Match report: Another Fine Mess

Bolton Wanderers 2-1 Arsenal

And so, with smoke from the funnels of HMS Season Ticket Renewals visible from the quay of the port, Arsenal’s end-of-season implosion continues apace.

It’s now painfully clear that our Laurel-and-Hardy Carling Cup finale was the beginning of the calamitous end as far as this season is concerned. Since then, it’s been one league win in seven games. In all competitions, two wins in ten. It’s been Collaps-o-Arsenal on a macro scale and rather than looking wistfully northwards, we are peering southwards at the great unwashed Champions-League-coveting hordes. It’s a familiar end of season denouement.

As for yesterday, it transpires that when Wenger said the title was “completely open” after the draw against Liverpool, it was a slip of the tongue: he was referring to our defence. Two set pieces, two headed goals conceded. It’s embarrassing how long this weakness has endured. Teams know it’s an achilles heel – it has been for longer than I care to recall – and they exploit it time and again. As well as that we were sliced apart on several occasions yesterday, right through the middle. It was a day to forget for Djourou & Co, though you can spare Szczesny any brickbats. He made two or three excellent saves and to my mind, talk of summer rebuilding can bypass that department.

At least Wenger accepted it in his post-match press conference: “We were too frail defensively during the season”. Why he didn’t address it in January, when he had the chance, is another matter entirely. As he said himself, this was not a tricky run-in, but it’s one we have totally bottled. Mental strength? Spare me.

The rest of the match was Arsenal’s season distilled – or maybe just Arsenal, distilled. Loads of possession, some fine interplay, plenty of good chances to bury the game, all squandered. A glorious period of pressure that gave way to the usual frustrated encampment around the opposition’s D. Undone by poor defending and an inability to kill games off.

As he often does, he laid himself open to criticism, thus exempting his players from the blame. I’m no psychologist, but he’s always been like this and it’s served him well in the past. But their “outstanding attitude” is one thing. Their technical ability as footballers in not in doubt either. It’s the unquantifiable rest that many of us yearn for next season: Concentration, discipline, ruthlessness and a vicious will to win. And that needs to be imported, because it’s not going to happen of its own accord.

So all in all, pretty gloomy stuff I’m afraid. I was positive for as long as I could be, but there’s no glossing over the atrocious end to this season. We’re now playing for pride and an automatic Champions League place.

So I leave you with a quote from my favourite author, PG Wodehouse, which just about sums my thoughts up at the moment:

I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

Match preview: Gallop. Don’t trot.

Forget, for a moment, the tantalising news that Thomas Vermaelen may be as close as two weeks from returning (albeit to the reserves); forget also the mouth-watering prospect of a Xavi-inspired Barcelona coming to town. Wenger is spot on when he says:

“The best way to be in a good position to beat them is to defeat Wolves on Saturday”.

To face Barcelona we will not only need to be in as decent physical shape as possible, but we’ll also, from a psychological point of view, need all of our neurones plugged into the right synapses [check medical terminology – ed]. Imagine facing Barcelona having lost a four goal lead and having failed to beat Wolves? No, I can’t either. That’s why Wenger is going large on Wolves.

With that in mind, I know it might be tempting to rest Djourou or Song and one or two others, but I’d go for the whole shooting party and start with our best XI. As a nod to the forthcoming European adventure, he can maybe edge a few substitutions in earlier than at the mandatory Wengerish 70 minutes, but I wouldn’t tinker too much.

That last option does rather rely on us coming out the blocks fast and not zig-zagging around until the 80th minute, as can be our wont. In light of last week I’ve revised the official guidelines and current thinking is that we need to be at least five goals to the good to be assured of victory.

I jest, but only half. In an ideal world, one where anxiety and fear had been banished, we’d ask the players to give us a 1-0 to prove they can hold on to a narrow lead but today is not the day for worthy experiments. The last thing we need to today is a repeat of Collaps-o-Arsenal™ so to ensure that we need to put the Wolves goal under pressure from the start and make it count.

I can’t make the game today so I’ll be attempting to perform the standard web-based miracles and listening to the wireless. I’m also keen to give the Arsenal matchday app experience a pop so may well dish out the requisite £1.79p on that. I’ll let you know my thoughts if I do (and if you give a fig).

Finally: a thought on players using Twitter. The boss has taken a very enlightened approach to his players using it for the right reasons, as you’d expect. I don’t care about modding phat sports cars and I can’t understand a word one or two of them are on about, but hey, I’m a miserable old sod so what does that matter.

That’s all for now – more tomorrow, assuming the prevailing winds being are in my favour.

Arsenal.com preview
BBC preview
Guardian squad sheet