More pain and musings from South Africa straight after Bayern humble Arsenal once more

Musings from South Africa

The game against Bayern last night was a bitter pill, particularly given the sterling performance by our boys in the first half. It was after the captain left in the first leg that our team seemed to be unable to gather itself. I guess the referee had to ensure a similar outcome this time – only we had to play without our captain AND with one less man than Bayern. Mount Kilimanjaro became Mount Everest for the boys. From the commentator’s (yes, the one in particular) babblings, however, you would have sworn it was a level playing field.

Despite the intense heartache, I had promised a post match-chat with Charlton Roberts from the group “Arsenal South Africa, supporting the team for better or worse” and although Charlton and I didn’t really feel like chatting, we did our best under the circumstances.

Charlton, how are you feeling and what do you think about the game?

I think the red card changed the game completely; heads dropped and IF that was a red card, I would like to know why one wasn’t awarded to Theo in the first half? The ref wasn’t great. There were a number of calls that should have gone our way. The standard of refereeing was not good; it’s as simple as that.

I agree. There was also a foul against Ramsay in the first half that was completely overlooked; and both of these were significant. Personally, I find the commentators biased, particularly the guy that sounded like John Barnes. It’s like he had it in for Arsenal – like they want to stir the pot and cause problems…?

Ah – the commentators – I find them so biased. Which is why I no longer listen to the match build up. It happens with every game. They are not FOR us. It’s like there’s a stigma around us.

But, for the game… from the outset you could see we were planning to attack and the first half went brilliantly. The red card card changed the game completely.

Who stood out for you?

Well, there were a few players. Oxlade-Chamberlain playing as number 10 was brilliant and I believe we should try him there more in the future; Xhaka made some brilliant passes; and the man of the match for me was Theo.

You can’t really blame the players for the second half – it’s not an accurate reflection of the game. People will look at the scoreline and, if they didn’t watch the game, would imagine a completely different scenario from what did take place.

What did you feel about Arsenal’s performance?

I’m disappointed right now but I think the players understand that they can take heart. The result isn’t an accurate reflection of how they played.

Where do you think the problems lay in this game?

The person I would pick out is Mustafi. He was the only senior defender there and shouldn’t have been playing upfront when we were down to ten men. I understand he wanted to create something, but that left us vulnerable at the back. Even in the previous game, Koscielny’s leaving had Monreal and Bellerin a little lost. It was difficult for them.

Also, I could see Alexis wanted to play off Giroud, but this left Monreal exposed and having to defend on his own on that left flank.

What about the Sanchez debacle and what happens there?

If he goes he goes; if he stays he stays. It’s as simple as that for me.

I like what Arsene Wenger said after the first leg when he was asked if Alexis was the only player who came out of the game with some dignity. His response was “No, we lost as a team.”

We haven’t had a good run lately but my difficulty is that everything is directed at Wenger personally; nothing at the players.

That smirking and attitude of Alexis … yes, he is a good player, but…. That doesn’t work.

Yes, I find it amazing that the one commentator should talk about dissension in the changing rooms from Sanchez like it’s a good thing and like the manager should simply put up with that. I wonder, would he have said the same if it was Sir Al? No, if a player disses the manager or other players, he must be disciplined. No one player is bigger than the team in my opinion.

What changes would you like to see at Arsenal, if any?

Any changes would be minor, the squad is quite large and competitive and we proved that with a substantial unbeaten run earlier in the season. We haven’t seen the best of the Lucas Perez yet; Jack Wilshere is doing well at Bournemouth, which bodes well for next season; Danny Welbeck looked in good knick prior to tonight – and hopefully it’s nothing major, so I do believe that the current team has the necessary tools to compete with any top team.

Where do you think our weakness lies?

We’ve heard it many times of an Arsenal defense but it still rings true, defensive frailty….and tonight was a good example of that… as soon as Koscielny was red-carded Mustafi was lost.. he went too far forward which is not a wise decision when you’re a man down. As a centre-back you don’t need to influence play when you’re a man down. Individually our defenders are all excellent but a lack of communication and cohesion at the back has cost us dearly. There may be this naive notion that the other player has a certain situation covered and its come back to bite us. Last season we had the 3rd best defense in the league, which tells me the problem this season is not the individual players but rather the way they work together as a unit.

What do you think our greatest strength is?

Our greatest strength has always been our ability to play in the opposition’s final third, creating chances with through-balls or intricate passing in and around the box. With the emergence of Hector Bellerin we’ve found more width when going forward, we have seen Alexis drift into wider areas, effectively pulling 1 or 2 defenders with him and creating space for runners in the box. We averaged 1.7 goals a game last season and this season were up to 1.96. We’re scoring more goals this season than last and that’s always a good sign.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

We are still in the FA Cup and have a lot to play for in the league. I do think that from now until the end of the league Arsene Wenger is the only person that can affect that. My intention is to just back the team.

Charlton Roberts is a member of the Facebook group, Arsenal South Africa, supporting the team for better or worse. He lives in Worcestor in the Western Cape Province of South Africa with his wife of three years and his 10-year-old son (A Manchester United supporter, incidentally )

Charlton is a Senior Administrator for Transnet, a South African state owned transportation company. He has been supporting Arsenal since he saw Bergkamp score a goal against Newcastle. “I was hooked after that,” he says.