Wenger's Naivete Nearly Costs Arsenal
Arsene Wenger's naiveté nearly cost Arsenal a chance to retain the FA Cup.
His squad rotation was bizarre, misguided, and completely underestimated the strength of a well-coached, organized, Reading Football Club.
Kieran Gibbs had an awful performance.
His touch was off, decision making dull, and the number of times he gave away possession in key areas nearly had catastrophic consequences. Nacho Monreal should have played; so too Hector Bellerin.
Aaron Ramsey was a threat when he got on the ball, but the defensive bunkers employed by the Royals would have been better attacked by the width Bellerin can offer.
And Hector would have defended as well as, or better than, the rust-crusted Matheiu Debuchy.
It's hard to fault Gibbs or Debuchy for lacking match fitness, but it is easy, and justifiable to question Wenger's major overhaul to the team that had won 8 consecutive Barclay's Premier League matches on the trot.
8 is a magic number this week.
There were 8 days between the FA Cup semi-final and the home encounter with Chelsea, one of the longest stretches of no competitive games since August of 2014, and with that amount of recovery time, it confounds the senses to try and understand why Wenger felt the big stage of Wembley was that time to give minutes to players returning from injury or those lacking first team minutes.
It smacks of disrespect, and Wenger, a manager who has enjoyed incredible success in the FA Cup, seems to have disregarded his own rules when it comes to undervaluing a team from the lower leagues.
Cup ties verse the minnows are never easy and the Professor's cocksure brazenness nearly spoiled the chance to win silverware for the second year running.
The lack of energy and enthusiasm Arsenal displayed from the opening whistle of the second half was pathetic. This was not a moment to revert to the Arsenal of the last five years. Such lifeless ambition and uninterested behavior is not a sign of progress. The late goal just before half-time seemed to have only furthered the perception amongst the players that victory was a formality.
In truth, Arsenal were lucky to get through.
Aaron Ramsey could have ended the contest on several occasions, so too Gabriel Paulista, but the fact remains that for nearly the entirety of the second-half, Arsenal were second best. Steve Clarke's game plan was well thought and enacted, and a couple of strange referring decisions that went against Reading could have dramatically altered things, most notably when Paulista was outfoxed and outmuscled, and proceeded to wrestle Jaime Mackie to the ground; but the foul went unpunished. A yellow card for the Brazillian in that moment would been significant.
It's hard to know just what Wenger was thinking with his tinkering.
It's easy to see that Wojciech Szczesny is far from a top goalkeeper.
The Polish shot-stopper's decision making and reaction is suspect, choosing to punch when he could catch, failing to react with the required quickness, and his overall distribution and management of the back-four seems to have regressed. There are major concerns with starting him in in the Cup final, and based on recent performances, fans of Dial Square should be hoping that come May 30th, David Ospina is fit and selected (so too should they be hoping that Petr Cech is powerful enough to dictate where he plays next season).
Wenger gambled on Saturday in a move that nearly cost his legacy big time.
Exhale, and give thanks to any deities readily available.
Time to focus on taking down Jose Mourinho...