It’s been one of those weeks; one of those weeks that we’ve had too many times as Arsenal fans in recent seasons. In terms of winning a trophy, the season is over. As much as I like to dream that it might happen, it’s serious unlikely that we’ll win 5-0 at home to AC Milan. Even if we were 5-0 up at home to AC Milan, we’d probably find a way to concede a goal and go out on away goals.
Anyway, there can be no miracle in the FA Cup. With the other teams that had gone out, it looked to be a great chance to win some silverware. However once again we followed a bad defeat with another one. It has become a worrying trait of Arsenal in general, not just this in this season, that we lose two keys games in a row. Plus they haven’t just been tight games that we’ve narrowly lost, we haven’t really looked like winning either of them.
Now we’re out of the FA Cup and effectively out of the Champions League, all we have left is the league, and the fight for the top four. People laughed when Arsene Wenger said that finishing fourth is like a trophy. Obviously it isn’t the same, however given the way modern football is, financially it is as important, if not more so, to finish in the top four. I don’t particularly like that it is, but it’s the way the current game is, so we have to make sure we finish there. Even if we do make the Champions League, it will be hard for any Arsenal fan to justify this season as being a success. However it wouldn’t be a complete failure. Missing out on Champions League football would be.
The past week has raised a large number of questions from fans, mainly towards the manager, about the state of the club and about a change of policy. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and has an idea about what the club should do to move forward, as we’ve clearly been going backwards, but there’s not much we can do about it mid-season. Clearly the club have made mistakes in the last few transfer windows, but if we want to see the club move forward, we need to be in the Champions League next season. Without it, we won’t be able to attract better quality players and compete with others financially. There is money there from previous sales that we should use, but the extra Champions League windfall will help with wages, not just with transfer fees. Whoever is the manager in the summer will need to sort out the playing squad, because as much as those in the positions of power at Arsenal might want to say we’re in a good situation, without a successful team on the pitch, a football club is not successful. They’ll also need the lure of the Champions League to help with that revolution of the playing squad.
I will never call for Arsene Wenger to be sacked. It might just be me being sentimental as he’s the only Arsenal manager I’ve really experienced in charge of the club, or me being scared of what Arsenal might be like without him, but I can’t bring myself to join the growing numbers who want a different manager. However I do want our manager to change his ways. As far as I’m concerned, his youth project has failed. However he should be the first to be given the chance to turn our fortunes around and to overhaul the squad in the summer. Before that, he has to galvanize those in the squad at the moment to make the top four. If we don’t finish there in May, I think it might be time for a change.
When the day comes that Wenger leaves, and if that is soon, I’m beginning to think that the most tragic, but best, way for him to go will be for him to go of his own accord. It would be a sad if it reached the point that managing the club became too much for him to deal with, but with some of the animosity around from some, I wouldn’t blame him for walking away. I’m desperate for Wenger to turn it around as if any manager is going to improve this Arsenal team, I want it to be Arsene Wenger.
As with Wednesday’s mauling in Milan, the defeat at Sunderland wasn’t entirely Wenger’s fault. We have had some cruel luck in the last week, with three centre backs, one central midfielder and a midfielder/makeshift left back all getting injured. The pitches at the Stadium of Light and the San Siro were bad, but we should still have been able to deal with them. The first Sunderland goal was deflected, and the second was a horrible piece of luck for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had at least show commitment to chase back when Sunderland counter attacked. However ultimately, the problem once again was that we couldn’t break down an organised defence and create chances.
It is all very well singling out individual players and saying they aren’t good enough, but collectively the team has not been good enough in the last two games. They fought well to win at Sunderland last week, but haven’t done so since then. Players have to take responsibility and not have to be relying on others.
Our recent failures are made more frustrating because we know the team are capable of playing well and showing character. That’s one of the key problems, we’ve only seen it in fleeting glances. Saturday’s defeat was horribly predictable, as we now don’t expect the players to be able to deal with tough situations. Those in the squad for the rest of the season have to mature quickly and fight for the club, and fight for their futures as Arsenal players.
The reality is that Arsenal aren’t a club in crisis; we’re a club that aren’t moving forward, aren’t keeping up with modern football, and are nowhere near as good as we used to be on the pitch. It is immensely painful that we won’t win a trophy this season, but we are currently in the top four. Finishing in that position, the one where we need to be to enable us to make the necessary changes in the summer, is in our hands.
After the week we’ve hand, we could do with the next match being one where three points could come more easily. However it’s the North London derby. It will be a really difficult match, because as much as it pains me to admit it, Spurs are playing very well this season and deserve to be where they are in the league. However if the Arsenal players can’t get themselves pumped up and be prepared to do everything to win this game, frankly they don’t deserve to wear the Arsenal shirt again. If we win, Wenger will be afforded time by some supporters as there is no greater pressure reliever for an Arsenal manager or team, than a win against Tottenham. If we lose, the howls against Wenger will only get louder, and we’ll also lose ground in the race for the top four.
We’re not in a crisis, however losing to Tottenham will make it feel like we are.