Donald Trump is the president of the United States and the leader of the free world, the UK is in the midst of a messy divorce from the rest of Europe, hypernationalist governments are polarizing people like never before in history, and the Arsenal are suffering their worst season in more than two decades. I think it’s fair to say that end times are here. You think I exaggerate, but the evidence presented above is irrefutable. But mostly, it’s that darned football club I love that’s causing most of this anguish.
I know what you’re thinking – we’ve had rough patches before, right? The 2006/07 season where we endured the craptacular (Thank you, Simpsons) combination of Jeremie Aliadiere and Julio Baptista up front for a large part of the season, the start of the 11/12 season where we sold all our best players, played the reserves’ reserves against Manchester United and got dicked 8-2, the 6-0 against Chelsea in Wenger’s 1000th game in charge – but even in those dark moments, there were always silver linings. We would end our seasons strong, make the champions league, finish above that lot down the road, and hope would be renewed for another season, even if that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow never actually materialized.
This is a different situation. Something seems broken at this grand old football club.
Out thought, out fought and overtaken
Let’s get this out of the way first. Finishing behind Sp*rs really, REALLY hurt – it’s the lowest I’ve ever felt in my 20-odd years of supporting the Arsenal. It was the one constant we always took for granted – like your mum’s cooking when you returned home after a long spell out. This will take a long time to get over, but the hyperbole about a “North London Power Shift” is highly exaggerated and extremely premature. No other team has enjoyed as long a period of dominance over their most bitter rivals than we have – in my heart, I knew it had to end some time. With Spurs moving to their new stadium and their best players (and manager) already on the shopping lists for the European superclubs.
What hurt more was the manner in which we ceded our mantle as North London’s finest. Even if Spurs finishing above us would’ve been a certainty regardless, the players should have been absolutely fired up not to have that affirmed in the derby. Unsurprisingly, considering our form and Pochettino’s tactical superiority over Wenger, we were out thought and out fought. What was worrying for me was that we were technically outplayed.
The last nail in the coffin
The Wenger in/out argument isn’t new to me. I’ve had this argument with rival and fellow fans since about the turn of the decade. There have been many criticisms levelled at him over the years – his tactical rigidity, unwillingness to change, blind trust in certain systems and players and the inability to take risks in the transfer market. Many of these, I’ve agreed with, but the one thing that I’ve always had faith in is Wenger’s ability as a coach – to find raw talent and mould them both as people and as footballers. Just listen to way players like George Weah, Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas talk about him.
Sadly, if you look at the current team, I’m not convinced about Wenger’s coaching abilities either nowadays. Bellerin is a bright spark, but there are glaring defensive frailties he needs to be coached such as positioning, which don’t seem be worked upon at training. Jack Wilshere, during his time at Arsenal, made the same infuriating mistakes repeatedly that I believe worsened his injuries. Francis Coquelin has clearly not been taught positional discipline or the art of intercepting without flying into a tackle every time. It’s exasperating to watch us concede the same type of goal due to the same type of mistake against the same opposition time after time. For a while now, we’ve been hearing comments from top coaches around Europe about Wenger’s coaching methods being out-of-date, and sadly, this seems to be the case.
The last crumbs of solace
While it won’t salvage this trainwreck of a league and champions league campaign, we still do have an FA Cup final to play. However, as we’re up against a blue-hot Chelsea, I don’t harbor much hope of a result in that game. More painfully, I expect pretty much a standard big game performance form us, with greatest hits such as conceding on a counter with both our central midfielders at the edge of the opposition penalty box, the late rally and plenty of impotent, sterile possession.
The remainder of this season is an exercise in emotional detachment, including today’s usually febrile encounter against Manchester United. In fact, I genuinely can’t remember the last time I enjoyed watching Arsenal play, or the last game when we played bright, inventive, attractive football. This used to be the only bit of solace we clung on to in the gloomiest of times – the “Arsenal way” was our safety blanket, but even that last thread of hope is rapidly eroding.
Header pic via The Standard