Monday, 26 April 2010

How many meaningless games do Arsenal play? Man City match report

Arsenal 0 Man City 0

I doubt I can tell you anything about the match itself which you haven't read elsewhere. But that does not mean you should stop reading.

Because although the football on show yesterday did little to inspire anybody, it still provoked a few questions.

First, why did Bendtner not start? 4-3-3 was all well and good when a first-choice front six was available. The guile of Shava and pressing of the front three, together with Fabregas' ability to pick a pass made it most worthwhile.

But Mancini has deliberately set City up to be difficult to beat; but that hasn't come from banging the goals in. The man won the title in Serie A by keeping it tight and winning one or two nil.

So put these two things together: with no Fabregas and Arshavin, Arsenal clearly lack the creativity they had earlier in the season. And Mancini plays pretty negatively anyway. It therefore seems unforgivable to not pick Nicklas Bendtner from the outset; he is clearly a player in form as his recent flurry of goals shows, and Arsenal were not going to create many chances for a lone striker, even one as improvisational as RVP. The team has got used to playing to the Dane's strengths. To bench him, was really a tactical folly.

The manager suggested that a degree of negativity was unsurprising because the effect of recent defeats had caused psychological problems. At risk of being overly-critical, is it not the job of the manager to get players to recover from those doubts? It was irrelevant in terms of the League, but surely he should make sure those doubts are not allowed to set in: it does not bode well for next season.

There's no doubt April has brought an Eric Pickles-sized chasm of disappointment. But the players really must pick themselves up and realise that a couple of wins will provide the feel-good factor so dearly needed at the moment. At the end of season 02-03, having thrown the League away, Arsenal finished with two wins: a 6-1 and a 4-0. It would bear out the manager's abilities if they could do this once again.

Yet, what my brother and I really discussed during the match (as it threw up this question), was how many games like this one do Arsenal play? And secondly, would it be preferable as paying customers to have something to hope for even if it means an inferior season?

The answer to the first question is very few. It is very, very rare that Arsenal play a match of zero importance. If we had conspired to lose the City match, they could still have finished above us. The game did provide an overriding feeling of nothingness. But it did have a tinge of disappointment.

Reforming the Champions League meant that there are far fewer dead games: the second group stage always threw up one team which was already through/ already out in the last round of games. It happened against Olympiacos earlier this season; but it was still interesting because we got to see the young players.

The reality is, Arsenal could have drawn three or four games against lower-half teams and still have something to play for. But what we unequivocally agreed on, was that a title challenge which falls slightly short is infinitely preferable to a season which lasts 38 games but you are struggling to get in the Champions League: the League campaign of 2009-10 was five times better than that of 2005-06.

And that underlines the crucial point: this has not been a bad season at all.

Right now though, I think most Gooners want the season to end and a cull to begin. It is because of this strong animosity towards certain players, that a few of them could do with a performance: just to show how good they really are. And that's why Blackburn and Fulham still matter.

Keep the faith,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this has been yet another disappointing and bad season. what did we achieve? a squad that's going nowhere and a champions league spot? 5 years without a trophy is not good enough. misguided faith i'm afraid