...and it has been for at least five years
It's possible to lose just about any game of professional football. The FA Cup wouldn't hold its mystical attraction for smaller clubs if they could never get a result. Losing at home to Aston Villa is something that has happened plenty of times, and the 3-1 defeat we suffered yesterday was something that could have occurred even if we'd spent a record amount of money during the close season. However, by not strengthening the squad over the Summer Arsene Wenger failed to give his players the best chance of winning the game yesterday. If you have better players available then it is less likely you'll suffer the sort of loss that we did yesterday. The same thing applies with the Champions League tie coming up this week. Having seen further injuries to key players against Villa we are almost unable to field a full squad of first team players in Turkey. Again, Wenger has failed to give Arsenal the best opportunity to get through. But then I've never worked even one day in football, so what do I know?
There are calls for Wenger and the Board to go. I'm assuming that when people talk of "the Board" they really mean Kroenke. In terms of genuine influence the Arsenal directors have about as much power to do anything as you and I. Arsene Wenger is the major problem. He has been for years. As much as he was the reason we moved to an almost unprecedented level of success at Arsenal, he is solely responsible for the decline in quality and results in recent years. Before anyone throws the new stadium, and it's so called financial impact, in my face I would remind you that Arsene Wenger was the man who pushed for a move away from Highbury. He demanded a bigger stadium in order to "compete" in the transfer market. It was his idea. As I say, he is solely responsible.
If Kroenke was to throw it in, at a considerable profit to himself, the only person in a position to take on the Club is Usmanov. Let's leave aside whether or not you like the idea of such a man owning our Club and consider the fact that he is a billionaire of such proportions that he makes Abramovich look like Oliver Twist. We would have spending power to pretty much match Manchester City. However, if this Summer has told us anything it is that Arsene Wenger has no interest in spending anything more than he values a player at. What would be the point in Usmanov's money if Wenger was still in place to not spend it? Yet again I come back to the fact that Arsene Wenger is the problem.
It pains me to continually call for the head of a Manager who has given us so much to celebrate over the years. However, his judgement was impaired from the day he decided to sell Patrick Vieira. We should have won the Premier League in 2008, but Wenger refused to sign the one or two players we needed that January, and then also refused to bring back Jens Lehmann in place of Manuel Almunia. We should also have won the Premier League in 2011, but the squad was again left short by no more than one or two players, purely because he failed to go and make the requisite signings in January that season.
In recent times his public statements have become repetitive and embarrassing. The worst of them is his "if you can give me names of players who are better than what we have" etc etc. There is not a single person who has an interest in football (and probably plenty who don't) that couldn't provide a list of better players in every position than we have at Arsenal. In fact there was one who was with us up until a year ago, but was allowed to leave and fire Manchester United to the Title. Yesterday he told the press that Arsenal "work 24 hours a day" to bring in new players. Do not insult the supporters Arsene. Not everyone who follows football is your intellectual inferior. The contempt apparent in such an outlandish and outrageous statement is simply astonishing. It's a soundbyte of Redknapp proportions.
A part of me actually feels sorry for the likes of Ivan Gazidis. As I stated above, the Board is pretty powerless in the face of Arsene Wenger unless Stan Kroenke decides otherwise. Gazidis is particularly inert in this situation because Arsene Wenger actually appointed him. It must be some job where you get to appoint the person who is officially your boss. There is no way that Gazidis can sack Wenger, because Wenger gave him his massively paid job. What continues to amaze me is that there are people out there who will still defend Wenger in the face of such overwhelming evidence that the man has lost it and is currently the biggest problem that Arsenal Football Club has to deal with. I suppose Wenger might be considered the ultimate elephant in the room.
The game yesterday has been the subject of much conjecture among pundits and supporters alike. As far as I'm concerned we were beaten by a combination of two things, and neither of them were Aston Villa. Before I get back to Wenger I've got to deal with the referee, Anthony Taylor.
In the first minute of the game Taylor gave a foul against Tomas Rosicky for what was a superb tackle in the Villa half. Five minutes later he did it again. In between times Villa's players were at it all over the pitch without censure from Taylor.
Having taken the lead Arsenal were pretty comfortable. Villa were not a threat in any way. And then the Red Sea of Arsenal's midfield and defence (in the absence of Arteta) parted to allow Agbonlahor a run on goal. I've seen people moan about Szczesny in this one but that's unfair as he had to come and try to win the ball. What happened next is what concerns me. After the clear foul by Szczesny (which should have resulted in a penalty and a red card) the referee allowed the advantage of a free shot on an open goal which Villa missed. After the ball was hit wide the referee decided to award the penalty and book Szczesny. This is not acceptable. There is a difference between allowing play to go on to see if an advantage develops and actually allowing an advantage that a team fail to take. I don't see how you get given two bites of the cherry. It's ridiculous.
The niggly behaviour of the Villa players continued unabated while just about every challenge by an Arsenal player resulted in a free-kick. Kieran Gibbs got an awful cut following a bad challenge by Benteke (less than 30 seconds after the referee had penalised Giroud for a fair challenge at the other end - no free-kick was forthcoming for Gibbs). Giroud was then shoved in the chest by Vlaar in the penalty area as he chased a ball over the top but this was ignored by Taylor.
Then we come to the second penalty which was as good a tackle as you're going to see. I've seen what those idiots Murphy and Shearer had to say on Match Of The Day but that programme lost its credibility years ago. If that's a foul then we might as well go and watch basketball instead. Having given it (the linesman, with a better angle, gave nothing) the referee clearly knew he was wrong as he again issued just a yellow card. You can often tell a lot from the reaction of players and it was clear that everyone knew the penalty was a joke. I heard John Hartson on Radio 5 on my way home saying that it wasn't a massive turning point in the game. What nonsense that is - a goal that put Villa in front and a booking that would lead to a red card a few minutes later. Of course it changed the game.
When Koscielny did get sent off it was for a challenge that saw him not touch the opponent. It wasn't a dive, but it wasn't a foul either. Gabriel Agbonlahor's behaviour in getting around the referee to call for the red card has been ignored on television, but then it's only dirty foreigners that do that, isn't it? Less than two minutes later Vlaar took out a flying Rosicky, having already been booked, and yet no red card was forthcoming.
Referees are professionals these days. They are highly paid and, in the Premier League, are officially "elite" officials. That being the case they should be publicly answerable for their decisions in the way that a Manager is. Taylor should be questioned as to why he didn't send off Vlaar. I come back to another of my oft-quoted complaints on this site - either the referee is an incompetent, or there is something more sinister going on. I have said for a long time that I consider a number of officials in this country to be worthy of investigation. Displays like yesterday merely underline my stance.
So now let's deal with Arsenal and Arsene Wenger's contribution to yesterday. I'll keep this a little more brief as I'm conscious this post has dragged on somewhat. Regardless of the referee acting as a twelfth player for Villa we had the chances to have won the game. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was excellent down the left for Arsenal and Rosicky added a genuine spark to our play with his direct running. Sadly he was also responsible for two glaring misses when one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The shot he smashed miles over the bar was truly awful.
I've seen Wenger criticised for bringing on Cazorla at half-time instead of Podolski. I'm not having that. Cazorla did some travelling in midweek, but 45 minutes of action should not be beyond him. His display was abysmal when he did come on and his failure to control a football led directly to the second penalty and Koscielny's second yellow card. I would have raged at my seven year-old for such terrible attempts to trap the ball.
That's the only defence I'm going to give Wenger. Podolski and Sanogo spent most of the second-half warming up. In truth it was only ever Podolski who was going to come on. When Koscielny was sent off the two were called back to the bench. Podolski took off his tracksuit top and was ready to come on. He was then sent to sit down by Wenger. We were 2-1 down, with Aaron Ramsey playing centre-half, and the two strikers on the bench were told to sit down. The formation did not change. Even at 3-1 down we continued to play a lone striker. Surely a move to three at the back, with Podolski on for Walcott or Wilshere or whoever would have been the way to go.
When Villa went 3-1 up Arsene Wenger went and hid. As the vitriol poured from the stands he went and sat on the bench with his arms folded like a scolded child. With the injury time there was still the best part of ten minutes to go, yet the Manager had given up on the game. He should have been out on the touchline cajoling the side. He should have been making the long overdue substitution. Instead of that he went and sulked. Why should the players get any blame?
Things got even worse when Bacary Sagna got injured. Following lengthy treatment he finally was helped from the pitch. More than a minute later Podolski eventually came on. I got the impression that Podolski was seriously displeased as he hurled his tracksuit top across the bench in disgust at his belated introduction to play at left-back (still no change of formation). Why did it take so long? We played more than a minute with nine men because Wenger was sat on his hands watching but not paying any attention to what was going on. It was an insult to Podolski really. But the only other option was to bring on Emmanuel Frimpong who has not had a single minute of football since doing his cruciate while on loan at Fulham last season. If that doesn't underline the negligence of Wenger in the transfer market then I don't know what does.