Saturday, 16 February 2013
Posted by Tom Acres at Saturday, February 16, 2013
Arsenal's season continues to reach new lows when none could have thought it could sink any lower. The FA Cup represented the last realistic chance of a trophy for the Gunners this season, and they were knocked out by Championship side Blackburn Rovers after a pitiful display in front of their own fans at Emirates Stadium.
It seems almost irrelevant to even analyse the game itself; Arsenal fans have seen this type of performance before this season and it's not in the least bit surprising when it happens. Slow passing, no movement, a ridiculous amount of obsolete possession, terrible finishing when given an opportunity and an awful goal conceded are all characteristics of an off-boil Arsenal and they were all on show today against a Blackburn side who just had to defend to a reasonable standard to come away with a clean sheet and a 1-0 win courtesy of an out of position right back and a poor piece of goalkeeping.
Arsene Wenger was furious in his post-game press conference, seemingly angry at his players for their performance and expressing his apparent surprise that a team of '11 internationals' were capable of producing such a poor showing. Well my answer to that is that it isn't in the least bit surprising when you actually look at the side that was put out today and what you expect from them based on their performances this season.
Gervinho delivered exactly what you'd expect; wayward finishing, poor passes, a lack of decisiveness, awful decision making and inept dribbling.
For Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain corners that don't clear the first man and running into blind alleys on a regular basis have been the main staples of his performances this season. He's a fantastic talent with a lot of potential but he's stuck in a poor run of form and showed little sign of escaping from it today.
Francis Coquelin was energetic and lively but his positional sense was severely lacking for the winning goal. Wojciech Szczesny was unconvincing for the goal as well. Abou Diaby was characteristically lackadaisical.
Even players who Arsenal fans have developed faith in didn't look far off Championship standard; Olivier Giroud had his worst game since the start of the season and Mikel Arteta still seemed obsessed with keeping his passing percentage high in the dying minutes when more penetration was needed.
The initial point of not being surprised by the performances of these players is that we shouldn't be surprised when we've seen it from some of them so many times before and therefore they shouldn't be starting important games for Arsenal Football Club. Yes, it was Blackburn at home, and yes they're international players, but why keep faith and give them more chances when they consistently show that they're just not good enough?
People have questioned the players for their commitment and desire and I would go along with that based on some of the 'I can't be bothered, I am above this sort of fixture' body language I got from some of them today, but for me the buck stops with the manager. I don't quite buy the idea that he needs to motivate the players more because based on all the crap that gets pelted out by Arsenal.com they were all well aware of the importance of today's game, but the boss is most definitely accountable for the persistence with mediocrity and the unexplainable decision making in terms of selection and substitutions.
Why was Tomas Rosicky taken off today? He was our best player. Were we resting him for Bayern even though based on recent selections he's considered as no more than a squad player? Why not start our strongest side and get the game won early so they can have their rest after 60 minutes? People were all for rotation before the game but why? In years past we could afford to do it but this year we've shown that when we rotate we struggle because the backup is not good enough in too many positions, and nonexistent in others. Arsenal fielded one striker and two deep lying midfielders at home to a Championship side. Why?
Arsene Wenger insists that he takes the cups seriously but his priority is the league and the Champions League, perhaps this is a valid excuse for our failings? No, it isn't. We don't seem to have taken the cups particularly seriously at all in recent years, there have been exceptions but generally the rule has been rotate the side and get dumped out in the last eight or something like that. Then you look at our transfer policy and wonder how anyone could believe Wenger when he says we take the league seriously with a transfer policy like that. How are we seriously meant to compete for the league when we sell the best player in the league to Manchester United? Is the target fourth? It seems that way. But then again what's the point of finishing fourth beyond some financial income? Call me spoilt but the group stage of the Champions League is something that most fans usually can't wait to see the back of and then when the knock-out rounds come around we're paired with one of the elite sides and just cannot compete over two legs. Frankly we'll have done well if we can compete with Bayern Munich over two minutes.
I'm not sure Arsene Wenger knows what his priorities are and I'm sure as hell that there's no pressure on him from above to succeed where the fans want him to. Ivan Gazidis and Stan Kroenke have overseen the worst period of Arsene Wenger's tenure because they're content to finish in the top four and take the money that comes with it. There's no pressure on Wenger to spend from anyone within the club and as such we're falling behind whilst others get further away from us. I think it's lazy to use the whole '8 years with no trophy' line as a reason to want Wenger to leave, but serious questions need to be asked of the last 2. Between 2006 and 2011 there were undoubtedly massive financial restrictions placed upon the manager and as such we perhaps couldn't strengthen as much as we would have liked, but we were at the very least competitive:
2006 - lost the Champions League final in the last 10 minutes.
2007 - lost the Carling Cup final in the last 10 minutes.
2008 - 4 points away from winning the Premier League with an injured Robin van Persie.
2009 - Champions League and FA Cup semi-finalists.
2010 - top of the league with 8 games left, succumb to injuries to key players.
2011 - lost the Carling Cup final in injury time, prompts collapse in other competitions.
Stan Kroenke took over towards the end of that 2011 season and we sold Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Cesc Fabregas. We had an awful start to the season, didn't come close to competing in the cup competitions or the Champions League and scraped 3rd thanks to the goals of Robin van Persie. We then sold Robin van Persie and the supplier of most of his goals in Alex Song. Should it really be a surprise to find ourselves where we do now? Where might we be with Van Persie's goals? Yes there have been games where we've clicked and scored 5, 6 or 7 but there seem to have been just as many matches where we haven't looked liked scoring in a month of Sundays and need a clinical superstar striker to bail you out. The fact that we don't is a direct consequence of our stupid transfer policy.
Those 6 years were frustrating and painful but we took pride in our style of football, some world class players, and a team most thought was competitive. There was, however, a feeling that eventually we'd need to turn those things into success. These last 2 years haven't so much as dampened those expectations but thrown them into a blender, stamped on them, had them force fed to Luis Suarez, regurgitated and eventually headbutted by Gervinho. For 6 years we had a restricted budget, now we seemingly don't but we still won't spend and we're suffering the consequences.
Arsenal still have some excellent players and an intelligent manager, and whilst not moving forward through investment in the side is frustrating we're not even standing still at the moment, rather we're hurtling backwards at an astonishing rate to the degree that we greet a fought out 1-0 win at Sunderland with something resembling a parade through the streets of Islington. At Manchester United that type of result is a requirement and seen as a standard weekends work, at Arsenal it's the cause of unparalleled celebration. And to the people that always moan about it, that is why when Manchester United win those games it's 'the stuff of champions' and when we do it nobody cares. It's an exception rather than a rule and ultimately means very little in the context of our season the way we're going.
This post has fluctuated in tone from anger to frustration and all sorts in between, but my overriding feeling towards Arsenal at the moment is that it's all a bit tragic. I love this club and have done for 16 years, but at the moment I don't really enjoy anything about it other than Jack Wilshere and Lukas Podolski's tour of London. And maybe this. Being at the stadium today it was genuinely sad to see fans on their feet throwing insults at the players and especially the greatest manager in the clubs history, and this hostile atmosphere, these woeful performances, these seasons that always devolve into depression before the end of February..... they're all adding up and making the match day experience at the Emirates pretty unenjoyable. The next generation of Gooners is being brought up in surroundings that even I, as a 20 year old guy (admittedly a very short and pathetic looking one), feel pretty threatened and intimidated in. It's just not a nice place to be at the moment and Robben, Ribery and friends will be licking their lips. I don't have a season ticket and I'm not sure I want one, it's become almost a chore to travel there and endure all the shit that goes with it.
What'll happen if Van Persie wins the league at our place? I think there might be some sort of war.
I just can't see how or where things get better for Arsenal, it's become a real tragedy. If I'd told you in 2004 that in 8 years time you'd have a growing minority (soon to be majority, I fear) of fans hurling abuse at Arsene Wenger on a regular basis you'd have said I was mad. He's gone from an untouchable deity to someone who people are more often insulting and taking the piss out of. His wonderful quotes about sausages and caviar and falling asleep watching Tottenham in his hotel room have been replaced by 'little bit mental strength' and 'dropped physically'. It's sad that it's come to this, it's sad that Arsene Wenger is possibly now just has much an object of abuse and mockery as he is an object of love and admiration.
Like I said, I'm not sure what comes next, but as for what's happening now, I'm not enjoying it at all. I'll never abuse the man or even consider hating him, for Bergkamp's sake he gave me some of my favourite childhood memories, but he's also contributing to what is now becoming weekend after weekend of becoming more and more disillusioned with my football club. And I'm only 20 years old.
I need a few drinks.