‘Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…’
Okay, maybe that’s quite a dramatic opening, perhaps even unnecessary. However, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Arsenal fans, if not the board and a certain Monsieur Wenger, are staring into the abyss. It can’t be surprising, then, that we don’t particularly like what we see. I don’t think anyone’s ever bent over, looked into the abyss and come back up for air acclaiming the view. Nobody sane has, anyway.
And nobody sane, you would have thought, would have come up with the usual “this team has a great spirit and a very strong attitude” defence following our surrender of the FA Cup at home to Watford.
We’ve all been around long enough and heard enough of Arsène Wenger to know that he doesn’t necessarily say what he thinks about his team performances. However, I don’t think there was much evidence of a great spirit, or strong attitude on display on Sunday afternoon. Not until Danny Welbeck scored a brilliant goal to get us back into the tie anyway.
Let’s not talk about the miss he somehow conjured up a couple of minutes later…
It was seemed as though it was only when the players fully grasped the seriousness of their situation – probable defeat at the hands of a team, okay a Premier League team, but still a team that Arsenal really should have swatted aside – that they really started to play. We saw another example of this last weekend. A man and 2-1 down at Spurs, a dire situation, we saw just what these players are capable of when they want to show it.
I didn’t really touch on it last week because, well, Bannergate, but I was full of admiration for our boys last weekend. Harry Kane’s goal to put Spurs 2-1 up, with Francis Coquelin probably not yet dry after his early bath, was the kind of goal in a big game that usually wins it. For Arsenal to drag that game out of the fire and come so close to winning it showed what these players can do.
But it leaves you wondering where that grit and determination, or spirit and attitude, has been throughout 2016. Make no mistake, much as I believe that we may come to regard Santi Cazorla’s knee injury as the turning point in a season that promised so much, I also believe that this group of players should have been able to render that injury an irrelevance.
Santi Cazorla’s injury does not adequately explain the timidity of the players on Sunday, or indeed their passivity two weeks previously at an injury-ravaged Manchester United. Or pretty much any performance these guys have put in this year. I use the word “performance” generously. Time and time again, we have watched the same Arsenal match. As Per Mertesacker put it, “We play until the opposition score.”
Once the opposition score and, unless you’re Hull City, this is a recent inevitability, the defences are massed and we pass and pass and pass and pass and pass and paszzzzzzzzzzz until we lose the ball. At which point, the opposition usually go up the field and score another goal. There seems to be little evidence of a plan, or of a shared purpose, for the eleven players we send out in our red and white every week. It’s just go out there and hope for the best. Maybe Mesut can produce something, or Alexis will come up with a moment of brilliance.
Unfortunately for us, though Mesut has kept up his end of the bargain in fine style, the same can not be said of Alexis. After a blistering Roy of the Rovers opening season, the Chilean is now more Betty of the Rovers and nobody seems to know what to do about it.
It’s hard to avoid the sobering conclusion that the blame can, without any contradiction, be laid firmly at the manager’s door. As I said on this week’s Daily Cannon podcast, I totally take Ian Wright’s point that the players are the ones who have got us into this hole. However, the manager brought all of these players to the club. He sets out the style of play, whatever that is at the moment, and selects his team every week.
There is no innovation, just the same 4-2-3-1 formation week in, week out and pass and pass and pass and paszzzzzzz, let’s sleepwalk our way to defeat once more. It’s stale and tired, ‘boring, boring Arsenal’ you might say. All that passes for innovation now is the inclusion of Aaron Ramsey on the right side of the advanced three. Of course, typically, as soon as we hit on something that made us look a little more likely, Ramsey promptly picked up an injury that could end his season.
My friend Harry still stands behind the manager, he thinks we’ve merely been unlucky. Yes, we’ve been unlucky for three months. I can see that this has been the case at times, but I think the more likely explanation is that we are seeing a manager now who has been in this job too long and can no longer see the wood for the trees. It happens, you know? George Graham spent 9 years in the managerial hot seat here. His early success gave him powers that no other Arsenal manager had been able to access before. When Graham was dismissed in February 1995, with his team really stinking Highbury out, the Arsenal board swore that no other manager would be granted such power again.
Enter Arsène Wenger…
Exit Arsène Wenger?
It seems unlikely, unless Arsenal supporters really begin to vote with their feet, and more importantly with their wallets. Stan Kroenke’s comments last week made it clear that money making is his end game, not a trophy cabinet full of silver. Amy Lawrence’s piece here gives a clear indication that Stan is unlikely to send the Alsatian packing like the Littlest Hobo anytime soon. Even if he does, there is the scary prospect that in dismissing Arsène, we would be getting rid of the last man at the club in a position of power who actually cares about the football.
Scary times (and no mention of the “B” word)!