Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Time for a major piece

Jens cocked up like only Jens knew how. He pushed Robbie Keane everywhere and the Spuds were given a penalty which they scored to draw 2-2. But it didn't matter. For all Mad Jens' antics we had won the league at Shite Hart Lane.

That was 2004, the last time we won the league. But Arsenal fans didn't mind that much. The following season we challenged for the title, subsequently we had a Champions League final and everybody was happy as larry. 06-07 was a bad season but everybody can countenance one bad season and it was followed up by a strong league challenge which could have been successful but for one (or two) bad refereeing decisions at Old Trafford.

It looked like Arsenal were back - Wenger had built a third team, he was a genius. But this season is making the contrary look true. Last season's league challenge, rather than once again becoming the norm, looks like an exception. A lucky patch of 26 games.

I'm a big believer in defining moments. In the last 4 years, I think there were 3 massive moments which meant more than just the result. The first of these was when United kicked us off the park to end the unbeaten run. It gave us an air of fallibility which hadn't previously existed. Suddenly, other teams were happy to have a good, and we lost our way. The fact we were runners up for the league in 2005 was simply indicative of the good start to the season we had.

Then, Wenger's new team came of age: a series of beatings had been handed out in the North. But, at the Santiago Bernabeu they came of age, and fought back from mid-table mediocrity to 4th and a Champions League final.

The move to the new stadium was disruptive but there was clearly something there in this team, so nobody complained about one poor season. Then, the final defining moment in Arsenal's last 4 years was the Eduardo injury. Yes, the injury was sickening. But the fallout from it, was what really cost Arsenal. We lost all momentum and our league challenge was derailed.

But, the truth is far deeper. The reason those first 26 league games are looking like an exception is because we can't string results together like we did then. Winning became a norm then - something to be expected. Now, it is something to hope for, particularly away from home.

That's why Goodplaya is wrong - it's not that drawing with Boro in of itself is that bad a result. It's a result where you say "mmm humbug", rather than "ohmygod we're really shit". But it is indicative of a greater failing - too often, we are failing to win in places where we could win.

I can accept we lost to Fulham because we were shit that day. But on Saturday, we actually played quite well. Not sensationally, but quite well. We competed, we won some 50-50 balls, and we dominated Boro. Until they scored.

That is the problem - if this team takes the lead and is pegged back, they rarely react well - they don't go and score again, they mope.

But, another point about the Boro game is the interesting standpoint of Arsenal fans. I don't have a problem with people being critical of a player if they play badly or make a mistake, but at least lets not just single certain players out for criticism whilst affording others immunity. Its a trait the media has as well.

Have you read one article criticising Clichy for giving the ball away? No. Now I'm a huge Clichy fan, but remember the way Almunia was criticised for the goal we conceded at Chelsea and how Eboue is criticised for everything. Anyone can make a mistake, I don't have a problem with that. But, whilst Boro's goal was lucky, Clichy made an error. Arsenal fans should remember that, because he's made quite a few. Indeed, he was lucky not to give away a penalty. So, lets be honest: Eboue will never be a fans favourite but can his, Almunia and Bendtner mistakes be put in some sort of perspective here - yes they make errors but so does the whole team.

But Saturday aside, where does that leave us? – and that’s what I’m really trying to address here – one bad performance I can countenance. It wasn’t even that bad, but the failings are much deeper. And fundamentally, they are self-inflicted.

Wenger is an outstanding manager, but even he must recognise the failings this team has. In the summer, he expected Rosicky to be out till Christmas; he has spoken of Nasri’s quick adaptation to English football so he wasn’t expecting much from him so soon; he knew Theo was a raw talent; and he knew EbouĂ© wasn’t much cop, playing right wing. But whilst he at least acknowledges he tried to buy a defensive midfield player, there is none of this when he speaks about wide players. He doesn’t speak about wide players. He doesn’t believe he has a problem.

For fuck's sake he still won't admit he erred in failing to sign Ashley Young. We have no wide players. Kevin Whitcher isn't right - our last genuine wide player wasn't Overmars. Overmars was last but one. We've had Pires since then. But since the departure of Bobby Pires if you look at the record books, we've done bugger all.

Everyone knows I'm not a Walcott fan - he's overhyped by the media. God but not that good. But at least he runs at people. Creates space, gives us chances. That's what wide players do. I've never agreed with David Pleat before but he was right yesterday when he said on 5Live that Chelsea haven't been the same team without Robben. He ran at people.

And thats my problem: Arsene's sheer stubborness is quite possibly holding us back. Hleb wasn't a winger, but at least he played in wider positions. But, on Saturday Diaby and Denilson were playing wide midfield. Two central midfielders!! No arguments, thats what they are. Denilson is talented and works hard. He could be a really good player. But not on the right wing.

And the wide problems are indicative of greater failings. You don't have to be a doctor to realise that Kolo was going to struggle to recover from malaria. People who go to Africa have to take malaria pills - not Aids pills, but malaria pills. Because it is a prevalent disease which is really hard to get rid of. He's never recovered properly. But what did we do in the summer? Loan a really talented center back to AC Milan. It's ridiculous.

This might sound like a succession of complaints, but to me this team is having its potential wasted. A draw at the Riverside isn't a bad result but when you have ground to make up and your title rivals are struggling, it is a good time to start winning. Wenger needs to acknowledge this team needs help.

I said on Saturday it was only a little bit of help and its true. This team is 80% there. Buy a wide player, buy a defensive midfield player - and buy well like Nasri, Sagna and Eduardo: three good signings. Two more, and we'll be getting somewhere. And that somewhere could be truly special.

Keep the faith - Arsene does still know - I just want him to know a little more....



Anonymous said...

In spite of the fact i disagree with everything you ever say.. this blog actually makes some sense. It is similar to the problem i think spurs had and until lennon found some form we were struggling. With Lennon steadily improving (soon to eclipse walcott) we look a much better side. We also need a defensive midfielder, one of scott parkers quality.. he was world class against chelsea. Apart from lacking a real top notch front man, until we have another pacey winger and a defensive midfielder, much like arsenal we seem incomplete. That said, Jamie O'hara is still shit, but getting better.. and bentley is looking good these days.. (bentley from 40 and lennon from 2).

how was detention? :)

Anonymous said...

"I can accept we lost to Fulham because we were shit that day. But on Saturday, we actually played quite well. Not sensationally, but quite well. We competed, we won some 50-50 balls, and we dominated Boro. Until they scored."

I'm sorry, but you didn't even watch the match!

I can't believe you dared to put bendtner and clichy in the same league.

Wrighty7 said...

Hello mate,

Its quite difficult to get on Newsnew. It took me ages to get my blog on there!

Your best bet is Arsenalnews and Goonernews then just keep on applying to Newsnow.

Take care and good luck!