Busy summer looms as Arsenal’s season crumbles

Blackburn 2-1 Arsenal

Another day, another lifeless defeat.

Our ‘easy run-in’ has turned into a nightmare, with one point from the last 12 and a succession of infuriatingly weak, insipid performances. The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.

A squad that was meant to end the season on a high – albeit just off the pace – has now completely given up the fight and there seems to be nothing whatsoever that Wenger can do about it.

A loss against Fulham, perish the thought, would leave us on 72 points, exactly the same amount as last season. Progress? It doesn’t feel like it.

I didn’t expect Wenger to lambast Flapianski in his post-match interview, but even he must cringe with embarrassment every time he has to defend such a liability. He was clearly at fault for the second goal. Blackburn saw him as the weak spot – they didn’t have to look too hard to find it – and successfully targeted him. Naturally, it worked.

Elsewhere on the pitch, after a fairly bright start we faded badly. Look at the starting XI and at the bench though and you can see part of the problem is simply a lack of quality available. It doesn’t excuse the lack of stomach for the fight but it does go some way to explaining the paucity of some of our play.

We have so many players out and the backups have simply not been good enough.

Let’s break yesterday’s squad of 18 into three groups.

There are at least five players there we simply wouldn’t miss, other than numerically. Not one of Fabianski, Silvestre, Traore, Vela, or Eduardo has improved this season. You can only assume that the new contracts offered to the latter two were given partly to ensure healthy sell-on fees.

Then there are others from yesterday’s 18 who are good squad players, but too inconsistent, immature, or ageing to be considered first-choice material next season. In that category I would put Eboue, Campbell, Walcott, Diaby, Mannone, Djourou, Gibbs, Eastmond and Henderson.

That leaves, as nailed-on starters from that 18, just Sagna, Nasri, Arshavin and van Persie. The form of Nasri and Arshavin has been up and down but to my mind, the quality is there.

So we are missing a lot of players, and in their absence we have seen that the balance is wrong, the collective will to win has been diluted and the quality is lacking. It’s not a good cocktail at all.

On yesterday’s evidence, it will be a busy summer for Wenger, chopping out the deadwood and bringing in players who possess the kind of drive and quality that will rub off on those of the squad who have the most to learn.

Apologies if this is a bit of a ramble but I thought I’d pour it all out and see how it dried.

Bring on the end of the season.

Arsenal’s capitulate, late show

Wigan 3-2 Arsenal

Wenger said on Friday that we were “very close” to winning a trophy. This morning, a trophy has never felt further away.

Yesterday’s ten-minute capitulation at Wigan hammered the final nail into the title coffin and was so dispiriting that people are very reasonably asking: can we keep hold of third now?

It was a game in which almost all our weaknesses were ultimately brutally exposed. On yesterday’s evidence we are a team without a goalkeeper that collectively cannot defend, whose squad players lack the wit, composure or drive to hold onto a 2-0 lead for ten minutes when the pressure is on.

It does unfortunately mean, coming so close to the end of the season as it has done, that some people will just as likely remember this campaign for unacceptable giveaways like this (and there have been more, West Ham and Birmingham spring to mind though at least those were draws) than the general progress that many Arsenal fans feel has been made. It would be a shame if that were the case, though we do now have three games to do something about it. Win those and we will finish on 80 points – a huge total for a team in third place. Lose another couple and the season will end on a very sour note indeed.

Much depends on what Wenger says and does to his team between now and Saturday. He knows that the success or failure of this squad reflects on only one person: himself. He knows that for every poor goal shipped, for every goalkeeping error, for every piece of complacency, he is the one scrutinised. Rightly so. They are his players.

I have no doubt he himself is tired of having to talk up the togetherness and spirit of the squad, only to see car crash endings like yesterday’s occur. His players should not have to be cajoled into a performance by the manager, but that’s the job he has on his hands this week. They should be doing this themselves, it’s basic stuff. Determination, drive, urgency. These are givens.

Wenger was furious after the match, accusing his players of a lack of cohesion and discipline. He sensed we were struggling to keep hold of the ball and make chances – yet he did not bring van Persie on until it was too late. Why?

As I said, I do think we have improved, I think many of our players have improved, but without the core of our team our squad has been badly exposed. And we still lack what we need most – a killer instinct. That might come with time, but it’s clear that we need a couple of players who possess that attitude to come in over the summer and infuse the current squad with it.

Sometimes, some of them seem incapable of motivating themselves, and that is unforgivable.

The goalkeeping situation is now critical. Wenger must know that. Neither of our main goalkeepers are good enough for this football club and as a statement of intent, both need to be shipped out in the summer and replaced with someone from the top drawer. Why this was not addressed in January when it was plain to see is amazing.

Overall, it was a performance that has clouded a lot of the good things that have gone on this season. But those clouds cannot be ignored because they keep reappearing.

How we move on is the million dollar question and I suspect this summer could end up being the defining one for this team, and perhaps also for Wenger.