COMMENT By Matt Farr
Arsenal moved one step closer to finishing outside the top four in the Premier League for the first time since the 1995/95 season with a shocking display against Liverpool.
Their limp showing during the 3-1 defeat at Anfield on Saturday left them in fifth place, trailing league leaders Chelsea by 13 points.
However, despite the difficulties of playing at Anfield, Arsenal had an incredible 12 days to prepare for the fixture, compared to Liverpool’s five.
Yet Arsene Wenger chose to make the bombshell decision to axe the club’s top goalscorer Alexis Sanchez from the starting XI, which was quite frankly, baffling given that he was fit and firing.
But Sanchez’s omission was not the only questionable selection decision that blew up in Wenger’s face. Football Insider analyses three more of Wenger’s shocking picks.
During the 2014-15 season, Coquelin was a star. He was an influential part of the midfield, and his ball-winning skills were a terrific asset.
But not any more. Not for the first time this season, Coquelin was second best in almost every aspect of his performance against Liverpool.
He was easily beaten, was not an authoritative presence, and simply had no effect for Arsenal in the defensive-third. Arsenal might well have been playing with ten players.
Unsurprisingly, the 25-year-old was hooked at half-time to introduce Sanchez, but Coquelin simply hasn’t justified his selection for quite some time.
Wenger continues to put his faith in him as a defensive midfielder, but it is clear to see that he is not good enough for Arsenal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in centre-midfield with Sanchez out wide would have been a much better option.
It is important for a manager to put their faith in young players, but in the case of Wenger and Iwobi, it has become an inseparable bond, and Arsenal are suffering because of it.
Iwobi, 20, is loved by the Arsenal boss, but to the extent where he doesn’t know when to accept that change is needed.
The youngster has been quite poor recently, and his display against Liverpool epitomised just that. He rarely contributes defensively, while his attacking display was gutless and weak.
In the absence of the ill Mesut Ozil, Iwobi was deployed in the No.10 role, but it is clearly a role that does not suit Iwobi. With the likes of Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Lucas Perez on the bench, there were clearly much better options available to Wenger in the first place.
Even when the trio were called upon later in the game, Iwobi survived the cull and remained on the pitch for the full 90 minutes.
Wenger needs to sever the ties with Iwobi in the first-team and start picking players based on merit.
The big call from Wenger though, was to leave Sanchez on the bench and pick Olivier Giroud to lead the line.
Wenger admitted the decision to use Giroud as the focal point of the attack was so that Arsenal could play more direct. But they didn’t do that once.
They played no long balls, instead focusing on their short passing game, which played into Liverpool’s hands. The likes of Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum were pressing Arsenal into making mistake after mistake, and it cost them badly.
The Frenchman has been in fine form over the course of the season, but Arsenal’s failure to integrate a style of play that would utilise Giroud failed to justify his selection.
The second-half introduction of Sanchez also proved that, with the forward having a big influence in the final third, while Giroud remained utterly ineffective.
Liverpool have repeatedly shown themselves to be vulnerable in defence, yet Wenger’s attacking selection did not allow them to exploit their weaknesses.
In other Arsenal news, Martin Keown has slammed Arsenal for their display, and questioned the absence of Sanchez.