Bolton Wanderers 2-1 Arsenal
And so, with smoke from the funnels of HMS Season Ticket Renewals visible from the quay of the port, Arsenalâ€™s end-of-season implosion continues apace.
Itâ€™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, itâ€™s been one league win in seven games. In all competitions, two wins in ten. Itâ€™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. Itâ€™s a familiar end of season denouement.
As for yesterday, it transpires that when Wenger said the title was â€œcompletely openâ€ 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. Itâ€™s embarrassing how long this weakness has endured. Teams know itâ€™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: â€œWe were too frail defensively during the seasonâ€. Why he didnâ€™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 itâ€™s one we have totally bottled. Mental strength? Spare me.
The rest of the match was Arsenalâ€™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 oppositionâ€™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. Iâ€™m no psychologist, but heâ€™s always been like this and itâ€™s served him well in the past. But their â€œoutstanding attitudeâ€ is one thing. Their technical ability as footballers in not in doubt either. Itâ€™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 itâ€™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 thereâ€™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.