Today Arsenal’s season pretty much ended for the fans, with an unedifying performance at home against a team from the middle of the League below. The manager’s proud records of not having been knocked out of cups by lower league opposition, and not losing an FA cup tie at home in 38 games were both exploded by a defensively sound and committed Blackburn.
The annual trophy pressure has now grown to a level of paralysis, with defeats to inferior opponents in the cups now proving the norm, regardless of League endeavours.
This season in our humiliations we have had the novel twist of having absolutely no striking options on the bench. Having temporarily rid himself of the burdens brought on himself in Chamakh and Park, and having made it clear to the world that Arshavin will only play again in an absolute crisis, the world and his wife knew that Wenger desperately needed to buy a centre forward in January. However, once again, the manager’s obsession with the pursuit of value resulted in inactivity and the team find themselves hamstrung. If Giroud gets injured we can pretty much forget qualifying for next year’s Champion’s League, as the erratic incompetence of Gervinho is our only other realistic option. For any top flight club, let alone one of our size, having free space in such an uneven squad is criminal. And things look even worse with Bendtner’s lack of games on loan for Juventus. While he is hardly the answer to our prayers, he is a ready-made substitute for Giroud.
So many times we have seen against weaker opponents Wenger resting his big guns before having to turn to them late on to salvage something, and running them into the ground anyway. It seems a policy he is incapable of or unwilling to change, but it is costing us almost every year. As Kevin Kilbane said on the BBC,
”You play your best players, get through and then take them off. The FA Cup was the only realistic chance Arsenal had of winning a trophy. They had to produce – and they haven’t done it.”
That said, the team the manager put out today had more than enough to see off Blackburn, and bar the visitors goal totally dominated the match from start to finish. Diaby forced a couple of good saves from the goalkeeper, Gervinho missed his customary gilt edged chance, Rosicky hit the bar and late substitute Walcott was denied a penalty by an incorrect linesman’s flag. Other than that, there was very little to speak of, and the team’s lack of urgency for vast swathes of the first half was once again its undoing. Only our Czech number 7 played at the necessary tempo, often too quick in thought for his team-mates and Diaby, Gervinho and Arteta were all playing at Serie A pace. While Diaby and Arteta were not by any means bad, they failed to impose themselves on a game in which we were totally on top.
Martin Keown agreed:
”Arsene Wenger trusts every single member of his squad, but his players did not get into the speed of the past quick enough. The game just drifted past and they missed chance after chance. There was a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal. Blackburn were allowed to wriggle free and in the end they got the luck. That’s what can happen in football.
“There will be a serious examination now. The manager always looks at himself first. He is fiercely demanding and if his players are not good enough he will make some changes.”
I certainly hope he’s right about the examination part. The fact it took Wenger over an hour to emerge from the dressing room suggests at least words were spoken, for what it’s worth.
So many of the mitigating circumstances underpinning the team’s slow decline from 2005 to 2011 are no longer factors, and the impending introduction of FFP and the support of the domestic clubs for it at a Premier League level, evens the playing field futher. The team now has a good if not world class core of young British players augmented in the first eleven by good solid pros. It is the balance, strength and lack of real star quality and experience of winning in the squad that needs addressing, and urgently. The pursuit of David Villa made a lot of sense in ticking all these boxes, but putting all the eggs into that basket was self-defeating.
Having effectively made Wenger Director of Football, Strategic Planner and Club Treasurer as well as coach and manager, can the board re-focus his efforts back on the pitch? And do they want to?
Quite simply, this team probably has a two year window, starting from this summer to show real trophy winning ambition and progress, or by the end of 2015 the likes of Jack, Theo and even Ramsey and Gibbs might start to look elsewhere. This club has an opportunity to have stability on the pitch for the first time in 5 years, and it is imperative they don’t waste it. The 2013-14 season is likely to be the manager’s last, and unless progress is made, it will be a decision he won’t have a choice over.
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