Waking up this morning, I feel like Frodo at the end of Return of the King, when he has saved Middle Earth and returned to the Shire but is so empty, wounded and devoid of joy that he is forced to emigrate with a group of mythical magic people and his ancient uncle.
If only I had a ship and a wizard friend.
This emptiness and hurt can only be explained by the absolute abject 90 minutes of football I experienced at the hands of Arsenal as we had our pants pulled by Aston Villa.
Unlike the Leicester match, in which I think our downfall can be attributed to our wastefulness, the Villa match was as bad a performance as I have seen from an Arsenal side in a long time.
It is not often we find ourselves comprehensively outplayed and outfought on our pitch but there can be no denying that we were. Credit to Villa, they were excellent. Their midfield was dynamic and aggressive and full of running – the polar opposite to our midfield, which was static, constipated and one-dimensional.
It’s difficult to put a finger on quite how and why this performance came to pass but it was a big step back for the team, which has enjoyed slow and steady progress since Mikel Arteta took the reigns almost a year ago. It’s not unfair to say this is his worst moment as Arsenal manager so far, and he didn’t seek to hide it after the match.
I lost count of how many tackles we missed, duels we lost, and chances we conceded. But, worse still, was the continued struggles of our attack which seems to be getting worse every week. It’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point and change should now be an absolute priority for Arteta.
He has stuck with Alexandre Lacazette for much of this season but, for all his work rate, the Frenchman is bordering on a hindrance to this team. Above all, it is his job to score goals and he is building up a catalogue of misses that are proving increasingly costly. Against Villa, he found himself on the end of a stunning cross from the left courtesy of Keiran Tierney that landed square on his head about 10 yards from goal. He should have buried it to level the match but he ballooned it high and wide instead. It is not good enough and his efforts in helping the midfield and the press are not enough to compensate for the goals he is missing.
Ditto Willian. I have defended the Brazilian for a few weeks now but his performance against Villa was as poor as Lacazette’s and culminated in a glaring miss from close range. Weaker foot or not, a player of his pedigree and experience has to hit the target because any of us could have shanked it as miserably wide as he did.
He was rightly hooked on the hour mark with Lacazette but, by then, it was probably already too late. I’m not saying we would have won the match if those two had started from the bench but goals change games and we can’t afford to be passing up chances with the frequency that we are right now.
It always feels so important to head into an international break with a win under your belt and, with all due respect, Aston Villa at home was the ideal opportunity to do exactly that. Instead, we all have to sit and stew on a truly awful performance that it is difficult to take any positives from.
Arteta must go back to his drawing board after this and dispense with the loyalty he is affording Lacazette and Willian. I understand that they bring experience and structure to the line-up but the costs of those outweigh the impact they have on our ability to create chances and attack with fluidity.
When we have a man in the form of Joe Willock failing to make squads, we have to ask questions of the manager. There are issues that need addressing here and it must be done quickly. It is time to loosen the shackles.