th September 2015: All-too-familiar failings leave us facing early Euro elimination
Evening. We’re now facing the ignominy of failing to qualify from our Champions League group for the first time in 16 years thanks to a 3-2 defeat to Olympiakos last night, with the nature of all three goals conceded best described as pitiful from an Arsenal perspective.
The first arrived after Gabriel and Koscielny attacked the same ball as it was floated into our box and the former eventually raced out to block a shot, deflecting it over the bar. When the resultant corner was swung out to the edge of our penalty area for their player to hit first-time, Mesut Ozil was the only one to read it and react. But then, inexplicably, he pulled out of a possible slide to cut the ball out and appeared too scared to engage in a challenge. An all-too-familiar unwillingness to get physical from our flimsy German schemer.
Meanwhile, as the ball was struck towards our goal, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain half turned away in just the same cowardly, ‘what if the ball hits me in the face?’, manner in which his team-mate had done a split-second earlier, and the ball deflected off his foot before nestling in the corner with David Ospina helpless. An all-too-familiar moment of brainless botching from the Ox.
We then equalised almost instantly as Sanchez cut infield from the left, fed a good run by Theo Walcott and the England man found the net, thanks largely to poor keeping.
But back to our terrible concessions. Olympiakos’ second goal was quite simply a bad mistake by Ospina, as he misjudged his position, palmed a corner over his own goal-line and despite his best attempts to claw the ball away, saw the goal awarded by the first fifth official to ever make a decision of any kind whatsoever. Bad keeping but then, as Arsene said after the game, all keepers make mistakes.
In the emotional aftermath of a disappointing defeat like last night’s, people will obviously point to Petr Cech’s omission for such a vital game and blame the boss, but aside from the fact he was reportedly nursing a small calf injury, Cech has already shown this season that he’s far from faultless and frankly, I disagree with most fans that say Ospina’s a bad keeper. By my reckoning, that was his first major error in an Arsenal shirt and that he’s suddenly being portrayed as the reincarnation of Manuel Almunia is way wide of the mark.
So onto the third and my personal favourite in terms of summing up our players’ infuriatingly, brainless management of games at crucial times over the last countless campaigns. There are too many examples to list and the most recent before last night was after we pulled a goal back against Monaco at home and recklessly left ourselves open at the back whilst chasing an equaliser at 2-1 only to concede a third.
So having restored parity last night when Sanchez headed home to make it 2-2 from a precise Walcott cross, we had plenty of time on the clock to calm down, clear our heads, regain composure, remind ourselves of the score and the fact we didn’t need to rush a winner, yet did need to ensure we didn’t concede a third at all costs.
Instead, we conceded almost straight from the kick-off. Evidently, we were assuming the visitors couldn’t possibly get a third, were disorganised, half-arsed in our defending, with Per Mertesacker’s lack of a challenge as the ball was struck past Ospina encapsulating the criminal complacency.
After that, despite plenty of effort, we failed to grab a third equaliser and now have zero points from our first two games with a double header against Bayern Munich next up in the competition. Perfect.
A wider worry though, is our home form this season. That’s now two defeats, a draw and a win over Stoke, with five conceded and four scored at Emirates stadium. That needs to change and we have the chance to do it on Sunday when he entertain league leaders Man Utd.
As far as I’m concerned, Europe can take a back-seat for the next three weeks because we now need to ensure a likely early European exit is offset by a genuine tilt at the Premier League title. That said, on the evidence of last night, we’re too timid and too stupid as a squad, to end the long wait.