By David Swadden
Oh, to be a gooner. A freak game but Wenger has made his own luck. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs”… oh screw it.
Angry, cheated, misled, let down, worried, frustrated – all feelings many Arsenal fans would have used to describe themselves before a ball was even kicked yesterday. So with a first game of the season with enough talking points to last until the end of the campaign, it’s a pretty lively time to be an Arsenal fan to say the least.
Let’s put some truths on the table about Arsenal vs Aston Villa 2013. The referee did indeed have a shocker. The amount of injuries was also dreadfully unlucky and Chez was unlucky to not save the first penalty. Arsenal started fast and I remember discussing with friends early on that the crowd’s mood would be hugely dependent on the result, far more so than usual. Ask most of our fans, and I would exepct the majority would tell you we have a useful starting 11 when all are fit, capable of challenging for the top four but lacking a couple of game-changers to take us to the next level. But once the game turned, so did the crowd.
Now some may call that fickle, after all, where were the chants of “spend some f**king money” when all was going rosily? The answer – you make your own luck and much of Arsenal’s undoing was bad luck brought on precisely because of the state the squad is in. The two were very closely related.
Let’s look at Villa’s first goal for example. Agbonglahor waltzed past three players before being brought down. A dodgy decision ultimately you may say, as advantage was given and squandered. However, the important point is that a real defensive midfielder, a tough enforcer, would have been on hand to snuff out that kind of run and protect the back four. Other issues in a defensively frail performance was the form of Bacary Sagna, who looks to be the player of earlier this year, rather than seasons’ past. The very fact that Wenger is starting to talk about Sagna as a centre-back suggests he believes the Frenchman is starting to wane as a full-back. So where is his replacement/cover aside from the raw Jenkinson?
Another big talking point was the introduction of Santi Cazorla. Don’t get me wrong, the little Spaniard is one of our best players and evidence of what you get if you actually pay decent money. But he clearly wasn’t fit to play a major role and it was his two tired touches that led firstly to the penalty that wasn’t, and then to Koscielny’s second yellow. The Ox’s injury was unfortunate, but it was the thin nature of the squad that ultimately meant an unfit player had to be introduced.
And, despite an early goal, I remain to be convinced that Giroud has anywhere near the qualifications needed to be our lone front man. It was as though he felt that the early tap-in was enough contribution from him and preceded to then squander chances and display pretty unsubtle technique and touch where it mattered.
So when the furious cries calling Wenger to spend came, I couldn’t help myself. Here was an opportunity to show a stubborn manager, seemingly immune to accountability from his bosses, just how let down and angry we, the fans, who were here before him and will be there long after he leaves, felt. Most Arsenal fans have been enormously patient with the club but it does feel like we are at a crossroads now. I have never known such fan discontent and have never found it so difficult to provide a moderating argument.
Present day Arsenal and Arsene are as interconnected as their respective names suggest. Wenger prides himself as a purist and a visionary, and he has built a club around that vision, where he appears less manager, more supreme spiritual leader. For years it worked perfectly, but now it seems to be very slowly caving in on itself. A big question is – has Wenger’s approach ever changed from the all-conquering turn of the century squads or has football changed around him? I suspect the latter. The gems are becoming easier to find and other teams have taken heed of our approach and provide far stronger competition for the present-day Ljungbergs and Pireses have seen us instead pick up the Gervinhos and Arshavins.
And what we now see is a rigid Wenger, either unable or unwilling to change, desperately defending his strategy with any excuse he can find rather than admitting it may be out of date. This week, for example, Wenger even suggested that Gervinho simply suffered from a lack of confidence, and seemed to blame the fans for his short and sub-par Arsenal career, remarkable.
I must admit, before yesterday’s game, I had been willing to hold judgment on Wenger’s summer until the end of the transfer window and took the immediate doom and gloom with a pinch of salt, remembering our stunning end to last season. But unlike the manager, I’ll admit I was wrong.
It’s not that my faith in the current team as a decent starting XI has not wavered. If injuries didn’t exist and every decision was just, I wouldn’t be worried. But that just isn’t football. Yesterday made me see how little margin for error and misfortune Wenger has allowed for, and that is a decision that is naïve at best and downright arrogant and negligent at worst. And of course, what makes fans so angry is there is just no need. We have no selling saga to deal with, we have money in the bank and a large chunk of the wage bill and squad list shorn.
Probably best to finish up now, as there are so many issues at play that I could go on for hours, we haven’t even address the fact that, when Sagna got injured at the end, the bench was in such disarray that a substitute was, for quite a long time, nowhere to be found! There’s two issues at play on Arsenal’s lack of transfer activity. Firstly, we of course lack the amount star quality that we have missed since the departures of Nasri, Fabregas and Van Persie. But more glaringly obviously yesterday, we missed simple squad depth which was so exposed. Fate can be a cruel mistress and karma a bitch, but my goodness this summer has been tempting both.
It’s extraordinary that despite failing to qualify for the champions league, looming stadium debt and facing the departure of one of their best players for generations, it is Tottenham fans who have far more cause for optimism over their clubs fortunes at the moment.
Your move Arsene, and it better be a bloody bold one.