Arsenal may have unluckily gone down to 10 men on Sunday, but the performance in the first half was reminiscent like many poor performances this season.
"Hey fans, shit happens". That was the opening part of Lukas Podolski's assessment of Arsenal's defeat on Sunday to Manchester City. Taken in isolation, it's a funny comment; a bit of a slap in the face to the moronic frothing at the mouth of 606 callers, Guardian journalists and some Arsenal bloggers in response to a 10-man defeat against the Champions. Yet, it can also be viewed as an infuriating comment; Sunday was the latest in a series of Arsenal performances that simply haven't been very good--Sunderland at home, Norwich, Manchester United, Fulham, Aston Villa, Swansea in the league, Southampton, Bradford City and Schalke at home in the Champions League. And of Arsenal's performance, it was one where they "started too timidly, with not enough authority in a game like that, and llowed them to dictate from the start. [They] paid very early from it. [They] didn't start with enough confidence or enough authority. When you play at home in a game like this you have to dictate your personality, which [Arsenal] did not do, especially defensively." That's not my opinion, that's the opinion of Arsene Wenger, something which he's obviously communicated to the players, either directly or through the post-match press conference.
That's why it seems worrying that the perception of the game is that "shit happens". Yes, Laurent Koscielny's perhaps unjust sending off did change the course of the game, but Arsenal had started poorly, and were, in Wenger's words, timid until the end of the first half, seeing the concession of two goals, goals that meant Arsenal were never able to really entertain a realistic chance of getting anything from the match. Arsenal's timidity, and their lack of creativity and tendency to drop deep when faced with a team pressing them, is not a new problem; it's been apparent since the disappointing 2-1 defeat against Chelsea at the end of September. That game also exposed the issue at defensive midfield; without a proper second function midfielder, Arsenal's nominal defensive midfielder, Mikel Arteta, can be too easily exposed, and overrun, and can also be taken out of the game by opposition pressing, thus stopping Arsenal from properly building an attack. If Santi Cazorla comes deeper to relieve that pressure, there's no link man between him and the attack, leaving Arsenal disjointed.
None of this should be illuminating; we're written extensively on this blog about Arsenal's midfield issues, and it's hard to believe that what we're seeing isn't being seen by Arsene Wenger or his coaching staff, men who have much more football expertise than any of us could dream of having. Yet, this has been apparent since at least October, if not earlier, and there still looks to be no solution; there seems to be more games where Arsenal have played excessively poorly instead of excessively well, and as such, saying "shit happens" is annoying because it implies such performances are out of character when seemingly are not. Yet, despite the fact that Arsenal have rarely played at their best, there appears little that is being done, on and off the pitch, to change that.
Despite Mikel Arteta saying that it was better to press than carry the ball 70 yards, Arsenal did almost no pressing against Manchester City in the 10 minute period of parity, nor have they consistently pressed all season, despite repeated showings that it's the best way for Arsenal to play. Nor have Arsenal entered the market to strengthen a squad that was already weak before being further weakened by the departure of Marouane Chamakh (ok) and Johan Djourou, a perfectly capable centre back who's replacement in the depth chart is seemingly the disastrous Sebastien Squillaci. Despite needing a defensive midfielder, Arsenal have looked fairly stationary in the market, despite having failing to replace Alex Song, which they said they would, and despite the losing Mikel Arteta for the next 3 weeks, which includes crucial matches against Chelsea, Liverpool, West Ham and Stoke where Arsenal will now play Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby as their defensive midfielders.
And because Arsenal have failed to change this season, one wonders if they really do think that the reason that they're 6th is because "shit happens". Certainly, by staying pat there is confirmation on some level that they believe that this Arsenal team is good enough to finish in the top 4, which would mean that there is a feeling that Arsenal have been unlucky to get subpar results on so many occasions. But when there are so many subpar performances and results--nearly a third of all of Arsenal's matches thus far this campaign could be described as such--it seems hard to argue that these subpar performances are out of character.
This is why saying "shit happens" is irritating and concerning; if Sunday's performance was a rare occurrence, it would be one thing, but with such results having happened in almost a third of the games this season and with Arsenal showing little change on the pitch, and none to the playing staff, it's incredibly concerning to see almost a lack of responsibility and action emanating from the club, especially when fixing Arsenal's problems to make them better placed to finish in the top 4 positions isn't all that hard. Arsenal have shown that when they press, they can be very good, and improving the squad wouldn't require buying expensive players of "super, super quality". Hell, improvement could be found by buying someone who's got a better injury record than Abou Diaby and is better than Francis Coquelin, who clearly isn't trusted by Wenger.
Perhaps this is all just an overreaction to an innocent tweet. Or perhaps Podolski should starting writing to fans of teams that get totally outplayed by Arsenal that "Hey fans, shit happens". After all, that seems more out of character than poor performances.