Many Arsenal fans took to Twitter Tuesday evening to vent their frustration over their beloved team’s squandering of a three-goal lead in a Champions League group stage match against Anderlecht.
The Gunners seemed to be in full control of the match after the hour mark at The Emirates following goals by Mikel Arteta, Alexis Sanchez, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; however, the team from Belgium prevented Arsenal from securing an automatic spot in the knockout phase of the European competition, scoring three goals in the final half of an hour to tie the game.
While many fans and pundits were quick to blame Arsenal’s manager, Arsene Wenger, as the sole reason on the collapse, there were a few different factors that led to the disappointing result for the Gunners. Yes, the manager has to be somewhat accountable for what happened to the north London team Tuesday night, not exactly for what happened on the pitch, but for decisions he made during the summer transfer window.
Although Wenger made some outstanding (outstanding may not be a strong enough word) summer signings in Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers, David Ospina, Danny Welbeck, and the aforementioned Alexis Sanchez, the French manager chose not to strengthen his squad in two defensive positions: defensive midfielder and center-back. No one in the soccer world would say that Arsenal wouldn’t greatly benefit from a Fernandinho/Nemanja Matic type midfielder to boss the middle of the pitch, and an additional center-back to help fill the void that the injured Laurent Koscielny leaves in central defense.
Nevertheless, despite committing a penalty (a fairly soft one if you ask me) that ultimately allowed Anderlecht’s second goal on the night, Nacho Monreal has been nothing short of exceptional filling in for Koscielny at center-back. No, Monreal’s not the ideal central defender; however, the Spaniard has certainly held his own during his five-game stretch in the uncustomary position.
There is also little question that the decline in Arsenal’s performance coincided with the team’s captain Mikel Arteta having to be replaced due to a hamstring injury. Arteta was injured right before Anderlecht scored their first goal of the match, a goal that was clearly offside and should have never counted.
Wenger spoke after the game on the importance of his team losing Arteta in the middle of the pitch. The Frenchman stated, “I think when we lost Mikel Arteta we lost out because he was one of the few who defended well. That didn’t help.”
While the “Arsene Wenger Out (Idiot) Brigade” appears to be calling for the Frenchman to step down as manager following the draw, he is still widely considered to be one of the top managers in the world. Manchester United fans have seen what can happen when a long-time successful manager steps down from the club.
Ultimately, there comes a time when the players on the pitch need to be accountable for what happens on the pitch. There is no doubt that once 3-0 up, the Arsenal players became too relaxed and did not finish off the match like they should have.
Wenger echoed these thoughts following the match, saying, “At 3-0 we thought the job was done and it was a combination of switching off and fatigue as well. You could see we couldn’t win the challenges and they finished stronger and sharper – we got punished.”
Yes, it was an extremely frustrating night for the Arsenal team and their fans; however, the players must fight on and look at the big picture. Arsenal is still in a solid position to qualify for the knockout round of the Champions League for the 14th consecutive season. The Gunners must now put the draw behind them, refocus, and be positive heading forward.
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