I suspect this will be a week of introspection and lock-down from Arsenal. Whatever media commitments had to performed will have been done so. I can’t imagine that we’re going to get the much-loved ‘bounce back’ or ‘must do better’ stuff this time around.
The Premier League table tells its own story:
If you were being very fair, you could make the argument that Chelsea are simply the outstanding team of the season, and they haven’t just left us in their wake but almost everyone else. And yet it’s impossible to look at our points total and think how much more interesting it would be if we hadn’t wet the bed in such ludicrous fashion this week.
A win against Watford, and turning up and winning at Chelsea would have completely energised things. A 3 point gap would have really tightened things up, perhaps rattled Chelsea’s confidence a bit, and the belief and momentum we’d taken from that would have proved very useful.
But if my aunty had balls, and all that. On the Arsecast on Friday I wondered if a team that couldn’t deal with the pressure – such as it was – of beating Watford at home could turn up and perform away at Chelsea. As much as I wanted to believe we could pull a footballing rabbit out of the hat, it was a question that deep down I knew the answer to.
I likened yesterday to Old Trafford last season. Having brought the game back to 3-2 with 25 minutes plus injury time to go, knowing we had to get something from the game to stay in touch with the leaders Leicester, we had nothing to offer. We didn’t look like a team that knew what to do or how to cope with that scenario. That loss was followed by one a few days later to Swansea, after which the nails were well and truly hammered into our Premier League coffin.
This time it was defeat to the smaller team first, then the bigger one, but it was all very familiar. At 1-0 down against Chelsea the game is far from over, but once more there was nothing doing. No cohesion, no penetration or attacking threat, and it felt like a matter of time before our carelessness cost us and so it was with the second goal.
Last season our title chances were finished at the beginning of March, so we’ve managed to relieve ourselves of that pressure a good month earlier than last time around. And now what? You know, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if we put together a decent run of results, won a lot of games, and finished in second. It would be just so very Arsenal to do that.
So, at the end of the season you could objectively say that it wasn’t that bad a campaign. There can only be one winner and to finish runners-up to a side that has marched their way to the title isn’t anything to be ashamed of etc etc.
Subjectively though, it’s very different. I saw Gary Neville talking on Sky and saying that if it were a manager who had been in the job for 18 months and doing as well as Arsene Wenger is in the league, there wouldn’t be the same amount of criticism. Which I think is probably fair – even if that man would still have been getting heat after losing to Chelsea in Wengerian fashion.
The issue is his longevity and people seeing the same scenarios play out season after season. And look, for all the criticism there’s a lot to be said for finishing second, third, fourth every year. It’s not easy, but the issue is being unable to take that next step and go the distance in the title race. Maybe we’ll look back in years past and crave that consistency, but the predictability of it, coupled with the length of Arsene’s reign, just makes it all too obvious.
It’s like being handed steak and chips every night for dinner. Steak is delicious, chips are delicious. Mmm, steak again, medium rare. I love steak. But after a while you’d give your right arm for a chicken sandwich, or a bowl of soup, or beans on toast. It might sound spoiled, because steak is not cheap and there are starving children all over the world who would gladly have that steak young man, but it is what it is. You just want something different.
I also think that because of how long the manager has been here, there’s a sort of fear of what life might be like without him. Philippe made an interesting point on the Arsecast on Friday about how there’s nobody at this football club with any experience of hiring or firing a manager. The only one who knows how that goes is Arsene himself.
Does that then make the idea of not changing the easiest one to take? It’s a massive job to replace him when he goes. The modern coach does not want to do all the things Wenger does, so you need a Director of Football, probably somebody to head up recruitment, as well as at least one person to be added to the board with real and genuine football knowledge – someone who knows the club well too.
So, not only do we need to find someone to take charge of the football team itself, we need to identify and recruit the right people for those extremely important positions too. Sounds like a lot of hard work when you can stick with what you’ve got and save yourself all that hassle. Here’s your steak and chips again. Why complain, it’s steak and chips, starving kids all over the world blah blah blah.
So, we chug on. The season still has some life to it in the shape of the FA Cup and the Champions League, but any confidence I had that we might be playing Bayern at the right time has evaporated over the course of the last week. I would dearly love to be wrong, but a seventh successive European exit at the Round of 16 seems inevitable, unless these players can find something within them that has been missing when we needed it most.
Steak. And. Chips. Only this time we’re well done.
James and I will be here later on with an Arsecast Extra, remember a problem shared is a problem halved and all that, so let’s get through this together! If you have any questions or topics you’d like us to discuss, please send them to us @gunnerblog and @arseblog with the hashtag #arsecastextra.
We should have that ready for you around midday. Until then, take it easy.