All Guns Blazing: Arsenal’s second-string need to step up

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sits on the bench dejected during the UEFA Champions League game again

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sits on the bench dejected during the UEFA Champions League game against Olympiacos. Picture: Adam Davy - Credit: PA WIRE

In our weekly Arsenal fan column, Alex Bellotti looks back at the shock defeat to Olympiacos, and what it means for the Gunners.

On the way back from the Emirates on Tuesday night, I heard a comment that seemed to sum up a lot of the frustration about Arsenal’s European fortunes: “I’m tired of always watching a competition we never win, which we always have to qualify for in order to get money we never spend.”

At the time, doing that miserable march back down Holloway Road, I found it hard to disagree – especially since there is no doubt that our lack of summer transfer business came back to bite us in the defeat to Olympiacos.

Take the curious case of Theo Walcott. Few strikers could score a goal and bag an assist while continuing to foster doubts about his overall effectiveness – it’s almost comically admirable, in a way. Bringing Joel Campbell on as our most attacking substitution put to bed the idea that no single available player in world football could improve on the quality of players we already had, while the one signing we did make in pre-season, Petr Cech, was bizarrely left on the bench.

Ultimately, though, failing to splash the cash wasn’t why we lost this match. David Ospina’s gaffe will inevitably claim the headlines, but while it does feel increasingly strange that we kept him over Wojciech Szczesny, his performance was more symptomatic of the fact that none of our rotation players have performed so far this season.

Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs are struggling; Olivier Giroud and Gabriel have notched up red cards; even the usually vibrant Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seems to be suffering from some sort of confidence crisis.

For whatever reason, our second string is tying itself in knots. Now that it’s likely cost us Champions League progress for another season, some might say the silver lining is that it will help us focus on the league. But even if that’s the case, there are going to be situations where under-performing players will have to step in and step up.

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It’s easy to forget, when faced with the groundhog days of European football, that the last two seasons have seen progress; we’ve enjoyed back-to-back trophy successes, so I still feel loath to jump on too much criticism of Arsene Wenger.

After the close of the transfer window, however, I said the pressure was now on his skills to develop the players he has. So far, the pressure has only mounted, and the first major setback has been delivered.

Follow me @alexbellotti

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