Well the Stoke defeat leaves more questions than answers, and gives Arsenal their 3rd loss of the season. We only lost 3 games in the whole of last years campaign and didn’t win the league, so only a miracle will see us lift the trophy come May.
The fact of the matter is though that deep inside, I think every Arsenal fan knew we were never going to win the league this season. Last year was our big chance to break the Manchester United/Chelsea hold on the title but a cruel twist of fate at Birmingham ended our hopes of winning it. I maintain that without the horrific tackle on Eduardo we would have lifted the Premier League trophy. Obviously, there was still football to play that season but without Eduardo breaking his leg in such a shocking fashion we would have beaten Birmingham that day and continued our excellent run of form.
But as you know after that match Gallas had his public strop, the team lost their way, we failed to win games afterwards and the rest is history.
And unfortunately our Premier League season has ended with 27 games remaining.
So where have Arsenal gone wrong?
The biggest problem Arsene Wenger will have is that over the last 3 seasons this new squad he has been building has progressively got better. The invincibles side has well and truly departed (apart from Toure) and last year we finished in 3rd with a massive 83 points. The season before we finished 4th with 68 points and the season before that you’ll remember we pipped Spurs to 4th with 67 points – and that was with an arduous Champions League Campaign throughout the season.
And last year it seemed like we had turned the corner.
We only finished 4 points away from eventual Champions Manchester United, and effectively a win at Old Trafford near the end of the season instead of a defeat would have been enough to win the league.
But this season we have got worse.
And I hate to say it, but the departures of experienced players like Alexander Hleb, Gilberto Silva and Mathieu Flamini have been major factors.
Hleb played over 130 times for Arsenal, Flamini racked up 153 appearances and Gilberto had 237 games under his belt. But apart from the experience of playing with Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, it was clear that Hleb and Flamini were very good friends with Cesc (as well as Rosicky) off the pitch as well as on it. The chemistry they had when playing together was evident and is it just a co-incidence that Fabregas isn’t playing at his best this season? Of course, Cesc hasn’t had a rest from his summer exploits with Spain but seeing your closest team-mates leave for clubs like Barcelona and AC Milan probably doesn’t help.
The last thing you want to do if you haven’t had a pre-season with your club is to have to learn how to play with a new midfield line-up.
The big question is are the replacements good enough?
Obviously Nasri is a quality player, but as with all new signings they need at least 6 months to really settle in. Theo Walcott has come into the side and really made the right sided position his own, and Eboue has shown this season that he is good enough to step up his performances from last season.
But what about in the middle? Are Denilson and Song really good enough to play alongside Cesc Fabregas?
And the captain situation has just compounded the problems.
You need a leader on the pitch if you want the best from the team but the appointment of William Gallas yet again this season either means he doesn’t think Cesc is old enough yet or he actually thinks Gallas is the best choice.
Granted, Gallas captained the team to their best Premier League points total since our title-winning season in 2004, but surely the complete display of immaturity at Birmingham last year (as well as the antics this season) would be enough for Arsene to pick someone else to lead the side.
It seems like faith in the moody Frenchman has hit an all-time low and the lack of fight or determination on the pitch – especially shown against Spurs – is just non-existent. It was clear that in the final minutes of that game the young team just didn’t care. At 4-2 up and with only minutes remaining you should be keeping the ball and not trying to score another goal. So when Spurs score to make it 4-3 Gallas should be heeding the warnings and rallying the troops, but what happens? We capitulate and give our nearest rivals a moral boosting point. And now look what Spurs did against Liverpool.
Giving away stupid points away this season has come from immaturity and complacency. Against Fulham it was just a general all round poor performance, but points dropped against Hull City and Spurs were from a lack of mental strength. Where is the ability to kill a game off? Where is the maturity to know that if you’re a goal ahead and can’t get another then keep hold of what you’ve got?
There are no excuses, especially when last season we had no problem winning games by closing out the game. Giving away two goals in the last few minutes of the match would have been unthinkable last year.
And questions have been raised about Manuel Almunia.
It’s fair to say that while he didn’t have the best games against Spurs and Stoke, but I have to say that over the last couple of seasons I have been really impressed with the Spaniard.
While I thought Lehmann was world class (I will always remember THAT save at Old Trafford and the one from Raul at Highbury) he had 6 years on Almunia who has still to improve. His temperament is excellent and he has shown in certain games he is capable of making simply fantastic saves. And of course, he doesn’t cause major problems by punching opponents when we defend corner kicks.
I guess the big question is are we actually in such a bad state, or are we still in the race?
After all, we’re only six points off the top spot and there’s a lot of football yet to be played.
I think the big problem is that watching Arsenal this season, there are worrying signs of weakness which you just don’t see in previous title-winning campaigns. Could you see the Arsenal teams of old with Vieira and Adams in the side capitulate like we did against Spurs? When you see your side literally throw away points then you can only fear the worst.
And the performances have been too inconsistent.
We smash teams like Fenerbahce, then lose to Fulham. And a typical sight we’ve seen this season are performances like the one at Sunderland and Stoke, where the team just don’t seem up for it. Maybe we’d be okay if we didn’t have to play teams that started with the letter ‘S’.
Our saving grace could be in the cup competitions, which could been a more realistic target this season.