I woke up with a sore throat and a blocked nose this morning. Feeling the onset of a cold, the sensible course of action would’ve been to watch the match on TV while drinking some Lemsip, and if I wasn’t so desperate to witness us batter Abramovich’s despicable chavs, I probably would have done so. Instead I stuffed some tissues into my coat and headed off to the Emirates, determined not to miss out on the atmosphere that a huge game with so much at stake would bring.
Unfortunately none of the Arsenal players were as enthusiastic as I was. They played with such lethargy you’d have thought it was a dead rubber between two mid-table teams. Here was I expecting the same kind of passion and commitment we showed against Man City, but apparently I was more up for the game than anyone in a red shirt.
How could that be? What a huge opportunity fate had handed us, getting to play a reserve Chelsea side in between their Barcelona ties. A side which had one eye on their next match probably couldn’t believe what an easy ride they were getting. We ambled around casually, tapping the ball around harmlessly on the halfway line as Chelsea sought to protect the clean sheet they’d come for. There was no tempo and little attacking intent from either side.
I don’t blame Chelsea. They have little chance of getting into the top four even if they’d won today, so putting all their eggs into their Champions League basket was fair enough. No Drogba, no Cole, no Mata, no Ramires, no Lampard, no Ivanovic — what a boost that should have been to our players. Which makes our lack of passion all the more frustrating.
We should’ve approached this match as if it was our Champions League final, but instead we treated it as though it was the Emirates Cup final.
With Arteta and Benayoun unavailable, Ramsey came into the midfield and it was a straight choice between Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for the left wing role. Considering Gervinho had come off the subs bench before AOC every time in the last few games, you’d have thought he would’ve got the nod. But as if to contradict himself Wenger started AOC — which begs the question why he had been given so much less game time than the desperately out of form Ivorian recently.
Not that he had much effect on the game anyway. Despite a couple of early dribbles AOC was as anonymous as everybody else and it took us 40 minutes to wake up when a free kick was nodded onto the bar by Koscielny. Then Robin van Persie controlled a Song pass well but blasted straight at Cech from a tight angle.
The halftime whistle was greeted with muted applause and murmurings of discontent from the fans around me. Why weren’t the players up for this match? What kind of team talk had Wenger given to make them play with so little effort or tempo? I foolishly predicted we’d be up for this to show everybody the Wigan game was a blip, but not for the first time this season Arsenal seemed poorly motivated and the responsibility for that lies with the manager.
There is nobody to share the burden with van Persie and it's costing us
I heard a few arguments that the players were tired. Yet we’ve only had three midweek fixtures since mid-February so I don’t buy that. The only one who that could apply to is van Persie, who is looking mentally jaded more than anything and is in desperate need of a rest. But when Wenger has so little trust in his number two striker Chamakh that he doesn’t even get on the pitch when we’re chasing a goal against Wigan or Chelsea, there’s no chance he’ll be asked to deputise for our captain. Which once again asks the pertinent question of just why we have no adequate striking cover in the squad and harks back to our woefully mismanaged summer.
Usually Arsenal tear into their opponents after the break when we’ve underperformed, but the second 45 minutes was as underwhelming as the first. van Persie had a couple of decent chances but shot wide with his right before taking too long with his left and allowing Cech to smother. He’s off form, so wouldn’t it have been a great option to bring someone like Podolski off the bench. If that deal happens it’ll be a signing made a season too late, which is pretty much the norm with Arsenal over the last few years.
At the other end a misjudged Vermaelen header allowed Sturridge a clear sight of goal, but Koscielny made a superb last ditch tackle to deny him.
Wenger made his substitutions early but once again they had little effect. An unfit Santos for AOC was strange and the overweight Brazilian offered nothing. Again it seemed as if Wenger had decided beforehand that AOC would only play 75 minutes no matter what. I accept the youngster had a quiet game but it only takes one magical run to create a goal — AOC had more chance of doing that than Santos.
Diaby came on and looked as rusty as one would expect, but Rosicky was tiring so I can understand that one. Gervinho came on for the injured Walcott, who again offered nothing for most of the match. Quite why he played on after feeling his hamstring is beyond me. It’s not something you can run off, so why did the physio let him back on?
Anyway, one point from two home games is a poor return at any time of the season, but when it blows the chance of cementing third place it’s all the more inexcusable. Luckily for us Spurs are choking even more violently than we are, but we can’t rely on others to slip up for us. I could accept a 0-0 today — or even a defeat — if we’d fought as hard as we did against Man City, but the lack of passion shown was unacceptable.
It’s days like these which make me wonder whether it’s worth getting off my sick bed to cheer on our over-paid, under-motivated players. And these days are getting more and more frequent unfortunately. Like the club, the players take our support for granted — that much was evident in their blasé performance today.
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