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Monday, 16 May 2011
Why should we be surprised?
When I saw the Arsenal substitutes yesterday I knew what we were in for. A bench that included Eboue, Denilson, Miquel and Henderson told me that the Manager clearly didn't see the game as a match that absolutely had to be won. With that kind of message to those starting the game how could we possibly expect them to finally drag themselves from the malaise that has engulfed Arsenal since the Carling Cup Final? It was no surprise, really, to be two goals down after quarter of an hour. The defending for both goals was amateurish, but that's pretty much what we've come to expect. Quite why Arsene Wenger felt Arsenal would be okay to pair two centre-halves who haven't played recently only he could answer. With a goalscorer like Darren Bent up against them it was a recipe for disaster.
The players seemed to up their game a little once we were two behind but we didn't test Friedel at any time in the first-half. Our first shot came after twenty-plus minutes, and that was only because Thomas Vermaelen took matters in to his own hands. We had Theo Walcott on the right, as usual, but he did not touch the ball until the twenty-sixth minute of the match. I sat behind the goal yesterday, downstairs by the away fans. It was noticeable from there that Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere do not stop running throughout the game. It was also noticeable that our defensive midfielder, Alex Song, seemed to be taking it upon himself to play the Cesc Fabregas role for most of the first-half. With that in mind, is it any wonder that our rusty cetral defenders were left so exposed?
I've read that Dunne's challenge on Ramsey was a stick-on penalty before half-time. As I said, I was right behind that goal and I didn't think it was a penalty. From my position Dunne seemed to make a very good tackle, and most of those around me seemed to be of the same opinion. It seems that the TV cameras must have provided a somewhat better view of the incident. Apart from that the referee was awful again. Somehow Petrov stayed on the field, and the disallowed goal was a complete joke. However, it was a sign of how bad Arsenal were that the referee didn't get the stick he deserved from the crowd. It was also a sign of how the season has fallen apart that the ire of the fans was directed at the players and Manager.
Our form since the Carling Cup failure has been largely relegation standard. We are unlikely to finish in the top three now which will mean a qualifying round, from an unseeded draw, for the European Cup. Perhaps a failure to qualify for the big one would finally bring the problems we face in to sharp focus. The big problem with finishing outside the top three, however, is that without the guaranteed money of the Champions League the transfer funds will not be known until it is too late.
Regardless of where we finish I now think there will be some changes to the playing staff. Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy have all developed "injuries" in the past few weeks. I find it unlikely that any of them will be with Arsenal next season - we've seen it happen with Flamini, Wiltord and Edu in other years. Andrey Arshavin would clearly rather be somewhere else, but it might be more difficult to offload the Russian. Then we have the dead wood to consider. Nicklas Bendtner is not going to hang around for the chance to play on the wing from time to time, while Denilson, Eboue, Rosicky, Diaby, Vela and Squillaci should all be shown the exit door. They won't be, of course, but I think at least four of them will be gone. Their role in the squad is easily replaced by returning loanees like Lansbury, Emmanuel-Thomas, Bartley and the promising Miyaichi. I'll be writing a piece about the loan players in the weeks to follow. The more high-profile departures, though, must be replaced by top class signings. As well as that there is the need to spend good money on quality players to address the weaknesses we already have in the side.
I'm not going to hold my breath on any of that happening because it would require such a change in the philosophy of Arsene Wenger. We must hope that the Board direct the Manager to make changes - they're certainly not going to sack him. With Manchester City likely to get better and better, and Torres likely to find his form we have probably missed our best chance of regaining the Premier League Title. Without investment in the team we face the prospect of following Liverpool in to mid-table obscurity. That is something that does not bear thinking about.
Now, where did I put that season-ticket renewal form? I feel privileged to pay a 6.5% increase, honest.