This started off as a post entitled ‘Quick Thoughts’ but I just kept going on and on and on….it’s good to know that something can arouse passion in me!
I felt pretty bad about Arsenal today. I sound like everyone else. We all saw an attacking Arsenal, a young side full of verve and energy and hope, and we saw that hope extinguish with Ji-Sung’s wonderful finish. That slip was just bad luck – just plain bad luck, nothing else. I thought Gibbs played pretty decently last week (yes, he was exposed again and again, but his midfield let him down again and again too). We all know how brilliant Almunia was. But tonight he was hesitant at the moment it mattered most – if he had taken the initiative as soon as Gibbs slipped, he might have smothered that chance. If another defender had been sprinting back to cover, maybe that wouldn’t have been a goal. And that shocker of a goal directly led to the second one*, because Almunia was still thinking about his mistake. He wasn’t thinking properly on that free kick. He wasn’t as sharp and alert as he could have been – because that’s a routine save if the keeper is covering his near post. Ronaldo was on song today, singing and dancing and pirouetting like he was born for it, and he was thinking sharper than most players. The first goal came about directly as a result of his endeavor. The Arsenal defenders were caught out by his sprint and quick low cross. And that’s why I don’t feel that the loss has been bad luck. No. It was a disaster waiting to happen. We all saw it last week, when Arsenal were humiliated as Old Trafford toyed with the Gunners. They had Almunia and prayers saving them then. Not today. Because they just weren’t good enough, across the pitch, everywhere. I think Nasri is the only Arsenal player who actually won his one-on-ones more than 50% of the time. Song was better than last week, and Fabregas was trying to play Xavi, but he’s not Xavi. He’s taken on the No. 4, but there’s a reason he’s still on the substitutes’ bench for La Furia Roja, with starting places given to Xavi, Iniesta, Senna, and usually Silva.
Back on track. Arsenal fans, wake up. Give Wenger a kick up his backside. How many more humiliations will you take? How many more times do you need it proven to you that your strategies are not working?! They work against mediocre Premier League sides and SOMETIMES against top-class teams. But there is no consistency. There is still not enough fight. A lot of Manchester United’s dominance came from their greater will to get to and win the ball. There’s a manic desire in the way Park Ji Sung, Tevez, Evra, Rooney, and Ferdinand (for example) fight for the ball. Ronaldo ran faster than anyone else for that first goal, and it wasn’t just him being a faster player. As I’ve said above, a defense with greater desire would have been back in the box – it was only Gibbs vs Ji Sung in the end. There were several instances – especially while defending – where Utd players were just not prepared to give up the ball (even when they were 2-0 up and with the game effectively in the bag). Arsenal lost the 50-50 challenges, and they weren’t ‘first to the ball’. And I don’t know why. I just don’t know why. I’m not going to accuse them of a lack of motivation, but perhaps a lack of willpower and a knowledge of how to convert that motivation into tangible reality. Arsenal, for far too long, have been brilliant only while things have been going well for them. It was shocking to see Bendtner showing more heart than most of his team. Walcott isn’t close to being a great player because he was just defeated by Evra and it showed pretty clearly. Adebayor was very disappointing. So as I was saying – Wenger has failed the Arsenal faithful. It’s been obvious for a long time that Arsenal needed more solidity at the back and in the center of the midfield. He brought in Silvestre, and…that’s it. And Silvestre isn’t good enough. I don’t remember him being a first choice central defender for any team he’s played for in the past few years. Now he’s past his prime and it’s been painfully obvious. What’s also painfully obvious is the lack of squad depth. Injuries, injuries, injuries. Why can Arsenal invest millions on the Emirates but not enough on a good team of physicians?! Every single season they have too many players injured. Wenger can’t get stitch together the same XI more than two weeks in a row, and that absolutely sucks, because the replacements aren’t like-for-like. By the way, I daresay Manchester have suffered injuries to key players too, this season. Why haven’t they fallen apart, then? I’m not a Manchester supporter – they have my respect as a great footballing side and nothing more. Rooney, Ronalda, Vidic, Ferdinand, all CRUCIAL players injured, and Manchester are still on top. Arsenal had to thrust first Song, then Denilson, then Diaby into the midfield, where they played well, but not as well as Carrick and Fletcher. Arshavin has been a very welcome addition, and has rejuvenated the Emirates since his arrival. But the frailties in defence and attack still persist. Yes, I believe that Arsenal doesn’t have a good lineup of strikers, because they only perform occasionally. Adebayor and Bendtner score goals once a month it seems. Van Persie and Walcott are great players, but they too turn it on every few weeks, when they’re fit that is. Vela hasn’t played too much. Arsenal once boasted the best defense in England, but they haven’t even had the best defense in the Emirates Stadium this season.
Oh, and to you Arsenal fans who will point to victories over Manchester earlier in the season or perhaps the one over Portsmouth last year or even to maybe Arsenal’s relative success in the Champion’s League for the past few seasons? Stuff it. Stop living in a fantasy world. The Champion’s League does not demand consistency, just 13 games spread out over 9 months. Those victories that you’re pointing out are flashes in the pan. They don’t prove anything but my point that Arsenal aren’t good enough most of the time. Stop getting your hopes up with one or two good wins. Show some fight over a period of time. The reason league success means so much is that it proves which teams have consistently performed.
Maybe I sound like a cocky Blaugrana fan, knowing that his team is riding high. But it’s not like that. Barcelona haven’t won anything since 2006 and they were downright pathetic last year, culminating in that humiliation at the Bernabeu – the pasillo for their mortal enemies, followed by a 4-1 whipping. And they could easily lose against Chelsea tomorrow night – I wouldn’t be too surprised with any result, depending on how the teams line up and which key battles are won (such as Drogba and Anelka vs Pique and Caceres). I’ll criticize Guardiola if he does something stupid like play Abidal in the center.
Speaking of tactics, Ferguson was brilliant by placing Rooney on the wing and Ronaldo in the center, maximizing their talents. Ronaldo beat Toure and Djourou with pace, and Rooney just outmuscled, out-dribbled, and outplayed Sagna wonderfully in his role as a playmaker. And while on the topic of Manchester, it’s just horrible that Fletcher got sent off unjustly and can’t play in the final. He’s one of those great underrated midfielders and has been absolutely vital to Manchester’s success this season as Scholes and Giggs have faded away. He’s a proven big game player, and the kind of sportperson I respect above all – someone who achieves success through grit and hard work (another example is Paul Collingwood). I really feel sorry for him.
I might have been offensive so far. But it’s just out of frustration, frustration that I feel as a third party which admires Arsenal for their idealism and great play. I can’t begin to imagine how the loyalists feel. But it’s time for the guillotine. Things need to change at the Emirates.
I was hoping for a great match tonight. And I was desperately disappointed not only at Arsenal’s abject defeat, but also at the manner in which this game was rendered into a no-contest within 8 minutes – a slip. Goddamnit. I guess Arsenal fans would have taken a 2-1 loss in which they fought hard. But this was like – hey, we didn’t even get to play properly! Game ho gayi! It’s just an observation – and I’m not criticizing or taking anything away from Manchester – but some of their most crucial moments in the past two Champion’s League seasons have come through slips. That’s just sad, because it deprives neutrals like me of some more play.
*Shades of the Man Utd – Roma quarterfinal two seasons ago. Roma was shocked to hell and high water with Carrick’s brilliant goal, then Fletcher (I think it was him, or maybe Smith) who netted another great goal, and they just crumbled. The rest was irrelevant.