Yesterday confirmed what we already knew. Arsenal Football Club will be battling for a top four finish this season and nothing better. Our hope of silverware and excitement will need to be generated by a good cup run or two; it certainly won’t be generated by the league or Europe. Whilst both competitions will of course provide moments of happiness and ecstasy along the way in terms of individual results, both will ultimately be about reaching respectable targets; top four in the league and knock out stages in Europe (Quarter Finals if you’re feeling positive and the draw is kind).
This week’s League Cup tie against Reading was proof of just that. From 4-0 down after 37 minutes to winning 7-5 after extra time, in a competition we can realistically win, is what’s generated the most happiness for Arsenal fans this week. That it has come to this is a sad sign of the times. Gone are the days of believing we could challenge for the title and compete with the best in European.
Arseblog said after yesterday’s game (via Twitter):
“Sorry, but that feels worse than the 8-2. To clarify: 8-2 was an Arsenal team in tatters and a freak result. Today showed the real gulf there is between the two teams”.
I hate to use my 11 hour time difference advantage to steal the great man’s wise words before he’s had a chance to reflect on the game in great detail himself, but those words really do sum up how I feel about yesterday’s result and the current course we are taking. I’m upset, I’m disappointed, and I’m angry; we simply aren’t good enough and it hurts. Granted we’re in a very lucky position when you look at the grand scheme of things; many clubs crave our level of talent and consistent dining at the top table of European football. However, after all of the good work in Arsene’s early years the ball of wool is well and truly unravelling.
Not so long ago the Arsenal versus United head to head record during the Wenger era read: Arsenal 14 wins, United 13 wins, 10 draws. After yesterday’s 48th meeting of the two sides during this era the record now reads: Arsenal 15 wins, United 22 wins, 11 draws. We used to compete with United; we used to challenge them, rival them, give them a good game, and more often than not beat them. But not anymore; United have now won 9 of the last 11 meetings in all competitions, and what’s most worrying is that they haven’t had to work too hard for many of them.
Given that statistic, given last year’s humiliation, what we needed was some fight, some strength and solidity, some belief and pride. What we got was our ridiculously out of form captain gifting our rather good former captain a goal after just three minutes. Despite yesterday’s defeat we still have the best defensive record in the league, having only conceded 8 goals in 9 games; but that 5 of those goals have been a result of individual errors, a list we topped last season and which is only better by Liverpool so far this season, is a real concern. I guess it’s an easy thing to say with hindsight, but it truly killed us. It set the tone for the afternoon, it got the United tail wagging, and in terms of the final score it proved to be the difference; although how we came away with a score line which makes that sentence possibly is beyond me. What’s also worrying is that if you exclude the game against Southampton (a team that is leaking goals faster than the Titanic took on water) then we have only scored 9 goals in 9 games. After the game Wenger said:
“I’m disappointed of course, because we had a lot of the ball but we were not very efficient in our final third or in their final third. You feel it was a bit [of] an illusionary domination. We had a lot of the ball but they created more chances and deserved to win the game.
Part of that is down to the fact that we gave an early goal away. In a game like that, that’s a massive advantage [for Manchester United]. Then they defended well, were sharper than us in the duels and the consequence is you lose the game.”
It’s time for Arsene to try something different against United, hell it’s time for Arsene to try something different full stop. We went to Old Trafford and came away with 52% possession, having played the last 20 minutes with 10 men…but what did we do with it? Nothing. The nothingness of our possession has even resulted in Arsene creating another of his little sayings; to accompany the hand-brake that’s always on we now have illusionary possession. Carrick and Cleverley shackled Cazorla for the most part (with the latter lucky to stay on the pitch) and man of the match Rooney completely nullified Arteta, before finding himself acres of space between our midfield and defence to pull their attacking strings. United have us figured out, as have quite a few others; getting results against The Arsenal has become all too easy and it’s hurting us.
15 points from the opening 10 league fixtures is our worst start to a Premier League campaign since season 1994-95, and therefore the worst under Wenger (as even last season we were one point better off at this stage). Looking at the opening 10 fixtures from last season and 5 of them were against the same teams as the opening 10 this year (although not necessarily at the same ground, i.e. Liverpool was home last year, but away this time). The other 5 fixtures at this stage last season were against different teams to this year, but against opposition of a similar difficulty level ‘on paper’. The difference is, as shown by Arseblogger’s quote, is that last year we were a shambles and we knew it. This time we we’re supposed to be better, stronger, wiser, and more of a team unit. Sadly the results and performances are proving otherwise.
It’s worrying times for The Arsenal and I honestly don’t know where we’ll end up. Last week after the QPR game I called for perspective, and that we’re only 2 points behind Everton and 5pur2 (who are 4th and 5th respectively) can continue to gives us some hope. With United, City, and Chelsea all looking much stronger than us I think 4th is where we will finish up. Some strong January signings and a cup in the trophy cabinet come May would make that a lot easier to stomach, but 4th spot with no extra trimmings and you’d have to say, with a heavy heart and great sadness, that Wenger’s time is nearly at an end.
End note: Credit and thanks to Orbinho for the statistics within this piece. Scrolling his timeline from yesterday was a massive help in taking a look at our current plight via the numbers. If you don’t already follow him then what are you waiting for?