Ok, so… this is going to be ugly.
But I don’t see how it could be any other way really. Not after last night. The last time we spoke was to pick over the bones over a comprehensive defeat at home to Swansea. Swansea are, lest we forget, a club who will soon welcome us to their home in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. On the evidence of last night, it feels fairly safe to assume that our interest in that competition will not extend much beyond the early weeks of January. And, of course, another trophyless season will have passed us by. Unless, by the most miracley of miracles, we somehow luck our way to European glory next May. Can you see that happening? Thought not.
Anyway, I’ve digressed a bit there. Sorry. The first thing I want to say is a massive congratulations to Bradford City. They were organised, committed and direct in a way that our players appeared unforgiveably unprepared for and ill equipped to deal with. The two guys up front- no parking the bus from a team in the lowest tier of league football- gave Mertesacker and, in particular, Vermaelen a a tough old game. Yes, they scored from their first attack, yes, they rode their luck a little but hey, that’s cup football for you. And whilst I concede that penalties are a lottery, should Arsenal ever be taken to penalties by Bradford City?
I remember as a kid, coming in from playing football on the weekend that Wrexham knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup nearly 21 years ago. I turned on the radio to hear the score and my first reaction was to laugh- I couldn’t believe it. But I couldn’t believe it because Wrexham had finished 92nd out of 92 league club the previous season and we were defending league champions. It all felt like a big joke. Again, I go to Bill Hicks, there’s no joke coming here. Nothing to laugh at now and definitely no recent success to fall back on. Because we’ve seen this game before, or a version of it at least and they’re getting more and more frequent. Swansea should not be coming to our house and outArsenaling us (again), we should not be going to Norwich, or QPR, or Ipswich and getting beat in such abject fashion. It should not take till the 70th minute to bring a save from a League Two goalkeeper.
And there’s another thing. Sorry to keep going on about it, but it’s all very well taking a full (or nearly full) strength side somewhere to give yourself the best possible chance of winning what you know will be a tough game. I wholeheartedly applaud that notion. But then I have to ask, why totally undermine that premise by continuing to play Gervinho up front? Or, for that matter, playing a central midfielder on the wing- again?
Einstein once allegedly said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
And yet we bear witness to Aaron Ramsey, a fish out of water, desperately gasping for air as he flounders out on the flanks- incapable of beating an opposition full back because he lacks either the pace or the skills to do so. Again. And then we come to Gervinho. Gervinho- the man who couldn’t find an Arsenal shirt if his life depended on it, but is still asked repeatedly to play centre forward (and therefore link play) for us. Gervinho- the man who is presented an open goal 4 yards out and fails to even make contact with it. Gervinho- the man who, frankly, is just as out of his depth as Ramsey is on the flank. Would it be so hard to move Gervinho to the wings- if he has to play him at all, Podolski into the centre and Ramsey to the bench? Gervinho should never play for Arsenal again- I think even George Graham, the man who signed Glenn Helder, would have turned him down. I’m cutting Rambo a bit more slack because it’s not his fault he is being played on the wing over and over and over again.
I realise that Arsene Wenger is doing what he thinks is best. But it concerns me that he seems unable to see what is so obvious to everyone else. It concerns me that he is so inflexible- both in the personnel he sends out to win us football matches and in how he uses them. It concerns me that I seem to be writing the same blog over and over and over again. If a team as limited as their 4th tier status clearly indicates Bradford City are can nullify this Arsenal team, then something is very seriously wrong. But we didn’t need last night’s game to tell us that. I still cling to the notion that there are problems at our football club far greater than Arsene’s famous myopia. But whatever is going on in the boardroom, that has nothing to do with the fact that Arsene has created a system where the alternative to Giroud is Eboue in a Predator wig. Or a Moroccan tart. Is it any wonder we don’t score enough goals anymore? Speaking of Chamakh, didn’t he look happy taking that penalty last night? A stark contrast to the Ox and Jacky boy who confidently smashed their efforts home, I thought.
The treatment of Arshavin is also nothing to do with the board. We have taken one of the most exciting footballers in the world and turned him into someone fit only for the Carling Cup- and even then, only until Arsene decides he wants to take it seriously. And then, guess what? Sorry mate, you’re not good enough for us anymore. Take your fancy dribbling skills and ability to create something out of nothing and do one, because I’ve got a young Welsh lad who needs games. What the hell, Arsene, what the hell?
I don’t want to give you false impressions, I don’t believe that playing Arshavin last night would necessarily have averted this latest disaster. But I do think Mr Wenger’s treatment of him speaks to a dogmatic way of managing. I remember someone commenting once that it seems to take an age for a player to lose Arsene’s confidence, but once it’s gone- boy, it’s never coming back. And, of course, you would expect the manager of one of the biggest football clubs in the world to have a certain degree of single mindedness to him; but how can you expect Aaron Ramsey to be able to do the things that Arshavin was capable of?
Arsene once created a team so good that I got a text from a mate asking if I ever got bored of watching Arsenal win. My response was as predictable as Ian Wright’s when I heard him asked if he ever got bored of scoring goals (more than) a few years ago. I often think about that text, I think it haunts me to a certain extent. Because it doesn’t seem so long ago and yet, now, it feels like a lifetime ago. When I watch Arsenal now, there are no guarantees and nor should there be. But I miss that Arsenal. I miss the Arsenal you felt safe watching, safe in the knowledge that even if they lost a game, at least they’d give you something to remember them by. As I said to Jo last night, it comes to something when you can’t even relax watching them against Bradford City. There are some of you reading this, no doubt, who think I’m being arrogant and ungrateful; but this is, as we all know, about much more than just 120 minutes against a League Two side. I also said to Jo last night, just before Bradford’s final penalty- the thing is Jo, even if Bradford miss this, you wouldn’t bet on us scoring our final one.
And we all know what happened next.------------
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