Man City defeat showed why Arsenal will never win the Premier League under current regime
For once, Arsene Wenger attempted to do something different in a big game away from home, though just how he arrived at the point of making some of his decisions at Manchester City remains of real wonder.
Despite their defensive issues - coming into the game without Shkodran Mustafi, Per Mertesacker, Rob Holding and Calum Chambers missing through injury - Wenger insisted on sticking with a back three, starting Francis Coquelin as a makeshift central defender.
Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny has previously done the same job for the Gunners in the Europa League, though Coquelin looked wholly out of his depth when surrounded by the attacking talents of Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling. He should not be blamed for that fact, instead, Wenger should take responsibility for putting his player in that position in such a high-pressure environment.
Perhaps even more baffling was the decision to leave £50m signing Alexandre Lacazette on the bench, the second time in which he has done that this season after also doing so away at Anfield. In his place was Alexis Sanchez, deployed as a false nine in a decision which brought back recent memories of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s inclusion in the starting XI against Liverpool just four days before joining the Reds for £35m.
Sanchez was ineffective throughout, as Lacazette scored within nine minutes of his introduction. The silence from the Chilean has spoken volumes of his clear desire to leave the club at the end of the season, and given the fact City are a clear option for him, it was bizarre that Wenger - having seen first hand the response he got from the Oxlade-Chamberlain call - would still play him.
Just what these decisions will do for the confidence and loyalty of Lacazette long-term could also be damaging. You spend £50m on a player with the confidence and belief that he is able to make the difference in big games and, in the case of Lacazette, is clearly the long-term solution to their forward option - Sanchez simply isn’t.
Mesut Ozil is often made a scapegoat for such losses in high-profile games, and while he was far from the cause of the team’s failure, it can’t be doubted that he was again MIA for Arsenal at the weekend. Ozil, too, is set to leave the club come the end of the season as things currently stand and it appears the German is picking and choosing his games in which he wants to turn up.
Against Everton he was outstanding but didn’t come close to those levels last time out and it is such inconsistencies which highlight the endemic problem at the Emirates Stadium.
The fact of the matter is that with each passing defeat and ground lost on the league leaders, the more it appears that Wenger made the wrong decision by not leaving on a high following the FA Cup final victory over Chelsea last season.
It began a further two years where they will not win the Premier League, lose players for lower than their market value due to expiring contracts and ongoing fan disharmony. It’s groundhog day once more at Arsenal.
Winning just twice in their last 28 away games against last season’s top six sides, their inability to consistently take points from their rivals has been a constant thorn in their side, and on the basis of Sunday’s performance that is a trend that won’t change anytime soon. Tactically, they remain too open to play against and still seem to lack the steel and dominance of their predecessors.
The debate about Wenger’s future may come into play at this time in twelve months, but for now expect little change to emerge as the Gunners again fail to mount a serious challenge for the Premier League title.