I wasn’t planning to write after the Chelsea game. The usual routine of compiling a match review to release the following day filled with stats, opinions and general observation seemed folly after such a heartbreaking display. All I wanted from the rest of the day was to imagine a world without football.
That, and vent the murderous levels of anger within me. The game was more than infuriating.
Instead, I thought what would be excellent therapy, succour in times of duress if you will, is to scroll through my Twitter feed and humour myself with the usual fare of our divided fanbase snarling at each other and veiled threats through barbed and simply ridiculous tweets. It isn’t the majority of course, but there is an ever growing populace that reside within Gooners that don’t want success. They wish not for three points, nor a return to the glory days of old.
In the haunting words of Alfred J Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s Butler and patriarchal influence – Some people just want the world to burn.
My ire, instead of being soothed, rose higher until it was bile that I tasted. Mentions of a raft of players that simply aren’t good enough. The foul finger of blame swung in all directions. Ramsey was dire. Theo Walcott was so bad that it is simply mystifying that he is even still residing within the club. Mertesacker is not good enough. They all shared a common denominator though.
There was just cause for criticism. Any fan who says that our players and manager are blameless are blind and do more harm than good. Criticism is required to move forward. A close scrutiny over everything is the only way that faults can be found and rectified.
No win since 2011 against Chelsea is not good enough. No goals scored in over five League matches versus the same opponent is not good enough. The outlook from our manager on certain players is not good enough. No arguments from most Gooners on all of these points.
Having Mathieu Flamini starting such a high profile match when huge efforts have been made to make sure new boy Mohamed Elneny is fit and ready is perplexing. Flamini though, couldn’t give any more than he did. The fact that our three best chances fell to him were down to his lack of positional discipline – not desire. It went further as he shouldered the blame for the goal – it wasn’t Flamini that was responsible.
It was Laurent Koscielny.
Koscielny was in front of Diego Costa. Costa was his remit as the ball went in. Gabriel had tabs on him too, but also lost him as the ball was delivered. Koscielny gave him a free pass. Because Koscielny has been such a vital player for us over the past few seasons and because he is one of the best in the league doesn’t remove him from blame. Or it shouldn’t.
Per Mertesacker’s severe lack of pace was once again highlighted with his sending off. This is nothing that hasn’t been apparent since his first game at our club. Why was he left all alone though? Our line was far too high and Per paid the ultimate price.
It is of no consequence that he didn’t actually touch Costa. What matters is that after it happened, our team looked almost resigned to our fate. No protests, no crazy eyeballs or spittle flying in the direction of referee Mark Clattenburg. Alternatively, the Chelsea players hounded, they followed, they gesticulated, they pleaded. It may have made a difference, it may not have, but the fact there was no vociferous presence in our team is alarming.
This is where Arsene Wenger can be accountable. Why was Theo Walcott allowed the armband? To commemorate a ten year anniversary? Give him a testimonial and a shiny Cannon on a plaque. The armband is for the one player who leads his troops in the heat of battle, not an award for loyalty. Something that Arsene has always allowed. Henry, Fabregas, Van Persie. All given the honour of being Skipper to tempt them to stay at the club. Instead of giving the esteem to a player who could fill his team with confidence and stand up for his men in the face of injustice.
Arsene has blame to shoulder. He is the man at the helm and all decisions go through him, so when an error is made, then a proportion of the heat must go to him.
If we take a backwards step though, the anger and critique and vitriol aimed at him at this current time is not deserved.
We currently lie in third, just three points behind surprise leaders Leicester City. It is right to declare this season the best of the chances we have had to finally be crowned Premiership Champions for the first time since 2004. He has navigated through a spell where his team were bereft of Alexis Sanchez, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck. These players would be welcome additions to any Premiership side. For us to still be within touching distance shows progress from previous years as we have crumbled under such struggles in the past. This doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with our club’s position, it just means I can see the potential.
Do we simply forget the fantastic victories over Manchester City and United? Pure evidence that our team has something special? Well, of course, because our team clearly is lacking in all departments and has failings that are fatal. Of course.
Ultimately, we should judge at the end of the season. It does our club no good to be so splintered at such a delicate time of the season. We still have a fantastic chance to win it. If we miss out on the title in May, then by all means, Wenger’s position must be reviewed. After a defeat to Chelsea though? After playing them with ten men for seventy minutes and being the better side in the second half? That is preposterous.
It seems that some fans think we are entitled to success and that because we aren’t ten points clear at the top , that Wenger is failing. The only constructive time for retrospective observation and review is at the end of the season. One defeat against a team who are quite clearly our bogey side doesn’t make a failed campaign.
Some of the stuff that is doing the rounds on social media is outrageous – like an ’18’ rated script. The borderline between pointing out flaws and being downright offensive is blurred for some. These supporters think that because we show defensive frailty at certain points in games, then it is just cause for their own brand of justice. Our defensive record however, doesn’t warrant any negative focus. We have the third best defence in the league thus far.
The game has changed. I don’t want our football to be compromised for success, a la Jose Mourinho. We are rightfully proud of The Arsenal Way, our beautiful football and our ethos. It is what sets us apart. Mourinho may guarantee trophies, but he leaves carcasses in his wake.
I want the Premier League just as much as every single Gooner. To have it so close is making every match filled with angst – even more than usual. I want it achieved in the way we have achieved all of our previous honours though. If we go on to drop the ball in the title chase, then Wenger will have questions levelled at him, but when the home straight is just starting? The business end has just started and we are contending.
What of the crocks though? The players Wenger will always shield?
Jack Wilshere has played a ridiculously low portion of games and he may be offered a new contract. There are doubts whether he can maintain fitness so why the extension? Well, whether he is on the treatment table or not, he is still one of the most talented English players of this generation and if his contract was allowed to run down, and he joined a rival team such as City, could you imagine the uproar? It would be far worse than what we read currently.
Arsene Wenger is in between a rock and a hard place. I sincerely hope he wins the League, just to prove that there are fans out there who will never be happy. They will have an excuse as to why we won. These people court controversy and like nothing more than than fanning flames they ignited themselves. They have vendettas with Wenger and whilst he is at the helm, the negative diatribes will continue.
The defeat to Chelsea is hard to take. It will take some getting over. I do believe in this team though. Most Gooners do.
That isn’t to say I am without reservation. All level-headed supporters have something they would change on the pitch. All that is needed though, is some realisation that if you are a supporter, you SUPPORT YOUR TEAM.
Aaron Ramsey was awful against Chelsea. Does this mean he is incapable of playing in the centre? Of course not. Theo Walcott couldn’t stay onside – does this mean he should be relegated to the bench? No, at least he was getting in those positions to stretch Chelsea’s backline. It was only Walcott and Flamini that did so. No, Theo deserves to be benched due to poor form, but it is only gametime that can get a player back IN form. What a conundrum for the Manager. If Walcott just rots on the bench and becomes a super sub, then we have another Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain situation.
Koscielny had an off day. Mesut Ozil and Joel Campbell buzzed around but to little effect. There weren’t many positives to take. These players have been responsible for so many highlights recently however, yet they seem to be all forgotten when a bad game occurs.
These players don’t become bad players in one game. Show them some support, help them get back to where they should be.
Form is temporary, class is permanent.