LONDON – It was Groundhog Day for Arsenal in Germany against Borussia Dortmund.
Losing 2-0 to one of Europe’s strongest teams away from home is, on the face of it, no cause for a serious inquest. But just when Arsene Wenger sweet-talks us into believing Arsenal is ready to challenge Europe’s elite, there was ample proof yet again that the Gunners are pretenders, not contenders.
Wenger can talk a better game than his team plays. Jurgen Klopp’s impressive Dortmund were embarrassingly better than Arsenal, despite the relatively small margin of victory. Borussia was everything Arsenal fans wanted their own team to be, not least the coach.
During the summer Wenger brought in right-back Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle, but it took the France international only seven games to become the latest player to suffer Arsenal’s injury jinx.
We shall not see Debuchy again until the New Year, and while every club has injuries, Arsenal’s list of long-term walking wounded is disproportionate and there seems no way of stopping the continuing number of broken bones or damaged ligaments.
Calum Chambers, a versatile young defender, was brought in from Southampton and Danny Welbeck was recruited from Manchester United, which sold him because he did not score enough goals. The striker missed three good opportunities to score in Dortmund and he must do much better to wipe the told-you-so look off Louis van Gaal’s face.
The jewel was Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez, but to just about everyone except Wenger it was blindingly obvious that Arsenal’s needs were a top-class central defender to stop the Gunners leaking goals from set-pieces, a midfield enforcer in the Patrick Vieira/Gilberto mold (Mikel Arteta simply does not cut it at the top level) and a world-class striker.
In Dortmund, Arsenal’s weaknesses were ruthlessly exposed yet again. Against a Borussia team lacking its three best players — Mats Hummels in defense, midfielder Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus in attack — Arsenal was overrun, lacking the power, strength and nous to beat a big team away from home. It is an all too familiar scenario.
Last season, on the road Arsenal lost 6-3 to Manchester City, 5-1 to Liverpool and 6-0 to Chelsea. If you have realistic hopes of challenging for the title, you do not suffer thrashings like this. Whatever the scoreline suggests, Arsenal was also blown away in Dortmund.
Wenger’s Gunners will always play some breathtaking football, the midfield and forward talent guarantees that — but their soft underbelly and lack of a cutting edge up front remains. Arsenal is particularly vulnerable to the counter-attack while there appears to be no cure for its habit of conceding goals from corners and free kicks. It is in its DNA, apparently.
Mesut Ozil had an outstanding World Cup for Germany, yet for Arsenal he is a lost soul, his £42 million transfer fee from Real Madrid inevitably brought up in the growing criticism. Ozil is not a winger, nor is he a midfield powerhouse. He is the icing on the cake, a No. 10 play maker who should operate just behind the main striker.
For reasons known only to Wenger, the left-footed Ozil played on the right side of midfield in Dortmund and was predictably ineffective, though so were all his teammates.
As Wenger signed a new three-year contract a few months ago, even those fans who would like to see him replaced have virtually given up. They see Arsenal like a pigeon flying into the wind, struggling to advance with three more years of being nearly men under a manager unable or unwilling to see and rectify the team’s major deficiencies.
Saturday Arsenal plays unbeaten Aston Villa at Villa Park, the home side second behind Chelsea after its 1-0 win at Liverpool. The arrival of Roy Keane as assistant manager to Paul Lambert has given Villa defensive solidarity, precisely what Arsenal lacks too often on its travels.
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MANCHESTER CITY and Chelsea, who most believe will be the main contenders for the title at the business end of the season, meet Sunday at Etihad Stadium where the visitors won 1-0 last February in what was hailed as a Jose Mourinho coaching master-class.
City had won all 11 home league games when Chelsea arrived, but Mourinho set his side up perfectly to hit the home team on the counter, its pace and movement overwhelming Manuel Pellegrini’s team.
The Blues executed their manager’s plan flawlessly, but that was then. Both sides had to lick their wounds after midweek Champions League setbacks, City losing to a last-minute goal to Bayern Munich, with Chelsea held to a draw by Schalke 04 at Stamford Bridge.
Pellegrini may favor a dogs- of-war midfield comprising Fernandinho, Yaya Toure and Fernando to counter Chelsea’s ball players Eden Hazard and Oscar, with Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic providing a potent mix of skill and steel.
Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero, Champions League substitutes, are likely to be recalled for a match that is unlikely to disappoint but very likely to boil over.
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THE SUN has been serializing Rio Ferdinand’s latest autobiography this week — the former Manchester United defender’s third.
Needless to say, the paper has chosen the most controversial and salacious extracts. Among these were Ferdinand carrying out a character assassination on David Moyes, which said more about the player than his ex-manager.
“He brought a small club mentality to United,” wrote Ferdinand.
Everton — a small club?
News to me.
Aware that he was being criticized for his criticisms, Ferdinand tweeted: “Serialization doesn’t give u the whole story! Shifting blame isn’t in me, I take responsibility, you’ll see when you read the book! #2sides.”
It must have come as a shock to Ferdinand to see a red-top tabloid cherry picking the best juicy bits for a serialization that the player agreed to.
Especially The Sun, where Ferdinand has been a columnist.
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ALAN PARDEW said he had not discussed his future with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley. Pardew must be the only person in Newcastle who has not spoken about his future this week. It has been a constant topic among the Toon Army, with Newcastle bottom of the Premier League and owning 16 defeats in 24 Premier League games in 2014.
It is difficult to find one Newcastle supporter who does not want Pardew to be sacked.
The manager said: “I have spoken to Mike, we had a long conversation on Sunday (after the 4-0 defeat at Southampton)and obviously he was disappointed with the performance, as he has a right to as the owner, and he reflected that to me.”
Newcastle plays Hull on Saturday whose manager, Steve Bruce, is the Toon Army’s favored successor. Apart from the usual “Pardew out” signs we can expect a few “Bruce in” placards, too.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.