Man United preview + Sagna and Walcott speak

Man United today and this game was supposed to be massive. It could easily have been the game which decided the championship. Today, all we can do is delay things a touch and, horribly, open the door a bit wider for Chelsea.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. They are where they are, we are where we are, and that tells the story of the two sides this season. The league table doesn’t lie. If you listened to the experts this was the weakest/worst United side of Ferguson’s reign. Perhaps they don’t have as much natural talent as some of his other teams but they’ve got the same work ethic, the same will to win, the drive and determination that sees them top of the league with a record title in sight.

And we, blessed with talent and a lovely way of playing football, can only look on and wish we had just a bit of what they have knowing it would make a big difference. We go into the game on the back of two rather damning assessments of the season from two of our players. Speaking to the News of the World, Bacary Sagna heaped the blame on the players, saying:

It’s embarrassing to be part of a team that hasn’t won a trophy for six years. We failed. It’s not the manager’s fault, it’s the players. Some people say Arsene Wenger’s not doing well, but he doesn’t play. Everyone was sad at Bolton. We have to be stronger in battle, that’s what we said after the game last Sunday.

This is the fault of the players – we have failed.

While in The People, Theo Walcott says:

The great thing about our manager is he always deflects things on to himself and keeps things completely away from the team. But that is where we need to help him out and we haven’t done that in previous weeks.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Although the buck stops with the manager you can’t blame him entirely. And while the performances have left something to be desired at times it’s not just the fault of the players either. When it came to crunch time we were found wanting, players and manager alike, and the culpability is shared. It has to be. The comments from both Sagna and Walcott again raise the awkward question of whether or not they’re doing it for Arsene any more.

If they haven’t helped him out, why haven’t they? And on the back of such frank admissions will Arsene then cut his losses with some of them? If you place a lot of faith in somebody and they let you down and let you down again even the most saintly man alive would lose patience. If not then the weight of blame shifts as obvious solutions are ignored.

Sagna hints at a culture in which players keep their counsel, where confrontation is rare:

Sometimes you have to stand up and be harsh, to accept criticism from other players in the team and be heard. We need to be more than just leaders. We have to talk more, if something needs to be said it must be said.

When Robin van Persie scolded Abou Diaby at half-time in the Blackpool game it was quite the story for a few hours. Mostly because we rarely hear that kind of thing come out of Arsenal. For me it was a good thing, the team is the most important thing at all times and it was right to remind Diaby of that. And maybe it’s something we need more of. Comfort, support, an arm around the shoulder – all great things in their place, but a good argument or a bit of a bollocking is just as good at times too. Especially when it comes from a teammate you like and respect.

It doesn’t mean you have to become sworn enemies but with some people, no matter what the walk of life, unless you demand more you get the bare minimum and to me that’s what’s happened to Arsenal too many times this season. Too many performances just going through the motions and the results of those have been clear to see. Let’s hope that changes, let’s hope there’s more to talk about and that people aren’t so inhibited to speak their mind. Unless you clear the air it becomes muddied and festering and that’s no good at all.

As for today, well, it would be just typical of this team to click today and beat United. Let me first say I would welcome that a great deal. A win will lift spirits, no doubt about it, and what’s happened over the last couple of weeks demands a response from these players. We’re at home in a game which should have been an exciting, nerve wracking, fingernail biting, end of season title clash of epic proportions. Instead it’s something of a damp squib as we look for the points which will keep us in the chase for second, at best.

That doesn’t mean the team should approach it any differently though. They might be disappointed and unhappy but nowhere near as disappointed and unhappy as the fans. Whatever happens today we need to see these players give 100% at all times. It’s always been my contention that if the team gives everything then you can deal a lot better with a poor result. We need to see the energy and drive of the Chelsea game earlier in the season. That was the performance which should have been the blueprint for our season but which sadly turned out to be as rare as a van Persie free kick goal.

Stripping away everything else this is still Arsenal v Man United. We might only have pride to play for now but that should be enough. They’ll put on the red and white shirt of Arsenal Football Club and they need to show that it really means something to them, because it means a lot to us.

Sagna again:

It makes me angry that we haven’t won a trophy this season, but the best way to change that is to win on the pitch.

It’s the only way to change that, and fingers crossed it begins today.

If you’re unable to view the game later there’ll be live blog coverage as usual, starting as soon as we have team news, so probably around 1-1.15pm. Check back later for the blog post and the team info. And remember, if you fancy a flutter on the game, our Arsenal Odds page gives you the best odds from a range of bookies – with some nice free/bonus bets too. So check it out.

Until then, it’s bacon, eggs, more coffee and some thoughts about what might have been.

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