Talking Reds by Kevin Whitcher
We go to press on the weekend of the FA Cup defeat at Sunderland, and with the subsequent three Premier League matches being against Spurs, Liverpool and Newcastle, there is a real sense of trepidation being felt by Gooners. Cup defeats in recent seasons have often seemed to signal a collapse in league form, with the campaign subsequently petering out in anti-climax. At least in previous campaigns, before the fall, there was some hope of actually competing for the title, although 2012 sees fourth place at the realistic limit of the club’s ambition, even if Arsène Wenger believes third is achievable. With the familiar queue for the treatment table and the lack of squad depth being exposed, it does appear that for the first time in many years, Arsenal could fail to qualify for the Champions League.
It has been a season of highs and lows. Ultimately that exposes the inconsistency of the side, but we all enjoyed some of the brighter moments of Thierry Henry’s brief return to the club. Three
It has been a season of highs and lows. Ultimately that exposes the inconsistency of the side goals in different circumstances, but all to be treasured. His final one against Sunderland in the league match put the club into the now treasured fourth spot (seen as a failure last year; how times change!) by dint of other results that weekend. And that was very much an up before two downs. Henry’s final appearance for the club in the San Siro saw him leaving the pitch laughing with former colleague Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Fans get upset when they see this kind of thing, but I don’t think it’s fair. Footballers, whatever they profess, are professionals, rather than fans. Guns for hire. I am sure he was joking with the Milan player about some aspect of their mutual past rather than the 90 minutes just played.
However, compare that with Alex OxladeChamberlain, genuinely distraught at the own goal he conceded in the FA Cup exit. Not having enjoyed Henry’s career, at this stage he takes defeat as badly as a fan, and feels a huge personal responsibility. In different ways, both have contributed hugely in recent weeks, but looking ahead, the teenager’s are quite obviously the shoulders that will carry the team’s weight in the potentially difficult seasons ahead, as the club attempt to take stock and rebuild from the losses of Fabregas and, this summer, Van Persie. There is no point in my writing the same words about the manager as have been expressed by me and many others countless times – but on a more frequent basis this season. Everyone is aware something has to change and those under the manager’s spell still believe that this can be achieved with him remaining in the dugout in spite of change being anathema to the man.
What is potentially damaging is the board’s continued sanctioning of his decisions, which can prove costly. Ivan Gazidis has admitted that there is a bit of ‘fat in the wage bill’ and yet Johan Djourou has been awarded a fresh contract which sees him remain on the payroll until 2015. Here is a player who has shown potential and great promise in the past, but like his Swiss international colleague, Philippe Senderos, ultimately been found wanting, too prone to errors to be reliable, even as a back up player. He enjoyed a purple patch of a couple of months in the middle of last season, but has deteriorated woefully since. Additionally, his injury record should surely caution against his retention.
2 onlinegooner.com The loyalty the manager shows to certain of his players is at times astounding, and ultimately hampers the club from being able to replace them with greater quality by combining the wages being paid to the deadwood with the pile of cash sitting in the bank.
It’s possible to have great players at the club who excite the fans yet have very little chance of actually winning anything. Liam Brady won a solitary FA Cup in his time at Arsenal and is revered as a legend. One suspects history will view Fabregas and Van Persie in a similar light. The signs are that Jack Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain might turn into the big stars at the club over the next two or three campaigns, but unless there is a change of approach in the retention of players and the recruitment of better ones, the fear is that these players will see what has gone before and wish to move on somewhere that their potential can be turned into winners’ medals. Fabregas has already won trophies at Barcelona, as Brady did in Italy.
So the ups and downs thing extends from results to the playing staff. Obvious and exciting talent, with commitment in spades, cast amidst a mixture of the mediocre and the unmotivated. And at times, on the pitch, the result is a disorganised rabble. It’s real light and shade stuff which ends up feeling very frustrating for supporters who pay significant sums to witness it in the flesh.
The result is the gradual decline witnessed in recent seasons and the expectation that 2011-12 will peter out like the rest, although without a top four place at its conclusion. That being the case,
I would already suggest that this season’s lap of appreciation after the final home match might be called off, for everybody’s sake. Either that or just let Robin van Persie go round on his own and say goodbye. Yes, Arsenal can make the top four, but it is difficult to see how they will manage it without regaining the consistency they displayed in the autumn. And much as I want to believe they can do that, I just can’t see where it will come from. Enjoy the return leg of the Milan game as something of a one-off exhibition match against top class European opposition. It could be the last time we see that for a while...