From beating the champions and the champions-to-be to this

From beating the champions and the champions-to-be to this

I like to keep things fairly positive around here but I’m pretty frustrated today.

Frustrated because the same team which performed so admirably to knock over the Champions-to-be last weekend were so terrible, so out-of-sorts against Stoke on Sunday that it was embarrassing.

I would sound like a broken record if I said that our title challenge has faded badly this season. Sunday offered us the very last chance to stay on the heels of United and Chelsea and we failed the test miserably.

Another tough day at the office for Wenger

The defending on the set pieces was below par, the collective effort all over the pitch was lack and you have to ask why? Did our team believe they had nothing to fight for? Did they know that United would blow Chelsea away a couple of hours later to put nine fingers in the title and render our game meaningless?

It’s tough to believe that with the title on the line — and it was, make no mistake — we could perform so poorly. Even reliable heads like Djourou, Sagna and Szczesny didn’t look up for it today. As a team we were sloppy at the back, lethargic in the middle and lacking ideas in the final third.

Earlier in the season we beat Barcelona 2-1 at The Emirates. It was a wonderful night, a performance and result so strong as to make us believe that this group could take the final step. We followed that by failing to beat Leyton Orient and crashing and burning against Birmingham.

This team appears to have a problem with following a significant result in a big game with a similar result in a smaller game. The commonly cited reason for this is that our team are arrogant, that we do not treat smaller opponents with the same respect as the Uniteds, Chelseas and Barcelonas of the world.

It has merit of course, but could there be another reason? Could it be that this team — who were criticised so heavily for failing to beat the big teams last season have put too much emphasis on correcting the problem this time around? That the psychological resources have been drained by striving to make mark in the big games and performances against the little team have suffered as a consequence?

Last season we were the flat-track bullies of the league and couldn’t draw blood from the teams around the top. This season it has been the opposite. Surely next season a balance between the two is what is required?

It’s not possible to play every game at 100% in a season. But do you hit the big ones at 90% and the little ones at 60%, or hit both at 75%. That’s the balance that we need to find to merge the progression that we have made over the past two seasons.

Of course, balance means consistency. The mental strength that is so talked about is certainly there in some measure: a couple of flaky performances aside, we’ve shown tremendous resilience and focus in our away fixtures this season. We’ve knocked off United, Barcelona and Chelsea at home and generally-speaking done well in fiercely-contested games.

United will be the Champions this season because they have been the most consistent team in the league. They’ve won some big games and lost some big games, they’ve usually performed when they’ve needed too and they’ve created a great supporting atmosphere by winning most games at Old Trafford. They haven’t overly impressed but they’ve done enough to cross the line first.

For Arsenal the final two games are going to be fairly shallow, unemotional affairs. We’re more than likely going to finish third and there is very little to play for. For two games I will feel like a supporter of a club in mid-table: free of worry but without much hope, as unemotional a state of being as you can find in football.

Have your say on Arsenal’s 3-1 loss to Stoke by leaving a comment.

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24 Responses to “From beating the champions and the champions-to-be to this”

  1. Darragh
    May 9, 2011 at 4:08 pm #

    I thought Sagna was one of the better ones on the pitch actually, but the rest were very poor. Bendtner, suprisingly, had some impact coming on. We actually played a lot better when we had both the big guys on the pitch – at least going forward. The thing is – too many had bad games, particularly at the back.

    You might disagree with me Andy but the second half of the season I think we’ve been tactically naive. I’m not sure if 4:3:3 works for us as well as it might work for the likes of Barca. We’ve become obvious. I would like to see Wenger have an experiment with Chamakh playing centrally and VP as a second striker during the last few games. It is a shame Chamakh got so little playing time during the second half of the season considering how good he was in the first half.

    I don’t want to talk about defence, because we’ve been so poor lately in this department. It’s been our achilles heal all season and something has to be done about it. Perhaps the talk of signing someone like Cahill should be something to investigate.

    Anyway, ramble over.

  2. sleepinggiant
    May 9, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    This is a slightly tangential point, but your article highlights one of the biggest problems this season – completely unrealistic appraisal of the game v Barcelona. This was not a final, as semi-final or even a quarter final. It was a bloody last 16 game for a start. In other words, an utter irrelevance, whether it was against Barcelona or Fc Bruges, it was a last 16 game, so nothing special at all.

    And then there is excitement over a 2-1 win at home? What the hell?? A 2-1 win at home against a top side like the Catalans meant that we were 90% certain of going out of the competition for Gods sake. Let me spell this out, while coming back from a goal down to win was a relief on the night – THAT WAS A REALLY BAD RESULT FOR ARSENAL FC. End of. I remember at the time being aghast that anyone was mentioning a single word about a bad result in a last 16 game when we had a cup final coming up soon afterwards. It may only have been the Carling cup, but for a team that has won so little recently, it was always a vastly more important game than a last 16 champions league game. Sometimes I think you and a lot of other fans get caught up in the Sky Sports over-hype of Barcalona and MAn Utd. We are Arsenal. A game against these teams is only big in context (Do you think the Barcelona fans were so enthused over beating us in the second leg? Not a chance). I think the lack of perspective about that particular tie, when we had some much more important games around the same time, contributed somewhat to our collapse later in the year.

  3. leftcoastgooner
    May 9, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    A very bitter and disappointing loss.
    I am still an unrepentant gooner but I am not a happy one.

  4. john
    May 9, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    Last year we were easily bullied in the big games against Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd and Barca because our big names players the vast majority were missing for different reasons. Then when they fully fit against the lesser teams we destroyed them of the park in the words of big Mick we gave them a slapping.

    This season we have beaten the bigger teams at the Emirates and Eastlands but when our big name player such as Walcott, RVP, Fabregas, Song, Nasri and Wilshere have not been on song the sqaud players have not stepped up to the plate and produced.

    Look at Man Utd bench yesterday they had the league top scorer Berbatov, Anderson, Nani and Fletcher etc…Our bench does not have the same impact as Man Utd. This has been shown against Leeds Utd, Huddersfield and Leyton Orient not the footballing powerhouses of the world.

    I don’t get some people’s opinion that Bendtner is our answer as an out and out centre forward and do agree with Wenger that he does play better on the wing for us. Chamakh is more of a sqaud player rather than a starter for me. Personally Bendtner needs to be sold and is more suited to the Stoke style of play rather than the Arsenal style.

    We need more qaulity on the bench and players ready to fight for their place in the starting eleven. If anything for Wenger to rest players in and able to play different versions of 433 especially at home. For instance if we sign Benzema and face Blackburn at home they are not going to attack us so play RVP, Benzema and Nasri at the start and if things don’t do well then we can bring a player like Walcott off the bench when their players get tired.

    Defensively we do need another first choice left back and another centre back that is experienced. Goalkeeper is not really a problem and not really fused if we get one because I put this to every Arsenal fan that says he is too young, the great Iker Casilles was Real Madrid number 1 at 19 and was 16 in the 2000 European Cup Final which he started.

  5. Sharad
    May 9, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    i always have time to listen to what ray parlour thinks about arsenal.one of my favourite players and talks a lot of sense in my opinion.talking about our defensive frailties he said that the team always trained on set pieces when he was at the club.you can only assume therefore that they still do….hell why wouldnt they?!anyway he said it should always be the case that each player has a responsibility.you are assigned to mark a man and if that man scores then its your fault.simple as.there is a photo in todays daily mail following stokes first goal.johan djourou stood with his arms raised wide apart as if to say ‘what happened there?’ what happened was he lost his man.he never really had his man in all honesty.the goal goes in and no one says a thing.they all just trudge off back to the half way line.no one is taking responsility back there.when tony adams played he organised.he told people who to mark and i would imagine if your man scored he would tell you in no uncertain terms that it was your fault.in djourou i see a player who is technically good.strong,quick enough and decent on the ball.not sure i see a player who loves defending.

  6. Ian Botannic Gooner
    May 9, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    @Andy: one of the reasons I like reading your blog is that you are a reasonable mixture of objectivity and a love for Arsenal. I am now after this season definitely in the “Wenger must go” camp. Yesterdays game was a disgrace and virtually all the players had a stinker, but the same players as you have pointed out have beaten Chelsea, Manure Utd and Barca. Therefore is it not logical to imply that a lot of the fault must lay squarely on Wengers shoulders? His stubborn arrogance and refusal to accept that is project has failed has reduced us to a laughing stock in reality. Teams are no longer scared to play us as they feel we have a soft underbelly, and the board and Wengers “delight” to just finish in the top four shows a lack of ambition. I feel at times its not the ability of our players but the attitude that leaves a lot to be desired. We need to off-load Arshavin, Denilson Bendtner, Alumina, Fabianski, Song, Clichy, Van Persie and Walcott need to buck up their ideas and start showing a combination of ability and “mental strength” to use AW most used quote this year. I love Arsenal but I’m getting sick and tired of watching the same old rubbish, apparently I’m not the only one!

  7. Andrew Weber
    May 9, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    These comments are a credit to the blog. Cheers to all, wish I had something to add but I think it’s all been said. Always a tough time when the door slams shut.

  8. Shard
    May 9, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    The disappointment has reduced a bit today. Not the unhappiness with the performance though. That was as poor as we’ve played I think. The defending was just horrible, and our attack lacked any thrust. Why can we not get any shots on target? We started well enough but just when it comes to shooting we never seem to test the opposition keeper.

    I still say that I see no reason to throw everything out. Kick out every player, and kick out the manager. That’s just a knee jerk reaction, and to me that is no solution. There are problems, but they aren’t insurmountable. Starting from scratch will only lead to more of a transition period, unless we spend something like 150 million pounds. We don’t have that kind of money, and if we do we should just give that to Wenger. This theory of Wenger being blind to faults of his team and being unwilling to spend is stupid in my view. It’s just a caricature that the tabloids have cooked up.. He does need to change somethings such as set piece training for example because it really isn’t working, but everything should not change. That’s the wrong path to take. It’s been a disappointing season, but that is no reason to blow up this team.

  9. kevmacn
    May 9, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    arsenal need to go back to a 4.4.2 formation. simple as. bring in quality defenders. I read that samba says we were in for him in january and i think we should try again. he’s not the quickest but he is solid, puts himself about and organizes the players around him. if west ham go down then i think scott parker would be a great option for arsenal. another player with fight and determination. and i honestly think that if arsenal went 4.4.2 and nicky b played beside rvp, let rvp float around and do his thing. nicky b stay central, keep theo wide left and (arshavin/Hazard hopefully)? wide right we would do well next year in the premiership.
    I honestly think wenger is gonna really invest in quality at the end of this season. he cant afford to gamble this summer cause he is in last chance saloon in terms of his job and there would be a huge backlash from the fans. the board cant afford to have that after ticket price hikes so.
    We need to keep the faith as fans and hope that finally now the board and manage can hear our cries.

  10. Darragh
    May 9, 2011 at 11:30 pm #

    @Ian Botanica Gooner – not sure why you say that RvP has to buck up his game. Him, along with Sagna and Wilshere have been probably the only players consistently good this season.

    I hate the idea of getting rid of loyal gooners from the squad, but I think the time may have come get some fresh ideas in. This means we may say good bye to the likes of B52, Arshavin, Clichy and Alumnia.

    Despite loving Szenczy, I still think we need another competitive number 1. I’ve always thought Shay Given would be a great signing. He’s a proven top quality keeper (and he’s irish! :D). I know Andy will disagree with me on that one.

  11. j birth
    May 10, 2011 at 1:51 am #

    I like this to

  12. Terry
    May 10, 2011 at 1:54 am #

    @Darragh – agree – RvP has been our besyt player in the second half of the season. unfortunatley we never seem to get a full season out of him. Wouldn’t sell him though. But I would clear out Almunia, Denilson, Diaby, Eboue, Squillaci, Rosicky, Vela and Bendtner. Reduce the wage bill, give some of the new youngsters a go and bring in some steel.

    I tend to agree abou the formation. We have too many players being forced to play out of their natural position. I don’t really see Arshavin, Nasri, Rosicky, Bendtner or even Walcott as effective wide men, and even if they were we don’t have th kind of centre forward to benefit from someone bombing down the flank and crossing it. And on that matter, Clichy has to be the worst crosser of the ball in the history of the universe. He is crap. Sell him too while we are at it and get Baines from Everton.

    Still don’t think it’s the right time to get rid of Wenger but I hat seeing his fantastic legacy being eroded away. You only have to look at his demeanour on the sidelines to see how much he wants to win and it must be galling for him as well. How i’d like to see the calm professor return, but I think the pressure is getting to him. He seriously needs to inject some new blood and mindset into the squad. Next season is only going to be harder.

  13. Andrew Weber
    May 10, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Couldn’t agree more, Darragh. RVP has been outstanding. Even when he hasn’t played well he has scored goals. Lots and lots of goals.

  14. Ian Botannic Gooner
    May 10, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    @Darragh: I’m maybe a bit hard on RVP but don’t you feel that after the period he has spent injured over the last three seasons and the undoubted ability he possesses that we shud be getting more from him? Yes he is scoring even when he is playing poorly but theres no consistency, possibly now he’s fit and apparently “injury free” we’ll hopefully see the best of him next season. I do agree about Shay Given that would be a great signing and his experience would be a great asset to Szenczy too.

  15. sharad
    May 10, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    if you now look at the way liverpool are playing now its all down to the manager.same players but new belief.arsene who i think is our best manager ever just seems to have lost it a bit.we need some fresh new faces around the place because we look dead out there at the moment.first pat rice who has been an arsenal legend should now leave gracefully.upgrade steve bould and possible get a veira or maybe a parlour in.upstairs get david dein back and take over all the transfer dealings from wenger.it is no coincidence that since DD left we have won nothing.arsene mindset has to change.he wants us to play la liga style football in the premership.it does not work.tippy tappy will win us nothing.watching liverpool last night they pass well and are very direct.united the same. we need to drop that formula and get back to the old ways.dont play players like van persie and bentner on the wings leave them up front to attack not chase back and defend or cross the ball.he also has to get rid of the players who just will not make it.the fans can tell normally staright away who will or will not make it.players like djourrou and song are perfect examples.would they get in to united chelsea or barcelona.hell no. so i dont want them here.would fergurson put up with players like walcott arshavin rosicky chamaka denilson or sagna who cannot evn cross a ball.arsene must get ruthless and stop wasting high wages on very average players.as far as protesting concerned that is not the arsenal way.yes we are all frustarted but we do things with a bit of class not a rabble like when newcastle fans protested.i am sure the club know now that things will have to change and i am sure when we arrive back in august there will be new personnel on board .

  16. Andrew Weber
    May 10, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    @ Ian – I really don’t agree with the ‘no consistency’ tag. 21 goals since the turn of the year as well as a record for most consecutive away games scored in? That is consistency personified in my opinion. This is from a player is so much more than a goalscorer, too.

  17. unchained
    May 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    arsenal (if it embarks on a rebuilding phase) needs to look at what it takes to be champions. we need to look at first and foremost the quality of our players and if they match up. First the back line – the typical defender will go up against a 6’+ guy from the opposing team (therefore we need defenders who are BIG and technically good not just at marking but heading the ball – not like djourou who always does not pick up a guy and allways late on the headed clearance). the guy also needs speed – not like squillachi who is technically ok but slow for the english game. People keep talking about baines but does arsenal really have a problem at the wing back posiition? Is gael clichy really a bad defender? What has he done which is so wrong.

    For the midfield there must be more holding and defensive cover we have no problems with flair do we. We need more personnel to shore up Song. I mean what is a Team in the league if you cannot close out a game when you are 4 zip up. So search for two more work horse men (i do not even think it will cost that much). Just hard tough Mother ******s – you can get that a dime a dozen in the league. And for god sakes get a 50 per cent striker. One dude who scores once every two matches all the top teams who formed dynasties had at least one guy like that.

    And finally a board that is willing to spend a little money. Not bankrupting the club.. no but owners who are willing to not just watch share prices but commit 30 mil a year to refresh the club. For an organization the size and stature of arsenal I do not think it is asking too much.
    If we lobby for this as die hard gooners I think our annual moans and groans will cease at least a bit. Thank you

  18. Emmanuel
    May 10, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    Although I wont quit Arsenal. its easy to believe we wont win anything this season, and the next, and the next.

  19. 1NilToTheArsenal
    May 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    @Sharad – you’re right so about Liverpool.

    They are a stark contrast to our abject lack of any genuine belief or confidence in ourselves. That more than any other reason, is the cause of our inconsistency and yet another top 4 finish. Not formations and tactics, or player selection, or injuries or bad calls by the officials – yes all definite contributors – but more than any of those, the simple lack of faith that we can get the job done. Period. In fact, we’ve blown it often enough this season that fourth place and qualification for CL is a REAL possibility, as it is for Liverpool depending on what Man City does in these last two fixture.

    I have always had huge faith in Wenger and have outright dismissed the huge criticism he’s received this year. I’m still in the Wenger camp, but he is unquestionably deeply flawed in some of his assumptions and decisions regarding his team. He is brilliant enough to see this, I believe, but can he change what he does enough to match tangible reward to our degree of technical quality and talent? I just don’t know anymore…

    Have a great summer, Andy and everyone. In August to begin anew…and I’ll be reading the blog and watching developments. For the final couple of times this year COME ON YOU GUNNERS. Show us and yourselves some respect.

    1NTTA

  20. Darragh
    May 10, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    @ian botannic gooner, I do hear what you’re saying, but I think RvP is playing as well now as he has ever played. He just broke the record for scoring in consecutive matches in the EPL – 8, beating drogba. He’s showing that when he is injury free, he is one of the most potent strikers in the game. It’s hard to say a striker scoring every match is not giving enough.

    It’s the players around him not giving enough.

    But to build on your point, we won’t know until we get a full season out of him. Though, I must counter-point with saying it’s not as if RvP goes out to get injuries. He has just been very very unlucky with some of them.

  21. Unpopulour Opinion
    May 17, 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    Sell: Fabregas for £35 million (get Bojan on a season long loan with the option to purchase for £15 million). Make Vermaelen Captain and RVP vice captain. Sell Denilson, Eboue, Rosicky, Bendner, Arshavin, Clichy.

    Give: Chamakh, Diaby and walcott one more season to prove themselves.

    Build the team around: RVP, WILLS, NASRI, SAGNA, VERMS AND SZCEZNY.

    Buy a top striker to partner RVP, a general for CDM, A rock at the back for VERMS, A new Winger and a top goal Keeper.

  22. Hazmi
    May 18, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    Andy. I share with your frustration. I’ii always be a gooner fan. But as i said in my comment two month ago. we have to make a post mortem from the managerial until the backroom to know what really happen. We also have to spend, to find a good quality player. We cannot afford to have a young player shoulder a heavy responsibility. Arsene principle is to spend less , so that the accounts looks good but where is the result. Who is he to satisfied. In the business we have to invest in order to gain. But our investment is only at the minimal then our result is minimal. We need a player that can stand until end of season. Where are they. Are we going to see this happening again. Even if Arsene hv yo go. Whose the right candidate.Sometime i think the last few game is being control by the bookie. If this is true, where are we as a fan. I hv been having sleepless night thinking my dream team performing. To Arsene you already broke many peoples heart.

  23. Chaussures Converse
    June 8, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    I like to keep things fairly positive around here but I’m pretty frustrated today. Frustrated because the same team which performed so admirably to knock over the Champions-to-be last weekend were so terrible, so out-of-sorts against Stoke on Sunday that it was embarrassing. We don’t have that kind of money, and if we do we should just give that to Wenger. But our investment is only at the minimal then our result is minimal. We need a player that can stand until end of season. Where are they. Are we going to see this happening again. Even if Arsene hv yo go. Whose the right candidate.Sometime i think the last few game is being control by the bookie. If this is true, where are we as a fan. I hv been having sleepless night thinking my dream team performing. To Arsene you already broke many peoples heart..This theory of Wenger being blind to faults of his team and being unwilling to spend is stupid in my view. It’s just a caricature that the tabloids have cooked up.. He does need to change somethings such as set piece training for example because it really isn’t working, but everything should not change. That’s the wrong path to take. It’s been a disappointing season, but that is no reason to blow up this team.

  24. Reg
    June 24, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    I would love to see them get Baines from Everton. But I agree they’re going to have to spend some money to get a couple of quality players to begin with.

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