Sunday, 1 March 2009

Villa's failings are exacerbating our own problems

The problem with Arsenal at the moment is that the fans know they can do better. In many ways, it would be preferable if we consistently displayed the mediocre performances which have become synonymous with home Premier League games.

As fans, we would be able to question the ability of the team, but not the endeavour. And this is the crux of the problem. I don't think booing your own team helps, I really don't. But at the same time, it is looking like a question of necessity. If we knew that the performances like those displayed against Fulham, Sunderland and West Ham are all we could do, we wouldn't boo the team. We might chant against the manager but a lack of talent is not a reason to boo a player.

Indeed, the boo boys have latched on to Eboué not just because he has displayed performances which have at best been indifferent and at worst diabolical. No, they boo him because he can do better. We all remember the marauding full-back who helped take us to the Champions League final; the wonderful cross he put in for RVP's goal of the season. Yet, he no longer displays these abilities on the pitch.

And it is the massive gulf between the dross of Saturday and the beauty of Tuesday which are drawing the mirth of the crowd. Because we know they can do it!

I don't expect them to play wonderfully all of the time but it seems that unless we are playing a fellow top four side - and it looks like we can't count on being in that elite group for much longer - or a big European game, the players just look like they don't care. Let me reiterate: it is not a question of talent: no fan ever got on Ray Parlour's back even if he wasn't the most talented footballer. The problem is that when we see the vast gap between the two levels of performance we cannot but get pissed off.

Yet, my suspicion is that the blame lies not with the players, but with Wenger. As Kevin Whitcher points out, there was no Song, there was no Eboue, and there was no Bendtner. So one way of viewing that is that Wenger is merely trying to curry favour within the crowd: Rather than picking the players on merit, he's trying to do what the supporters want. I've written this 100 times, but Wenger is the integral figure that has shaped what this football club has become. And whilst it cuts me to the core to say it, I do wonder whether he's lost it.

How can he have a team which only tries in big games. He's created a team whose season rests on 180 minutes. He's said he doesn't care about the League Cup: fair enough. But having created a team which plays like this one, he has also created a team whose only chance of success is the cup competitions. We play Burnley next Sunday and Roma three days later. If we lose both of those games, I can foresee a serious backlash. At the moment, it is a significant minority who are unhappy with Wenger: unless he produces a trophy this season that will grow.

So it's three massive months. Let us be frank: we need a marvellous March, an amazing April, and a magnificent May. Indeed, what the title alludes to - Villa's failings are exacerbating our own problems - is that whilst Villa continue to fail to take advantage of our appalling form, it is creating a smokescreen for our own team. Instead of looking at how we can put the ball in the net, we can point out that Villa haven't extended their advantage on us. That's rubbish. We need to start grafting in each match and we need to start now.

If we don't, there's a bleak future ahead: no Champions League = big players leave = no re-qualification for Champions League = financial hardship. It's that stark. And it needs to be sorted out.

Nonetheless, I wrote last Sunday that this team needs our support: I stand by that.
Keep the faith,