The Gunners legend could not understand why Arsene Wenger’s men failed to protect their lead against the Belgians and believes their Champions League run will be short-lived
Former Arsenal ace Paul Merson branded Arsene Wenger’s men “tactically clueless” after they threw away a three-goal lead against Anderlecht at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday evening.
The Gunners were cruising to a comfortable win against the Belgian giants and a place in the Champions League knockout stage when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain put them 3-0 up after 58 minutes, following earlier strikes from Mikel Arteta and Alexis Sanchez.
But Anthony Vanden Borre struck twice to set up a nervous finale before substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic headed in a dramatic equaliser at the death that means Arsenal must wait to secure their place in the last 16.
Five Gunners players were caught up field in the build-up to Mitrovic’s late goal, and after the game a visibly annoyed Merson was at a loss to explain his former club’s approach when in command of the match.
“If I’m being honest, I think they’re tactically clueless,” he told Sky Sports. “That’s an honest opinion. How you can be 3-0 up and be attacking…this is not the first time…this happens a lot. It is absolutely clueless.
“For me, the manager has got to get a message on. You’re playing with international footballers, these are not little kids. These [players] have played for their country lots of times, they have played in World Cups, they played in a lot of Premier League games.
“They’re all bombing forward! Surely something in your head, if you know football, says ‘right, let’s stop here, we’ll have two banks of four, leave two up front and we’ll go from there. Let them break us down’. For me, it is clueless.”
In his post-match comments Wenger suggested fatigue had played a role in Arsenal’s second-half capitulation, but Merson dismissed the Frenchman’s explanation out of hand.
“If you’re tired and you know [as a manager] the players are tired, you tell everybody to sit back,” he added.
“Or you bring one of them off and bring on one of the fastest players in the Premier League in Theo Walcott, you play him up front and when the other team attack, you play on the counter.
“If you’re tired, sit back. With all due respect, they didn’t have the hardest game in the world on Saturday [against Burnley]. They had probably about 108 per cent of the game. I can’t buy that. It’s excuse after excuse, covering over the cracks.
“I’d just love [Wenger] to come out one day and go ‘Not good enough’.”
Arsenal’s collapse – coupled with Borussia Dortmund’s 4-1 win over Galatasaray in Germany – means Wenger’s men are increasingly likely to qualify from Group D as runners-up, and Merson holds little hope of them advancing beyond the round of 16.
“Everyone knows that if you finish second [in your group], you haven’t got much chance of winning it,” he insisted.
“They’ll get through and then they’re out of the Champions League, because if you look at all the [likely group] winners, they’re not beating them.”