Yesterday morning a consortium in the Middle East talked publicly of bidding £1.5bn for the club, but added the veiled threat that this figure would be less if the team failed to qualify for the Champion’s League. The afternoon’s events probably knocked a hundred million off the price tag.
Losing narrowly at White Hart Lane is no disgrace, even for Arsenal. This is the best Spurs side in 20 years, and in Gareth Bale, they have the in-form player in English football. Arsenal saw plenty of the ball, worked hard, and at least broke the worrying habit of only turning up in the second half.
What is hard to excuse is the endless spiral of the same failings, and the lack of any obvious concrete steps to address them.
- Defensive weakness: The back four (and particularly the centre-backs) continue to make simple individual or collective mistakes to gift the opposition goals. There seems to be a total lack of communication and cohesion, and today we again saw the suicidal tactic of trying to hold a high line with Mertesacker and Vermaelen, while our quickest defender languishes on the bench. Speaking of the Belgian, Vermaelen’s concentration levels and aggression seem to have crumbled under the weight of the captaincy. And the players just stand around blaming each other. The lack of personal responsibility is astounding at times. Wenger’s quotes after the match today suggests that he sees no need to change any of the training methodology. Steve Bould looks like a man permanently in mourning on the touchline, and the rumours that he has been marginalised by the manager seem to ring more true every week, given their total lack of communication.
- Lack of midfield protection: Since the departure of Flamini and Gilberto, we’ve only really had six months of Alex Song being an effective defensive shield in midfield. Unfortunately as his technique grew, his defensive discipline lapsed and by all accounts he developed a negative attitude. Arteta is a good footballer, but as the season has gone on, he has started taking less creative responsibility, and fundamentally lacks the physical presence, pace or aggression that the team needs. If he is to remain in the side he needs a footballing bruiser with a good engine and excellent recovery pace alongside him. A sort of fit version of the Diaby we saw at Anfield rather than the timid one in the recent weeks before his latest set-back.
- Plenty of possession but little end product: Once again Arsenal saw more of the ball, but Tottenham created the better chances. The lack of penetration in the team’s play is a steadily worsening issue, with the team’s idea of being direct largely consisting of lumping it hopefully to Giroud. As was evident watching the game, and highlighted on MOTD2, Walcott was constantly making good runs into the space behind the Spurs defence, particularly at 0-0 with the hosts playing a high line. Despite the acres of open space, only four or five through balls were attempted, and only a couple reached him. It is rather depressing to contrast this with the exploitation of space behind the Arsenal centre-halves. This problem is exacerbated by Giroud’s lack of pace and agility. For all his work-rate, link-play and aerial prowess, he still seems suited for a different style of play than our midfield. The less teams fear us going forwards, the more it exposes our fragile defence. With Fabregas and Van Persie at the sharp end, the opposition were always rather more worried about the consequences of losing possession and over-committing. That fear is no longer there.
- Tactical Naivety: As in so many big matches (Man Utd, Chelsea & Man City all spring to mind), we allowed ourselves to be totally exposed on the counter attack. Spurs played largely like the away side, defending in numbers and breaking with pace when our stodgy passing game or blunt attack broke down. Given that this has now obviously been a set tactic against us for the last few seasons, it would probably be sensible to take this into account. Sadly, as our manager said before the game: “We don’t plan for anybody. It is always the same – focus on our strengths and forget about your opponent”. This echoes what ex-players have said before, and is astonishingly arrogant in the light of our decline in quality of personnel. Things are not helped by Wenger’s bizarre substitutions when chasing games. Jenkinson was proving a fine attacking outlet, so taking him off so early seemed odd, but it was still better than the tactical chaos that followed. And given that throwing Mertesacker up front has yet to yield any dividends in any matches, perhaps the manager should consider other tactical variations.
The problems are so basic, obvious and frustratingly familiar. And have been so for some time. Yet each time, the manager reacts as if witnessing a new phenomenon. As the Narcotics Anonymous (not Twain or Einstein as has been said) quote goes: “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”
Questioning the manager’s brain functionality is a little over the top, but when he can say “We were not efficient in the zones where it matters: at the front and at the back” without a hint of irony, whilst seemingly divorcing himself and his players of responsibility you have to wonder.
Any intelligent observer can see the problems with the team, and can suggest plausible improvements. Many of the required changes to the playing staff are within the club’s budget. But with the manager determined to do things his way and a board that is happy with the status quo, most fans are not optimistic.
Talkin’ ’bout a revolution…
The Independent described today as ‘another small descent further into mediocrity‘. While that is a touch dramatic, there is no doubt that the club has lost focus since the stadium move and has been slowly drifting. Stan Kroenke and the remaining few of those who lined their pockets on the back of Wenger’s success project an air of indifference that has alienated the fanbase. Arsenal fans are famously loyal, patient and averse to knee-jerk reactions, but the board and management need to recognise that as they ignore the desire for small changes, the level of change desired will only increase.
A growing percentage of fans not only want specific changes to address team and tactical deficiencies. Significant numbers now want change almost for its own sake. Supporting Arsenal has become an almost an experience of ever decreasing circles. Nothing changes and every season is the same, only very slightly worse each time. The same mistakes are made, the same buying and selling policy continues, the supporters increasingly feel like irrelevant customers rather than fans, and those customers are losing hope under the current regime. Most Arsenal supporters I speak to are genuinely bored, and are becoming less emotionally involved as each season passes by. And even if we are just customers to our club, they need to remember they are selling primarily an entertainment product. While they operate under the illusion that talented ball-players and goals equals entertainment, few will happily keep paying to watch the odd beautiful bit of acting in a film trilogy where the plot of each film is exactly the same. Whether fan dissatisfaction will eventually manifest itself in dwindling ticket sales or major protests is uncertain, but for many it was summed up by one specific fan; “the whole thing feels rather more dull and pointless every year“.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing. — Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)
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