Another dismal day at the office. Beaten by a Swansea side who passed it around us like, well, the Arsenal, and who, in the cold light of day, didn’t have to work that hard or do anything particularly special to win the game. Two late goals compounded what has been a difficult week and sadly it seems that days like this are no longer the exception, if not quite the rule.
The stark fact is that Arsenal have played 15 league games this season and won just 5. Defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea are one thing, losing at home to Swansea and away to Norwich something else entirely. And it’s not even the defeats themselves, it’s the manner of them, the paucity of performance, the lack of energy and drive and the inability to change a game when it’s not going for us.
Arsenal’s front three yesterday were, to a man, woeful. Gervinho was Gervinho, Podolski was almost invisible and Theo Walcott’s performance is exactly why there should be reservations about breaking the bank and making him our highest paid player. It was as gutless a performance from a single player as I’ve seen in a long time and smacked of a guy who knows he’s off and couldn’t really be arsed on the day.
But where were the options? Giroud for Gervinho, grand. Oxlade-Chamberlain for Podolski, grand, but then you remember he’s still a kid and for all his potential he’s still learning the game. A barely fit Tomas Rosicky came on for Jack Wilshere and there was no place on the bench for Andrei Arshavin or Marouane Chamakh. Clearly both players are out of favour with the manager, and to even hold them up as possible saviours speaks loudly about the issues we have in terms of squad depth, but you have to wonder if the Russian, at least, might have been able to spark something in a 15-20 minute cameo.
After a first half in which Arsenal looked leaden-footed, we were better in the second. Santi Cazorla was our best player and our only real threat but the Swansea keeper dealt well with everything thrown at him. At the other end Wojciech Szczesny kept Arsenal in it, making a string of good saves and his frustration at the two late goals we conceded was understandable.
Michu is the kind of signing Arsene Wenger would have made a few years ago. A player of real quality but a bargain, someone who’d flown under the radar. £2m and 11 goals. If that doesn’t smack the arse of someone like Chamakh, signed on a Bosman, paid accordingly and about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike then I don’t know what does. For all the talk of spending and wages and how we need to increase them all immediately, we were played off the park by a team which was put together for far less and nowhere near as well paid.
Pound for pound, even with some of the stragglers, that’s an Arsenal team that should have been able to beat Swansea. There was enough quality and experience in that team to win the game. That they didn’t obviously raises uncomfortable questions. If a group of players who are capable of more continually fail to produce then questions have to be asked of the man who manages them. That is football, at Premier League, Championship, Conference or Sunday League level.
And Arsene Wenger is that man. Afterwards he spoke about his squad being ‘physically jaded’. And you know what, I think it is. Physically and mentally. I get it. They’re tired. A bad result saps the energy so quickly, and we’ve had too many of them this season. But the reason they’re tired and jaded is because it’s the same players week in, week out with no real alternatives available. No options. Nothing different. And that is down to the manager.
Part of me wonders if the manager hasn’t had as much support financially as he needs to maintain a squad but ultimately this is a squad of the manager’s making and it’s simply not strong enough. Arteta and Cazorla are being played into the ground. If Giroud is understandably tired after working on his own up-front then the fact we don’t have a replacement worthy of a place on the bench is down to the manager.
Arsenal went into the new season with Jack Wilshere out injured, Tomas Rosicky out injured (Dec 1st marked his first appearance of the season), and took a huge, huge gamble that a decent pre-season might be the answer to all of Abou Diaby’s injury problems. It wasn’t. Diaby took a shot 17 minutes into the game against Chelsea on September 29th, hasn’t been seen since and is in some sort of permanent 3-weeks-from-fitness limbo. Our midfield is exhausted, that is down to the manager.
The change in the backroom staff has done little to improve things, if anything, they’re worse. Certainly if you go by the blindingly obvious measure of points on the board. After 15 games last season we had 29 points, this time around it’s a measly 21. Not that this is the fault of Steve Bould, not by a long way, but it just shows that those who shouted loudly about Pat Rice were a long way wide of the mark. The weaknesses, the frailties, the problems remain and the man at the top is the constant.
This season is what last season probably would have been like without Robin van Persie. This time around the spark of genius, the flash of the left boot or the chocolate leg is missing. When Gervinho had a free header 8 yards from goal yesterday he didn’t even hit the target. He didn’t even hit the corner flag it went that far wide. I understood what the manager was trying to do this summer by making his team less reliant on one man for goals but in doing so he made them reliant on players who are now weary and on the verge of looking broken.
Losing games is part and parcel of football, how you react to that is the key. In season’s past when results demanded a response we were capable of digging deep and producing that. Now, more often than not, we can’t. The man who creates a squad is the man tasked with getting the best out of those players and on both counts it’s fair to say Arsene is falling short. Not only is the squad light but he seems unable to wring performances from the players he has. After the two away draws a home game like yesterday was the perfect game to get back on track, to restore some pride and confidence, and to see Arsenal so listless and flat was massively worrying.
That we have another seven games this month before anything can be done to boost the squad is a bit scary too. If the players are jaded now, and I always find that kind of excuse self-defeating because the minute a manager says his players are tired they’ll feel tired, how are they going to fare for the rest of this month?
Ultimately football is a results driven business. The results this season have not been good enough and for me the biggest worry is that this is a situation which will be played out indefinitely. I can’t see Arsene Wenger walking away. For all the criticisms of him I don’t doubt his love for this club and his desire to do well. This will be hurting him, make no mistake, and he’ll want to put things right. At the same time I don’t think Stan Kroenke is interested enough, or knowledgeable enough, to have any kind of positive input.
I worry that if and when the time comes that’s there’s isn’t sufficient football knowledge at the club to appoint the right man. Arsenal Football Club made a brave, forward thinking decision to appoint Arsene Wenger back in 1996. Is there anyone there now who could likewise? After just 5 wins in 15, (and it’s not just this season either, let’s face it) whether at Arsenal or any football club, the question ought to be asked – Is the manager getting the best out of the players he’s got and if not is there anybody else out there who will?
If the conclusion is that yes, yes there is, then it’s something that should be considered. But Arsene is so entwined in the fabric of the club, particularly the footballing side of things where he makes all the decisions, it’s like there’s a vacuum. There’s nobody to ask that question, let alone act upon it. It’s all a bit sad and unseemly and it’s hard not to think there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way we’re set up.
The timing of it seems awful too. Arsene hinted last week that his hands had been tied for years because of the stadium yet now there’s money on the horizon. Another couple of bad results, especially in the league, and the pressure will mount, faith will fall and it’d be not unreasonable to ask if that money should be available to somebody new rather than to firefight. But even if his hands were tied did he use what he had as well as he could have? Did he really have to sell his best players, his captains, summer after summer? Did he replace them properly?
They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, it feels a bit like that this morning, and it’s not nice. I understand completely why people want things to change and to want a new manager, but I find the vitriol leveled at Arsene a bit hard to take. If you think it’s time for him to go, fine, but he’s not a clown or a cunt or any of those other hashtag inspired insults. He’s a man who has worked miracles for this club, but now the loaves are stale and fish are rotting.
Nor am I convinced that changing the manager is the great panacea when there are clearly issues with how the club is run from the very top. In short, I don’t really know what to think, other than our problems go deeper than the manager. But the manager is the guy who takes the fall when the time comes. Clubs rarely change the make-up of the board, they don’t get rid of 8 players to solve their problems, it’s one man out, one man in.
Do I see that happening at Arsenal? Not at the moment. I think things would have to get a lot worse for that to happen and while some may say it has to get worse for it to get better, it’s still something that can be dealt with if they just get better. But at the moment it’s hard to see how.