Before being all doom and gloom, let’s start with the positives from last night. We ended the losing streak in the league. Obviously we’d like to have won, but given our recent form we have to be slightly relieved not to have lost. We also created a lot of chances. Particularly against Fulham and Swansea, that wasn’t happening. However, again we’d like to have converted at least one of those.
There were other positives, with Wojciech Szczesny looking solid again. By his own admission, he’s not been at his best recently, but he did well to spread himself when N’Gog was through in the first half, and his save at the feet of Mark Davies late on was vital. We’ve conceded stupid goals at Bolton numerous times before so a clean sheet was very welcome. That was aided by the return of Bacary Sagna who gives our back line a much more balanced look.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain impressed again with some more direct running. He has been a real breath of fresh air in a terrible run of form, and gives us real hope not just in the long term, but for the rest of the season. On current form, when Gervinho returns from the African Cup of Nations I’d like to see the Ox on the right and Gervinho on the left. I think Theo Walcott needs a reality check to knuckle down and improve. Oxlade-Chamberlain can easily replace him for Arsenal and England.
As for other positives, well Harry Redknapp is still in court. That’s about it.
When we suffer the odd poor result, I’m usually someone who immediately looks at the bigger picture for some perspective. However 0-0 at Bolton isn’t just an odd poor result. We’ve claimed one point from a possible 12 in the league. By anyone’s standards, that is terrible and arguably relegation form. The bigger picture from after this result doesn’t make it look like a blip.
As we saw on Sunday, football matches can be won by fine margins. Had Hutton not hoofed the ball at Walcott so as it bounced back in, might we have gone out of the FA Cup? Would we be moaning as much has Robin van Persie’s wonderful attempted chip been two inches lower and not hit the bar? It’s not a coincidence that successful teams make sure those fine margins go in their favour. There is an element of luck, but if a team just considered themselves unlucky, they’d get nowhere.
It wasn’t unlucky that Theo Walcott didn’t convert a one-on-one chance in the first half. On some occasions like that, you can mark it down as a good save. This wasn’t one of those occasions. Adam Bogdan was stationary, and any good striker should be able to run round the goalkeeper or shoot past him. Walcott seemed to aim to knock it through Bogdan’s legs, choosing the smallest target to aim for. I once read an interview with Dennis Bergkamp where he said the most space when one-on-one is usually above the goalkeeper, hence why he favoured the chip. Why aim for the smallest space underneath the keeper?
I’m not picking on Walcott as there were other similar incidents where small moments that could be viewed as just a bit of bad luck should have actually been avoided by some better, more decisive play. We saw individual players taking responsibility on Sunday, unfortunately some couldn’t do the same on Wednesday. If we’re going to get ourselves close to getting back in the Champions League, that has to be done. That has to come from the manager as well. It’s all very well saying that the players need to take responsibility, but is the manager giving them enough advice on what to do in these tight situations? As fans, we can never fully know the answers to those sort of questions, and the only way we can offer an answer is by watching what we see on the pitch, and at the moment, the on field evidence we’ve got isn’t positive.
If we don’t beat Blackburn on Saturday, I’ll struggle to see how we can turn the season around. Without looking at how far clubs ahead of us would be points-wise, the improvement throughout the whole club that would be needed will be massive. We won’t just be able to meander along on the same path we’re on at the moment. Change will be needed somewhere. I don’t want to suggest change at the top in the form of a different manager, because with the January transfer window having just shut, making such a big decision now would put a lot of pressure on any new man. However the team one pace behind us in the league, Sunderland, sacked their manager earlier in the season to avoid relegation, and now they’re eighth.
We’ve had bad runs of form before, but in the Wenger era there might not be one that turns out to be so costly. We’re embroiled in a full on battle with four other clubs for the final Champions League place, and at the moment we’re not scaring any of them. There has to be a more ruthless attitude from players and staff throughout the club to push us forward. The ‘Forward’ motto is looking embarrassing on the shirt this season as we clearly haven’t gone forward as a club. We’re sinking further below the top four and Wenger has to galvanize the squad otherwise he’ll have to deal with the consequences of this slide.
I’m desperate for Wenger and this group of players to be successful. We all are. I believe that their hearts and heads are in the right place, and that they’re doing everything they can to help Arsenal Football Club. But is what they’re doing working? Clearly not. We can’t make personnel changes on the field having wasted that opportunity in the transfer window, Eisfield may turn out to be a great player but he isn’t who we needed at the moment, changes have to come in terms of turning those minor moments in our favour. If we don’t change the small things, it could spiral towards wholesale changes in the summer. Some of those wholesale changes might be welcomed, others not.
It’s a worrying time to be a Gooner. There isn’t another manager in the world that I’d want to see succeed this season at Arsenal than Arsene Wenger, but if he doesn’t aid change, he’ll find himself replaced. If we make the top four from this position, I’d rate it as one of his best managerial achievements. He has to take a large slice of the blame for the team being in the position we are at the moment, but we can’t look back. For once, the motto on this seasons crest is appropriate. We have to look forward and stop the sinking ship.