So our sad decline took another sharp dip yesterday as Arsenal shamefully dropped out of the FA Cup against a Blackburn side who barely stepped out of the starting blocks. We weren't beaten by a heroic one off, we were beaten by ourselves.
The story of yesterday was that Arsene Wenger rested the key triplet of Wilshere, Theo and Cazorla. Why shouldn't he? Jack suffered a knock last week and is well known for faking recovery to get back into the side. Cazorla has been over played all season. Theo Walcott shouldn't be needed as he's also played an extreme amount of football this season. The issue for me isn't the resting of players for a Champions League tie. No, the issue is that Arsene Wenger can field a pretty strong second team and not motivate them to the necessary levels to turn over a team sitting 7th in the Championship.
The game felt like the sort I've been watching all season at home. Even when we win we tend to play in this one geared sluggish way that isn't beffiting of a club that under Wenger have prided themselves in quick pass and move football with elements of serious power play.
We have a number of problems when Theo, Jack and Santi don't play.
Firstly the pace of the passing slows down tremendously. Moving the ball up the pitch takes far longer than the 6 seconds of yesteryear. It's all very casual. Secondly, the movement of the front three is easy to track. We've struggled with this even when we have the first teamers in, but yesterday it was painful to watch. An Arsenal team that was often totally flat footed. If you don't move for the midfield, then the midfield can't make space for you. The third thing that's desperately missing from our side is personality. One of my abiding Arsenal memories is Patric Vieira driving our team forward when the chips were down. Geeing the fans up and getting them onside. This Arsenal side are introverted, there's a real lack of inspiration, a lack of noise. Now, I know it's uncouth to think that shouty players can drive a side, but when confidence is down, and you're tired, you need someone who can pull that extra 10% out of you.
We don't have it... We have great technique, we lack world class personality. The players don't look like they go home devastated about a loss. No one out on that pitch yesterday was bleeding for the cause. Now, I know that these player can bleed for the cause... trouble is, to bleed for a cause, you have to believe in it. Don't tell me Arteta isn't a fighter, because he is. Why does he look so passive?
We also suffer from inconsistency on a massive scale. Abou Diaby looked a monster at the start of the season. He'd had a full preseason and looked like he could really move his game to the next level. He picked up a couple of injuries and now he looks incredibly average. I think there have always been question marks over his attitude, if yesterday was anything to go by, those questions are fully merited.
Arsenal really created very little, our one spark was Thomas Rosicky. He laid Gervinho through the middle in the first half, the Ivorian, or to you and me, Africas best player, managed to drag the shot wide. It was harder to do that than stick it in. The man has no composure whatsoever. If he does come good in 2 seasons time, what is that worth to Arsenal fans now? Why are we always buying projects rather than finished articles? Anyway, in the second half, Rosicky rifled a shot that rattled the bar and nearly snapped it. He's always trouble when he comes on, I'm surprised he's had so little game time this year.
The second half didn't improve. Instead of Wenger recognising this early on and trying to make the tie safe, he opted to wait until 70minutes, like he always does, before making the three big changes we all wanted to see earlier. The boys changed things up, Theo's movement was causing Blackburn problems, he had a powerful header well saved by their keeper and he got in behind once or twice. However, it was to be Blackburn who took the lead before that happened.
Grant Hanley played a hoofed ball out to Jordan Rhodes who beat Coquelin in the air. The ball fell to Martin Olsson who powered a shot at Szczesny, he palmed it straight back into the danger zone, Kazim Richards fired his shot into the ground and it bounced into the net. A horrible goal to concede because it was an individual error from a keeper who has been poor all season. People mentioned I was scapegoating yesterday, I'm not scapegoating... I'm calling out a bad mistake against a player I've called average all year. He makes too many individual errors even when he keeps clean sheets, he's not enough of a barrier when it comes to keeping shots out and he's pretty scary from crosses. Someone else made the point that it's not Szczesny's fault we haven't won a trophy in 8 years... for me, it's the managers fault for not addressing our goalkeeping issue for that amount of time.
I can't remember what world cup it was, but Manual Neuer had a stormer, everyone raved about him at the time, we should have snapped him up there and then. Instead we've persisted with cheaper options and it's not paid off. You need a great keeper if you want to do great things. Even if we signed top competition. Why were we not in for Begovic when he was at cash strapped Pompey? We should certainly be looking at him this summer. He's a top talent.
Anyway, there was very little that could be done after that goal. The team were shell shocked, the super subs didn't have enough time to make an impact... we whimpered out of the FA Cup in tragic fashion. Not that we didn't deserve to go out... our performance against Brighton was equally tepid.
So what now for Arsene Wenger?
The excuses have now fully dried up for manager. He has the three ingredients you need to succeed at the highest levels of football. He has power. It's now mainstream news that he controls every aspect of the club, even some areas he shouldn't be involved in. The best managers have absolute control, look at Fergie and United. Arsene Wenger has money. He has a wage bill in the region of £150m to play with, the same size bill City reported a couple of seasons ago (with countless players on over £150k a week). He also has the capability to spend up to £70m+ on strengthening the squad. Again, this is irrefutable as we've access to club accounts and the expert eyes of many top analysts. Then finally, he has infrastructure. We have training facilities that are amongst the best in the world, the envy of the globe. Arsene Wenger has access to the best people if he wants them and we have a stadium to die for.
There are no excuses now.
Wenger is responsible for every single player in that squad. He made a quip yesterday that the players who are playing now haven't been here for the full 8 years of the trophy drought. It's a strange thing to say, obviously he's intimating that there's been huge instability at the club, and there has been. What he consistently fails to recognise is that most of the instability comes from his inaction.
Inaction on many levels. The major struggle we have in keeping great players stems from the fact we don't compete. The reason we don't compete is a few fold.
1) We have wage distribution that's not in keeping with the market. Now, note that I say wage distribution, not wage bill. Our wage bill can more than accomodate some players earning top, top dollar. Wenger is the highest earner by £40k a week. There's something very wrong with a club that operates like that.
2) We don't compete on technology. Football is a game drive by data nowadays. I told you that Mourinho basically took American sport techniques and applied them to football. He was the first to market with that concept and he's now been followed by everyone. Manchester United, Manchester City and nearly every smaller club now operate data driven models. Arsenal are still in the dark ages. Division two clubs are taking video analysts to game, Arsenal aren't. Some Premiership clubs have three in the dressing room at half time. Arsenal have none. Our preparation comes from the dark ages... this quote from Arsene sums up what I've been telling you for years.
“It is very disappointing that the two defeats have happened in the same season but I prepared these two in the same way that I did in the 16 years before.”
3) Players. Arsenal don't invest in top quality players. The rule seems to be... we'll only bid for a player no one else is in for. That's meant we've missed out on some super players over the year. Sometimes we miss out, other times we just don't enter the mucky market at all. Now, if there's one thing that's apparent throughout history, investing in players is a major factor in achieving success. If you're not investing in great player's, you'd best pray to god your youth system is churning out gold. Ours isn't, our scouts are presenting poor players back to the manager and we're missing out on steals we'd have been all over years ago.
Great clubs don't move to the next level by letting a once great manager survive on sentiment. They look at the facts, they look at what others are doing and they make bold decisions. Arsene Wenger hasn't won a trophy in 8 years. Our team is being dismanteled quality wise year after year and our defence has become progressively worse over that period. The only thing the manager has to cling to is consistent Champions League football.
What do we want here people? To watch the same project year after year when we know it has no chance of ever succeeding... or would we like to see a new era at the club? Some true passion for getting things back on track. Fresh ideas, a new approach... the big issues addressed with bold signings and sharp managerial acumen.
I know what I want at the club and it's change. It doesn't mean I'll ever forget what Arsene has done for Arsneal. He'll always be a legend... but the game has moved on and Arsenal need someone new to take on the baton and lead the charge for the next ten years. The aim of the club is to become the greatest on the planet, we'll never do that under Arsene, that much I can tell you is fact...
... question is, how bad does it have to get before action is taken? For the first time in five years, the vocal minority is now the majority...