Okay, so he didn’t score enough goals. Maybe he didn’t live up to the hype. You might even say he went missing when we needed him most during the run-in. After all, we had one of our best chances at winning the Prem in years, and we fell short, collapsing at the very end right when it seemed the trophy was ours for the taking. Sure, key rivals like Liverpool and Chelsea were well off the pace, but, in the end, we can’t blame Olivier Giroud. Sorry for the wind-up. I’m looking back to the 2015-16 season, the last time Arsenal “bottled” it.Continue reading
It’s common knowledge that every fan thinks it’s their own club the refs are biased against. Very few fans believe in conspiracy theories…unless their club is the target of the conspiracy. However, when it comes to Bukayo Saka, we have more than cognitive dissonance, more than confirmation bias, more than corrupt incompetence (or was it incompetent corruption?). We have ample evidence of the objective variety that there’s something wrong with how he’s being treated by opposing players and by referees. It’s getting to the worrisome point that he may have to suffer some kind of injury before those referees take off the blinders and start holding those players accountable.
We at the Arsenal know a thing or two or three about what happens when physical crosses the line. Given the sheer number of times Saka gets fouled, it feels like only a matter of time before he suffers actual injury from it. It’s become a regular sight to see Saka trying to take on one (or, more often, two) defenders who resort to fouling him cynically once he quickly and thoroughly and repeatedly makes it clear that they don’t have the minerals to stop him. If it were just the parked busses and packed box-type teams that were hacking at his ankles and yanking at his jersey at just about every turn, we could see it as a compensation for the gap in quality. However, as we saw just two weeks ago, the most-expensive squad in the world had its left back tugging and kicking at and bruising Saka. Just one yellow card after the second or third foul rather than after the fourth or fifth doen’t seem like too much to ask.
When it’s the same player committing the fouls, as it was with Bernardo Silva, the argument for a booking is pretty clear. When it’s the same player getting fouled, the argument is somewhat less clear but still pretty compelling. If a team is targeting one opponent—as so frequently seems to happen to Saka—it is still incumbent to protect the player, to uphold the rules, and to issue consquences. Just how far short is this group of referees falling from clearing that very low bar (I think that mixed metaphor works…). Let’s look at that ample evidence of the objective variety that I mentioned earlier.
Saka has been fouled—excuse me—refs have seen hit to whistle forty fouls on Saka, a meagre fraction of the actual total. Players who have fouled Saka have been cautioned just four times or once for every ten fouls. Other players in a similar situation enjoy somewhat better protection; I’ll leave it up to each man’s fans to decide whether it’s adequate. Zaha’s assailants have seen nine cards from 57 fouls (one card for every 6.3 fouls). Grealish’s have seen ten cards from 49 fouls (one card for every 4.9 fouls). Grealish, of course, is expert at trailing a leg after he’s gone past a defender to cause the kind of contact that looks like a foul.
|Maybe Manchester has a ref academy?|
Grealish is one of the masters of causing that kind of contact, and this might be a factor in the levels of protection he enjoys. If I may be so bold, I’d like to offer another possible factor that does start to sound a bit conspiratorial. Of all of the refs in the Prem, not one is from London despite there being seven London teams in the Prem. There are approximately a dozen from the Manchester area if not Manchester itself. All of the referees are middle-class white men. I’m not crying “racism” here, lest you misread me. All I’m saying is that this lack of diversity among referees may allow some of them to suffer from some subconscious (or conscious) against the player if only because of who he plays for and whom they support. We would need far more-damning evidence before considering the possibility that race is a factor. There is some duck-like walking here and there, but I’ll leave it at that.
We have a preternaturally talented player here, a possibly generational player of the sort we’ll be telling our grandkids about. That can only happen though if Saka gets protection, if referees do their job. Perhaps it’s a bit dramatic of me to invoke the grim spectres of what happened to Eduardo, Diaby, and Ramsey, whose injuries were so gruesome that television stations were reluctant to air replays. Even if Saka’s trajectory is closer to, say Jack Wilshere’s, whose glass ankles were shattered innumerable times until the 19 year old who eviscerated Barcelona ended up missing 159 matches in ten years, preventing him ever fully realising that limitless potential for club or four country.
Of course, if it’s only Arteta who’s complaining, the FA and Prem referees have no real incentive to act. Would Gareth Southgate command more attention? Saka is quite close to being England’s best player. If any of you can ring him up and have him put in a good word for our starboy before it’s too late.
Before you go, I hope you’ll consider adding your thoughts to the comments-section. You can create a free Disqus account through this link. I have heard that trying to log in using the Google link below has been misfiring, and I apologize for that.
|The moment when it seemed to come together…|
One of the more-pernicious myths out there is that it was Olivier Giroud’s fault that we failed to win the 2015-16 Prem title. Giroud was and remains a convenient scapegoat; after all, he did fail to score in fifteen consecutive matches from January to May as we slumped to a second place finish behind Leicester. In a year in which 81 points was enough to win the Prem, we finished on…71. Surely, a striker who scored just 16 goals all season deserves the brunt of the blame, if not all of it? With the international break upon us, let’s revisit this hoary old cliche.
Let’s get one thing clear here. Giroud was only ever a decent striker, not nearly good enough to elevate our squad to win a title even in a season in which so many other clubs faltered. Like many players, he was not as bad as his critics insisted and not as good as his defenders maintained. Scapegoating someone is easy, convenient, and efficient..and frequently inaccurate. In Giroud’s defense, he was our only fit striker for most of the season. Welbeck would miss most of the season after knee surgery, and Sanogo was clearly not ready for prime time (Prem time? Nah…). Giroud therefore logged heavy minutes for across the Prem, Champions League (sigh…), FA Cup, and even the League Cup after having done the same in a busy summer for France at Euro 2016 and in international friendlies during the 2015-16 campaign. Simply put, the man got run into the ground, and the real wonder is how he finished the season without collapsing.
So, yes, he suffered a goal drought—but, of those fifteen matches, he only played more than 25 minutes eight times because Welbeck was finally fit. He became the de facto starter and Giroud went to the bench. it might have been nice for Giroud to play the role of super-sub, coming on late to exploit weakened defenders, but he could only do that if others around him could create the chances.
This was the season in which Mesut Özil offered 15 assists in our first 19 matches, only to finish with 19. Maybe Özil didn’t feel it was right to match or break Henry’s record of 20? I think we might have forgiven him if it had lead to us winning the Prem. However, he’s not the only one who faltered.
Aaron Ramsey, just two years removed from that scintillating 10-goal, 9 assist season, reverted to a milder form, offering just five goals and four assists. The current squad includes two players who have already surpassed that goals contribution: Jesus (five goals, five assists) and Saka (four goals, six assists). It’s looking like Ødegaard, Martinelli, and Xhaka will all overtake Ramsey’s total as well, and we’ve only played 14 matches.
On to Theo Walcott. Walcott only chipped in with five goals and three assists, with just two goals and no assists at all from Boxing Day to the end of the season. That’s eighteen matches for a man who always wanted to play through the middle to show that he could. He, like Ramsey and Özil, failed to raise their games as Giroud wilted and Welbeck struggled to fill his boots.
In the end, it was only Alexis Sánchez who seemed both willing and able to rise to the occasion, doing his level-best to drag this squad, kicking and screaming, towards the top of the table. Seven of his 13 goals and three of his five assists came in the last ten matches of the season. Most of them either saved or secured points for us, but it was clearly not enough.
None of this absolves Giroud of his own failings. However, it should offer enough context to lend a little more nuance to the legacy of that season. Did Giroud fail? Yes. Did others around him fail as well? Yes, clearly. I’ll spare you the tired bromides about it taking a team to win the title.
There are plenty of other reasons to scorn the buteur du charme, such as his taunting of Arsenal after he won the Europa League with Chelsea, but singling him out as the reason for our failure to win the Prem misses the mark. Anyone still willing to insist that it was Giroud’s fault should feel free to let me have it with both barrels. Bring it on.
Well, this was a bit of a romp, wasn’t it? Lacazette’s brace, Ramsey’s brilliant goal from a team-sequence, and Aubameyang’s sexy turn and second for a brace of his own made this trip to Craven Cottage well worth it. The only real pity is that we couldn’t keep the clean sheet, but it’s still six Prem wins in a row and nine on the bounce, and—for those who mind such things—a goal difference that sees us move ahead of Tottenham and into third for now. The goals came in such a fast and furous flurry that your correspondent could barely update the stats in this week’s poll. It’s starting to look like Emery’s philosophy and methods are taking root. We’ll have to examine that sooner rather than later. For now, get down to the poll!