Well what an interesting season.
It’s hard to evaluate this campaign, mainly because it’s difficult not to judge it against seasons gone by.
This campaign is the 4th in Arsene Wenger’s youth experiment and once again it has provided entertaining football but not the results. We reached the semi-finals of the Champions League and FA Cup, and finished 4th in the league.
And the question isn’t whether this year was a success or failure but whether Arsenal fans are growing tired of being sold the future. We are promised that these kids will come good.
But the problem is that I, like other Arsenal fans just don’t believe it.
I’ve watched and supported Arsenal for almost 20 years and I haven’t seen this level of poor performance before. I’m not talking about talent, but basic desire and fight. I’ve brought this point up several times during this season and to me anyway, it seems like we’ve reached a point where most of our players think they have made it.
And it was this lack of heart that meant we were out of the title race by November.
We lost against Fulham, Stoke, Manchester City and Aston Villa, and then we had the farce against Spurs at home when Arsenal we leading 4-2 with only 2 minutes remaining. We managed to collapse and concede 2 late goals and only draw that game. That was truly unforgivable, but showed the fans this team wouldn’t get anywhere this season and that was later proved to be correct. Could you see any of our successful sides under Wenger capitulate a lead like that? Exactly.
A gripe I’ve had this season was the desire of the players and back in December I wrote:
One thing I would like to know is does Arsene Wenger have any idea how disillusioned Arsenal fans have become over this current and frankly average team?
Does he know there is a high level of negativity amongst the Arsenal supporters?
You will get those people who will spout the obvious â€œyouâ€™re not a proper Arsenal fanâ€ just because Iâ€™ve made criticisms but where do you draw the line? No football team has a divine right to be in the Top Four or in the Champions League every season and while it might be an extreme example look what happened to Nottingham Forest and Leeds United. Those sides were at the top of their game and look where they are now.
I’m not asking for much.
I would just like to see a football team that is willing to compete. Over the last 10 years I havenâ€™t seen a team lacking in fight, spirit and desire as much as this current crop of players.
I donâ€™t want Â£40 million signings like Kaka or Messi. Just players who have pride in wearing an Arsenal shirt. Players who realise that itâ€™s a privilege to play for Arsenal Football Club. Weâ€™ve had players in the past like Ray Parlour and Mathieu Flamini who werenâ€™t the most gifted footballers but they always gave 110% every time they crossed that white line.
They knew what it meant to play for Arsenal.
It actually hurts me when I see players like Eboue, Song and Diaby just stroll through games. Whereâ€™s the heart?
Arsene has had the unadulterated faith of the Arsenal fans over the last few years because each season has seen a gradual improvement on the last. But after leading most of the 2007/2008 season and then losing key players such as Flamini, Hleb, Gilberto, Lehmann and Senderos in the following summer (and Diarra in the January transfer window) then it was clear that this season wasn’t going to be an improvement on the one before.
Some of you will question the quality of some of those players but the fact is some of them have gone on to sign for some of Europe’s biggest teams; Real Madrid, AC Milan and Barcelona (with mixed success I’ll admit).
Our response was to bring in Silvestre, Bischoff, Ramsey and Nasri.
And added to our plight, our over-pampered kids (who constantly hear from the manager that they have incredible ‘mental strength’ every week) decided not to perform this season. We already knew the desire of players like Eboue, Diaby and Song but this season players like Adebayor who were excellent and determined last season weren’t even bothered anymore.
What chance did we stand in the Premier League?
So in the end we were essentially in a battle for 4th spot with Aston Villa, and in all honesty we were aided by an Aston Villa collapse.
Yes, we went 21 Premier League games unbeaten but how many were draws? If a high percentage of those were victories then surely a 21 game run would have put us right back in the title race. But we finished a massive 18 points behind eventual Champions Manchester United. Particularly disappointing when you consider the season before we finished 3rd and only 4 points off top spot in the league.
But Arsene single-handedly saved Arsenal’s season with one signing. And that was Andrei Arshavin.
Since he arrived in January we saw a different Arsenal. Not title challenging but far better than the side which played in the first half of the season. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say he carried the side on many occasions and that wasn’t more evident than in the 4-4 draw at Anfield. Basically, if it wasn’t for him we probably would have lost 4-0 and we wouldn’t have ended Liverpool’s title challenge.
Because of the decent run since January many people forget how abject we were from August to December. Some of the performances (such as against Boro) were truly terrible. We drew that game with a shocking lack of heart and effort and what can you put that down to? The worst thing was that only a week before Hull’s Marlon King ripped that same Boro defence to shreds. Marlon King did more damage than we did which is criminal.
By December, we had conceded the same amount of goals at Spurs, who at the time were in deep relegation trouble. The sad fact was that from the best defence in the country (in the invincibles season) we had one of the worst. Now you can point the finger at individual mistakes and injuries but ultimately Wenger is the man who overlooked the defence.
We lack that resilience that we had last season. If we play well then we’ve got a chance, but if we don’t we’ll lose. We can’t grind out results anymore and that is a problem. We are a confidence side and we don’t know which team will turn up on the day. In the Champions League, we were comprehensively beaten by Manchester United over two games, and Chelsea gave us a footballing lesson in the league. Once things go wrong we give up.
You will turn and say our players are young and need experience but Arsene’s ethos is ‘if you’re good enough you’re old enough’ and that is reflected in our annual wage bill. We pay roughly the same amount on wages as Manchester United. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to know that Eboue, Diaby and Denilson are on comparable wages to Hargreaves, Fletcher and Anderson – proven winners. No wonder you see several of our young players stroll around the pitch. You will find it hard to argue that half of our squad apply themselves as much as Ray Parlour or Mathieu Flamini did. Yes, they are different players but the fans aren’t stupid and they know when people aren’t applying themselves on the pitch. Look at Adebayor this season for example.
One of the major things I will remember from this season is Arshavin being missing from the starting line-up against Chelsea in the FA Cup. As things turned out a victory would have seen us in the final against Everton, and no disrespect to them but we would have been favourites to lift the cup. And if we did manage to win it then I would have considered this season to be a success – it would have been the first trophy this young side had won and could have been the catalyst for further honours in the future.
But for one reason or another Arsene decided not to play his strongest side, and even Nasri was on the bench.
Some people believe that Wenger wanted to save Arshavin for the Premier League game against Liverpool because 3rd place was more important to him. Other theories are that Arsene was wary of Chelsea’s aerial threat and decided that Diaby would provide better cover from set-pieces, although when have we ever seen Wenger concentrate on his oppositions tactics? Then rumblings from the infamous Q&A session with Wenger suggested that he wanted his young side to prove that they could win the big games, and he admitted it didn’t work.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and maybe Arshavin wouldn’t have made a difference. But it’s hard to ignore his influence after he smashed in 4 goals at Anfield only days later.
When you look at the Arsene Wenger Q&A transcript it makes hard reading.
It’s obvious some Arsenal fans aren’t happy with what they see on the pitch, and it’s disheartening to see a great man like Arsene Wenger having to defend himself against all these types of questions. There’s no doubt he is the most important man in Arsenal’s entire history and he has transformed a mid-table side into one of the biggest clubs in the world. The fact is Arsene is a victim of his own success.
The pressure has never been as intense, and Wenger is right when he points out that Liverpool, a massive club themselves, haven’t won the title in 19 years. He is also right to defend his players, because there’s nothing else he can do but. As fans we take defeat and poor performances to heart and rightly so, but Arsene will be feeling the pain a million times more.
Arsene has made some mistakes this season, but a lot of the players have let him down as well. He puts faith in these players and rewards them with increased wages and they don’t pay him back. And front of that particular queue is Adebayor
So the strange feeling I have after this season is one of disappointment, anger and pity for the manager.
Disappointment and anger because some of the performances this year have been quite disgraceful. It’s not the defeats so much as the lack of application from the players. All you can ask as a fan is the team to give 110% once they cross that white line and have pride in wearing the shirt of Arsenal. The first half of the season was poor and then when it mattered (the Champions League and FA Cup semi-finals) we didn’t turn up.
Then the manager.
What is it down to? Is it because he is stubborn and fixed on his unique vision, or is it because he has no money to spend? Does he lack a number two who questions his decisions? Sometimes when you have so much power at a club like Arsene has then you have a distorted view on things.
Wenger has stated that if Arsenal don’t win a trophy in the next 2 years then his experiment would have failed. I’m glad to see the back of this season and am already looking forward to next with my usual hope and faith for a brighter season. After all, that is what Arsene is selling to us, so come August we will have to hope that the squad is strengthened in key areas and we have a team that can compete and do us proud.