24 March 2014

Arteta: we 'take it on the chin'

Today, Monday, vice-captain Mikel Arteta broke the players' post-match silence by speaking at length at the official team website to reveal how he and others felt in the aftermath of what is arguably the team's worst loss under manager Arsène Wenger's tenure. It came, after all, in Arsène's 1,000th match against a hated rival in a heated title-race but was all but over 15 minutes in when a red card left us down a man and facing a 3-0 margin. The rest, as they say, is history, and the sooner we set it aside, the happier I'll be. Arteta, presumably speaking with permission or encouragement and on behalf of the rest of the players, shared his thoughts.

I won't peel back tea-leaves to see why it was vice-captain Arteta who spoke in place of captain Thomas Vermaelen. Vermaelen did, after all, play 70 minutes or so, sparing him the awkwardness of speaking for a squad that he hadn't been a full part of for many weeks. Suffice it to say that someone had to speak on behalf of the players, and into the breach stepped Arteta. Here's what he had to say:
It's not good enough with the way we started the game. Just before they scored, we had a chance with Olivier that could have changed the game completely but we gave them the game in [their] hands. If you give the ball away in the middle of the park against Chelsea you know what's going to happen. That's what we have to avoid and we knew that from the start of the game and we haven't done it. We paid for our own mistakes. We have to take it on the chin because it's unacceptable to lose another big game like this.
Some of course will seize on Giroud's shot, which did force a save from Cech, as a turning point in the match. After all, it was moments later that Chelsea burst forward and scored the first goal. More to the point, as Arteta himself pointed out, was how carelessly we gave the ball away in the middle, which led directly to them scoring. Yes, Giroud might have and should have done better, but he wasn't defending when we conceded. But I digress. Before I or anyone else try to spin this as a one-off, Arteta rightly reminded us:
The first [loss at Manchester City] you may analyse in a different way, the second one [at Liverpool] was a bit different in the way we conceded the first three goals but on Saturday in my opinion it was worse because it was more our fault. It was when we were in possession of the ball and we knew that we couldn't take risks in certain areas.
Each of them does stand apart on certain levels, but our own carelessness is a constant. We too often gave the ball away or allowed runners to go unmarked, whether on set-pieces, through-balls, on counters, and so on. At some point, we started taking for granted our new-found defensive stolidity as a given and stopped doing the fundamental little things that created it in the first place. That has apparently been enough against squads further down the table, but it's clearly not enough against title-contenders. Heck, it's barely been enough against those just outside the top four, as shown by our four wins, two draws, and a loss to Spuds, Man U, and Everton. Were it not for the two FA Cup wins at home giving us a boost, that record will look positively anemic.

Arteta continued:
I'm expecting a big reaction on Tuesday... Saturday was not good enough for this football club The good thing is we have a lot of things to play for and we've always reacted to disappointments and difficult moments. But this one is a really hard one to take, it was a massive game for us and for me it's unacceptable...I don't know what else to say apart from sorry to everyone at the club, the fans, and we promise that we will try hard to put that right. 
I'm sure he speaks for everyone in the club when he says so. For as horrifying and infuriating as it was for us to watch, we didn't have to live it out on live television in front of millions, thousands of whom had spent a pretty penny or two for the privilege. It was a pathetic showing all the way around, and we, of course, deserve better.

Well, "deserve" is a funny word. For a few hours a week, we get to forget our troubles and set aside our stresses and be entertained by a bunch of strangers kicking a ball around. We end up investing a great deal of our emotional and psychological well-being on how well they do so, and we therefore come a bit untethered when they fail to live up to our expectations. We do have a right expect better, especially those of us who invest so much, emotionally if not financially, in supporting the club. From the sound of Arteta's statement, he understands the same.

Before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, let's focus on finishing the season strong. That starts against Swansea on Tuesday.