Season overboard

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Fulham 2-2 Arsenal

So that’s finished then, and as books go, I didn’t much like the ending. I had high hopes there’d be a satisfying twist three quarters of the way through – we were hoping for one – but it finished rather predictably and it was heavy going to boot. I should have just read the last page back at the beginning of March and spared myself the effort.

Despite some fine team performances, overall I’ve found this particular team tough going at times this season. It’s been littered with groundhog days. Our tactical approach, too, has come under more scrutiny than it has ever done. I keep thinking back to Philippe Auclair’s comment on the Arsecast about how the tempo of the side has been wrong for so much of the season: slow build-up, lack of pace, an inability to change tack, predictability. It’s nice when it works as it’s meant to (so in that sense, a bit like my back. I don’t notice it when it’s working but I start grunting when it doesn’t).

That said, there have been positives, particularly in players bursting through, and at the end of the day and despite all the gloom we have a shot at the Champions League as some kind of reward. It’s not a trophy but consider the horror of the alternative: The Europa League. Several teams spent most of Sunday actively trying not to qualify for that.

Wenger is trotting out the usual line about the team being augmented where possible, within the constraints of our budget, and only if players are available, and is urging people not to ‘go overboard’ (twice in his recent email), but infuriating though it is to hear that, there are good reasons for him to give nothing new away and he’s right about the overboard bit.

There’ll be a fine balancing act going on behind the scenes already, you suspect, trying to keep the nucleus of the side together, so he’s hardly going to come out rattling his sabre. Persuading Cesc, Nasri, Clichy et al to stay on the one hand, while also nudging a few of the non-playing, under-performing malcontents through the door in a timely way on the other requires some diplomacy. Not to mention opening negotiations with potential newcomers.

So from a PR perspective the boss isn’t saying exactly what we want to hear, but he rarely has.

Anyway, I can see the squad changing quite substantially if the public mutterings of Bendtner, Denilson &c are anything to go by. In the cold light of the last two months it’s easy to think the whole thing’s gone to pot, but in the grand scheme of things it hasn’t. We have a nucleus of excellent players, most of whom will stay. But a blast of fresh air will open up a few eyes and clear out a few cobwebs. I’m all for it and it needs to happen.

Moans aside, I’ll be pounding the credit card to renew my season ticket. Despite impending joblessness, it’s something I would find it very hard to ditch, I sit with a good circle of mates and after 17 years as a season ticket holder the habits and routines are weaved into the fabric of my year. I do however – like many – have real concerns about the affordability of football in general. The upward pressure of player salaries carries on regardless and rather than the club finding different ways to manage that – smaller squad, renegotiating commercial deals, or just saying no to players – it’s the fans who pay the price. Any increase is particularly acute at Arsenal where prices are already among the highest – they may even be the highest – in Europe.

Missing a wedge of those games is unavoidable though – time and small children dictate it – and I will be cutting back on all other aspects of football spending, partly in protest and partly to save a bit of money. No merchandise, no programmes, no food at the ground. Enough is enough.

Take a moment, too, to look over at the ‘autocratic owner’ model pursued by some clubs to see how different things could be. Chelsea won the double, but sacked their manager a year later. They’ve had 6 managers in 8 years. Trophy signings come in over the manager’s head. No patience, no long-term building. True, they’ve been very successful in that time and we have not, but for all the downsides of the way Arsenal goes about its business, I’m glad it isn’t run that way.

Finally, Wenger. The tide has turned against him in many quarters. And it’s clear he has a big job on his hands to convince the doubters that his latest Arsenal side can be better than perennially third or fourth. Last year, I thought that he deserved patience to get it right. In hindsight, the hoped-for progress has not happened.

However, even though things are more acute this summer I’m still behind him. I sense that changes – of personnel, of approach, ideally of both – are afoot. Wenger cannot live on past glories forever but I would love to see him – rather than someone else – turn this group round and polish the disparate parts into a more consistent, hungrier and more ruthless side. What is success though? It doesn’t have to be a trophy, but it does have to be progress. Properly addressing problem areas. Getting rid of the underachievers. Bringing in a few experienced and hungry players, who are in their prime and could make a palpable difference. All this stuff has been written time and again, this season, the last one, and the one before that, but it’s truer and more urgent now than it has ever been.

The pressure is on him like never before. Over to you, Arsène.


Arsenal since about 1979. Thick, thin and all that.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Carlton Robinson

     That’s true but all the players who are expressing their frustration about not winning trophies all had their chances to shine and instead blundered at the moment. It’s not about starting or coming off the bench, It’s about playing 150% when you get your time on the pitch. Cesc does not get the respect as a captain because he’s playing in two worlds. Remember he actually created that goal for Barcelona with his bad back-heel. His heart is not at at Arsenal so we should sell him. I’d love to see Van-Persie as captain because he’s truly committed to Arsenal without a doubt. Denilson can leave because he has never been a great contributor to the cause.

  2. East Lower

    Absolutely agree re: Denilson. Wilshere seized the moment, Denilson didn’t. Two different attitudes. Only one winner. 

  3. Jeff

    Success, for me, would include an increase in the number of enjoyable matches.  Some 4-0s.  The attack needs some life.  

    I was really starting to worry about Walcott’s form, so that late goal yesterday was a relief.

    If the team had better luck with injuries, Arsene would be under much less pressure, but the ridiculous run of injury problems has been ongoing for years.

  4. Anonymous

    I think that we all agree that it is time for changes.  this must also include the attitude of Wenger towards the fans, we cannot be continually patronised with statements of mental streength and intelligence when lessons go unlearned week after week and the same collapse happens at the end of every season.

    It would also be nice to see some discipline in the squad.  It is not unreasonable to expect the captain to attend the last game of the season, especially when the club are paying in excess of £10,000 per day in wages!

    Do the players actually realise who are the major contributors to their salaries? Probably never crossed their minds, just maybe the manager might consider it too when he feeds us such drossat the end of each game.  It would also be nice if he could show some dignity when we lose.

  5. Anonymous

    It’s too easy to blame injuries Jeff.
    You can’t blame injuries for the fact that we flogged Song/Jack into the ground this season cos we had no proper alternative; Denilson/Diaby’s combined decade at the club (yes, 10 years between them – how mental is that ??) clearly not enough to convince Arsene of their general uselessness. (Song was the only player to play 3 games the week of the Carling final. The reason he was hopeless that day ? Maybe. Would we have won if he wasn’t hopeless ? Probably….)
    You can’t blame injuries for the fact that Clichy is still making the same mistakes he was 4 years ago.
    You can’t blame injuries for the fact that we’re still the worst team in the league at defending setpieces.
    You can’t blame injuries for the fact that we’re still the worst team in the league at attacking setpieces.
    You can’t blame injuries for the fact that every setback is seen by the team as such a crushing blow that we cannot recover like top teams do. (mental strength my arse)
    You can’t blame injuries for the fact that after 3 years we still had as our no.1 a keeper so far off the pace it was practically humiliating.

    And let’s not forget : if it wasn’t for Almunia’s injury he would still be no.1 & we’d quite possibly not even have finished 4th…..and if it wasn’t for Diaby being injured starting the season then Jack may have gone on loan again. Injuries gave us the two brightest spots of our shitty season !

    I too am cutting back next season. Every game for me means flights,hotels,dinners,drinks etc. 5/6 games a season was the norm for me. I went twice this season. It’s partly financial but also to be honest I just don’t enjoy watching this team any more. If those ‘problem areas’ aren’t addressed this summer I won’t be going again until Arsene’s gone.

  6. Jeff

    I still have hope that Diaby could make key contributions to a title-winning side, and his injuries, I think, have definitely hindered his progress.  Wilshere, though, gives me much more confidence.  They both started away to Barcelona, and it was a stark contrast – I thought Wilshere was a ray of hope and Diaby was terrible. Still, I think Diaby could be a good Arsenal player…maybe.

    I share your frustration about set pieces.  Not so much recently, but normally Arsenal win so many corners, and do so little with them.  I do think Arsene has under-achieved in this aspect.When the team performances crush my hope, I have to become a little dispassionate.  I readjust my expectations, but still enjoy watching the team. I’m not a life-long supporter like Rotor Goat, and certainly not a Londoner (although I live in a former colony), but I think I would still support the team and follow them closely through relegation, or even multiple relegations.

  7. Anonymous

    Diaby joined Arsenal in Jan 2006. How long do we wait ?
    He just doesn’t have the brains (it drives me mad how we so clearly can’t read the game) or the desire to make it at the top level. All the technical ability in the world but then again so did Hleb. And he was of no use either.

    I follow Arsenal. Always have, always will. But I have been so frustrated & pissed out & generally not in love with an Arsenal side as this one.
    Wenger has 3 months to save his own legacy.

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