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Monday 8 February 2010

Bedraggled at the Bridge

Hi folks,

Perhaps like anything that one does for too long, le Prof has been cocooned in a comfort bubble of autocratic control of the club for so long that he's begun to take his position for granted, believing he need answer to no one else but his own obstinate self. Nevertheless one would've imagined that Gazides might've set Arsène straight, by suggesting to him that he needed to be seen to be doing something to address such an obvious deficiency in the striking department during the transfer window.

However while I'm not sure I agree, I can appreciate Wenger's logic, as he could've spent untold millions of the club's money, in an effort to resolve the problem (money, which for all we know, might be earmarked for some other purchase in the summer) and as I've mentioned below, there's no guarantee that the outcome of our games against Man Utd and Chelsea would've been any different.

Nevertheless, although Arsène has never been one for playing to the gallery, by pandering to the demands of the media and the fans, perhaps he should be more sensitive to the overall psychological well-being of his squad. Although this crucial run of four games might've come too soon for any new arrivals to have a personal impact on the pitch, they might've provided a much needed moral boost, whereas his refusal to act has left the likes of Shava et al contending with the certain knowledge that they are going to have to soldier on until the end of the season.

On the radio on Sunday, commentator and pundit both spoke in disparaging terms about Arshavin's body language at times. But then it's hardly surprising that the diminutive Ruski is looking a little disheartened, when he's endured a run of games where he's toiled away up front for little, or sadly no reward, trying to stand up to the more muscular oppositions' efforts to bully him off the ball.

I must admit that I've found myself grumbling about Arshavin's tendency to drift out of games, as he appears to lose concentration and focus late on. In fact I was a little surprised when he wasn't substituted when Eboue and Bendtner came on with fifteen to go, as Shava looked like he had run out of steam. However I guess le Gaffer felt it was worth leaving him out there, since other than Fabregas, Arshavin is perhaps the one other player in the Arsenal squad most capable of pulling something special out of the bag and perhaps his presence on the park could've occupied the Chelsea defence sufficiently to provide space for others.

However in truth it is perhaps the Russian who has most cause to feel a little disgruntled, as I very much doubt he arrived at the Arsenal expecting to play for long periods as a lone striker, shouldering the entire burden of the club's goalscoring expectations. And yet Shava's got on with the job, apparently whilst nursing an injury to his right foot which prevented him from using it in training. In an age when most players will cry off at the first sign of the slightest niggle, putting their own personal longevity before the club's cause, it's refreshing to hear of a player who's both prepared to put the club's needs before his own personal preferences and to play through the pain.

Although our team has been bettered twice by Chelsea, at least we're blessed with a far superior snooker baize like playing surface, compared to the uneven one they performed on at the Bridge yesterday. Bearing this in mind, all it would've taken was a favourable bobble here and there, for there to have perhaps been an entirely different outcome. I'm not for one minute suggesting this was an excuse, but before everyone starts throwing their toys out of their pram in le Prof's direction, we should perhaps be mindful of the minute margins between success and failure.

If Gael Clichy hadn't had cause to abandon his post in those crucial opening minutes, the Gunners might not have been quite so susceptible to the counter attack which resulted in the second, as perhaps they wouldn't have been anxiously chasing the game in such a gung-ho fashion quite so early on.

Moreover, while I might have argued below that the possession statistics were not significant because Chelsea allowed us to have the ball, for the most part yesterday's performance demonstrated that our side isn't so far behind the league leaders. This is perhaps my biggest source of frustration because it would suggest that Arsène isn't actually that far from getting it right.

Yet I fear that by not demonstrating the necessary ambition, by going out and breaking the bank for a world class keeper, to provide the sort of reassuring presence that the likes of Van der Sar and Czech offer our opponents between the sticks and by soldiering on without a recognised guaranteed 20 plus goal scorer, this could be a fatal mistake, if yet another season of unfulfilment precipitates Fabregas' departure and without his fulcrum. Arsène would be forced to begin again from scratch!

Meanwhile, Arsène truly needs to earn his corn in the two days between Sunday's demoralising defeat and Wednesday's encounter with the Scousers. It could be seen as a make or break match, in which we could either affirm our right to the cushion of a comfort zone between us and the chasing pack, or find ourselves fatally ending up rejoining the fray below. Ultimately, considering how relieved Liverpool must be feeling to have clambered back into 4th place, after having been written off only a couple of weeks back and in light of both sides energy sapping encounters this weekend, I won't be too surprised to see both sides settle for a face-saving, honours even outcome.

Go Gunners, please prove me wrong!

Keep the faith


I struggled to muster the enthusiasm to drag myself off the couch on Sunday afternoon. I'd been suffering from a bout of the lurgy for a couple of days and feeling decidedly ropy, the last thing I fancied was freezing my cods off on my motorbike, traversing the capital to Stamford Bridge. However, aside from being unable to abide the thought of my fifty quid ticket going to waste, football's perennial "funny old game" potential for ignoring the form book, meant that I couldn't bear the prospect of not being present, in the event the Gunners engineered an unlikely victory.

I wasn't particularly optimistic but I certainly expected a less frustrating encounter than the previous week's feeble 1-3 defeat to Fergie's mob. I assumed that as the home side, the Blues would be forced to show sufficient ambition, thereby affording us the sort of space necessary for us to profit from our passing game. I should've known better, as sadly the Arsenal's encounters with the top two have become thoroughly predictable.

Self-discipline might not be a character trait present in the Chelsea captain's private life, but on the pitch Terry and co. executed Ancelotti's game-plan to perfection. Let's face it, it's hardly rocket science! If the opposition gets enough bodies between us and their goal, the chances are that our efforts to weave a mazy path through the midst of their massed ranks will flounder time and again. The home side didn't even have to exercise much patience. Once we were forced to chase the game, after gifting them the opening goal, the Arsenal were always at risk of being undone on the counter, by such an incisive and clinical goal-getter as Drogba.

The truth of the matter is that Arsène Wenger's side have always been susceptible to being hit by a sucker punch, but this has become a much bigger problem because our one-dimensional modus operandi makes it far too easy to thwart us at the other end of the pitch.

Some might seek solace in the fact that, we once again dominated possession, but unlike boxing, you don't win football games on points, by being the aggressor. Besides, this was more a case of Chelsea allowing us to have the ball, as we were mugged off by the same rope-a-dope tactics made famous by Muhammad Ali in 'the Rumble in the Jungle' Mind you, it might've been a different story if the Gunners possessed just a little of George Foreman's physical prowess.

Perhaps Wenger was hoping Walcott's pace might stretch Chelsea's defence, offering us the alternative of the ball over the top. Sadly Theo seems to have regressed to a point where he's totally unrecognisable as the same confident player who curried favour with Capello with a hat-trick against Croatia. However when it's patently obvious to everyone on the planet that Shava isn't suited to leading the Arsenal line, it's hardly credible that a manager as astute as Wenger can obstinately continue to plough on, regardless.

West Ham lost again on Saturday, despite their new Arthur Daley win double-act stumping up for a brace of strikers. I'm not sure I swallow tales of a weekly wage that wouldn't be enough to fill the tanks of yer average Premiership player's fleet of supacars, but it shows just how obscene footballers' salaries have become, when Mido's mere £1000 merits incredulity! Similarly there'd have been no guarantee of us taking more than a point from the last three matches, if Arsène had chanced upon a stop-gap striking solution during the transfer window.

Even at his best, I'm still some way from being convinced Bendtner can provide a sufficiently consistent solution. But with the Dane apparently still short on match fitness, not only would the arrival of an alternative option up front have placated the clamour from all those who are beginning to believe Wenger has lost the plot, but more importantly it might have offered a psychological boost, to a side that is starting to appear no less frustrated than us fans, at having to constantly bang their heads against a brick wall.

There came a point during Sunday's debacle where it appeared as if frustration had got the better of Fabregas. I've plenty of sympathy with our midfield maestro, since the longer the game wore on and the attack of the Time Bandits continued to bounce back off the Blues experienced and well-drilled defence, the more it seemed as if our young skipper was the only possible source of salvation. While Chelsea's close attentions demonstrated that they were also patently aware that Fab was the one player in red & white capable of pulling something out of the bag.

Despite (or due to) the Spaniard's manful efforts, he appeared to visibly wilt under the burden of this responsibility, as the clock ticked down towards an inevitable defeat. Without an upturn in the Arsenal's fortunes and this campaign ending on a far more optimistic note, you have to wonder how much longer Cesc can be persuaded to resist the lure of a return to Spain and the freedom of playing for a Barca side, surrounded by big time, experienced winners.

Fabregas' talent certainly deserves more tangible gratification than merely grafting his socks off every season, for the fiscal benefits of Champions League qualification. Moreover if we don't stop the rot sharpish against the Scousers tonight, this could come under serious threat, if we allow ourselves to be dragged back down into the 4th place dog-fight.

Personally I only ever harboured feint hopes of a serious title challenge, but after having a taste of being back in contention, it would be a bitter disappointment to end up in the ignominious position of all the pundit's pre-season predictions. With a resurgent Liverpool turning up buoyed by the triumph of their derby day battle, Wednesday's game could prove a telling test of our mettle. We can but pray that the Gunners bounce back with a steely performance, coloured gun-metal grey, instead of powder-puff pastel pink!

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Anonymous said...

Top work, Bernard. Yours is the voice of reason.