Sunday, 3 April 2011
There's still a League title to fight for. Blackburn match report.
Arsenal 0 Blackburn 0
This was, in short, a dreadful day. Without wanting to come across all Myles Palmer, I started eating lunch and West Ham were 2-0 up; by the time I finished it was 4-2 to United.
Watching the highlights of that match in the pub before our match, I was once again shocked by Lee Mason's refereeing. Remember, this is the man who let Louis Saha's goal stand for Everton despite it being three yards offside: yesterday, he bottled sending off Vidic, and then awarded United a penalty which was never in a million years a penalty.
Meanwhile, we had to deal with Dowd. 'Nuff said.
And the more I think about it, the more the state of refereeing becomes a massive issue - English football is a multi-billion pound industry, and yet referees are paid pretty much bugger all. The obvious question is then why wouldn't they take a bung? Its the only way they're going to make any proper money out of their refereeing. It wouldn't even take very much money - perhaps ten grand, equivalent to the weekly wage of even the worst Premiership footballers - and in return, you've suddenly got the ref on your side.
I say this, because things really are beyond a joke. People are saying the League is over because we're seven points behind, but a look at the poor refereeing decisions just from the last few weeks shows how referees have changed things - at the very worst, if the correct decisions had been made against Newcastle and Sunderland we'd be four points behind, and frankly, it could have been even better than that: so much of football is about momentum, and those results definitely have had an impact on our season.
That's without even mentioning that I think we would be playing in the Champions League this week but for the most inexplicable refereeing decision I've seen all season.
Alas, enough about referees.
The performance yesterday was poor.
Frankly, nobody was particularly inspirational. In the ongoing game of Cluedo about why we can't win at the moment, I think its worth pointing out that even without Denilson, we were slow and insipid going forward - so much for him being the root of all our problems.
It's strange to say this, but the first fifteen minutes was our brightest spell - we just happened to have the wrong players on the end of chances. Theo was clearly rusty and had a poor game, and I remain unconvinced that Robin is fully fit - whenever he picks up even the most minor of injuries, it takes a long time for him to be fully tuned up.
Nasri was concussed and should have gone off but didn't, and we lost a lot of our impetus. When Dowd started playing five minutes stoppage time at the end of the first half, I was actually quite annoyed - I needed the toilet and the game had petered out.
But I didn't expect us to come out for the second half and continue with the weak football.
We did need a change - but what wasn't required was the removal of Arshavin, our best player up to that point. I'm unconvinced Cesc was quite fit enough to play, but regardless, him and Arshavin always link up well.
It was a very odd change, because Shava is the sort of player who can provide some of the magic which we needed yesterday.
When Theo was finally hauled off it was a blessing, but we didn't play into Chamakh nearly enough, a by-product of the bizarre decision to leave Robin up front.
Bendtner, as always, offered something, but I'm not convinced that our tactics for the last twenty minutes of putting it wide and crossing it into the box plays to our strengths.
It was, in all, a thoroughly unpleasant afternoon. Blackburn got a draw without offering any threat. I had a long argument with the guy sat next to me about Almunia, and I heard in the pub after the game that people had actually been fighting in the stands.
And yet despite all of this, it's very hard to blame the manager: at various points yesterday, we had Nasri, Wilshere, Arshavin, Walcott, Fabregas, Van Persie, Chamakh and Bendtner out there - if between them, they can't manufacture one goal, its hard to blame Wenger.
It's very, very easy to point fingers but the fact is, five weeks ago, we were doing brilliantly. These players clearly are talented, but they're just struggling for a bit of form. You can't coach that into them. Rooney was out of form for months, but he slowly rediscovered his touch - not because Fergie is a better manager than Wenger, but because he was given time.
Ignoring the key point in all of this - that there's still a League title to fight for - this is not a repeat of 2008 or 2010. Then, we were undone by a combination of injuries, defensive ineptitude, and in 2008 and inability to recover from the trauma of St Andrews.
This squad isn't too thin - every attacking player at the club was available for selection yesterday - and West Brom aside, we've actually defended pretty well.
I, for one, honestly think we've just suffered from bad luck, poor refereeing, and players hitting poor patches of form at exactly the wrong time in the season.
But there's still a League title to fight for: in reality, yesterday didn't change very much. The issue for me, is not the increased points gap - its whether we can actually play well and win a few games.
It was always unrealistic to expect us to win nine games in a row, but the larger point still stands - if we beat United and Spurs, I still think we'll be champions. That's a massive 'if' and the moment it looks very unlikely, but we need to keep on fighting.
Last season we gave up, and if we didn't, we might have won the League. Lets learn the lessons of last season and keep on fighting.
Keep the faith.