Regular readers will know I’ve been highly critical of Wenger for a long time now. Like most Gooners though, I still think he’s a legend and in an ideal world I want him to see the error of his ways and return to being the inspirational, capable manager we last saw four or five years ago. Because of this I’ve been very careful not to come out and call for him to go in any of my articles.
It’s time to say thanks very much Arsene, but your mistakes are piling up and the inexcusable performances are now coming thick and fast. It started as a trickle, losing the odd game here and there where a lack of spirit and desire were the main culprits. But last season it became alarmingly regular as we lost to ‘inferior’ opponents such as QPR, Blackburn, Fulham, Wigan and Sunderland in the FA Cup because we plainly couldn’t be arsed to put in the effort. Already this season we’ve lost to Swansea, Norwich and now — most disgracefully of all — Bradford. Most of these defeats could’ve been avoided had we been properly prepared and motivated, especially last night’s.
That is down to the manager. Forget for the moment the board’s undoubted culpability in the slipping of standards at this club, because even though our squad is the weakest it’s been since we left Highbury, it is still good enough to win all of those matches. There is something very, very wrong when a full strength Arsenal plays with so little passion and conviction that it takes 70 minutes to register a shot on target against a League Two outfit.
A friend of mine who was out for the evening saw the result and assumed we’d played the youngsters and reserves again. He was gobsmacked when he discovered Wenger had fielded his best possible eleven. According to our manager, the reason we were at full strength was because we had a long recovery time until we next play on Monday.
When I heard that, my Wenger Bullshit-o-Meter went into overdrive. We played a full team for two reasons:
1) Wenger and the board are under severe pressure from disgruntled fans and lifting a trophy would placate some of us even if we finish outside the top four.
2) He saw clearly in the last round and at Olympiacos that he cannot trust the squad players because they just aren’t good enough.
How sad and ironic then that we still got such a flat performance. The only person who looked remotely bothered was Jack Wilshere. He ran his heart out as usual while the rest went through the motions, playing slow, sideways passes that didn’t hurt Bradford at all. And it’s not as if they had ten men behind the ball — manager Phil Parkinson had the courage to play two up front and make a game of it. If Steve Clarke had done the same thing on Saturday we probably wouldn’t have won that match either.
Young striker Nahki Wells stole the show in the first half as he buzzed around menacingly, giving Vermaelen a tough time. One incident shortly before halftime illustrated it perfectly — a booming goal kick saw their lanky striker beat Mertesacker in the air and Wells latched onto the flick on, nimbly evading Vermaelen before rolling his shot agonisingly wide.
Take your time coming back from the African Cup of Nations Gervinho
By then we’d already fallen behind to yet another set piece that our flawed zonal marking system couldn’t prevent. Coquelin hit the post and we fizzed a couple of shots wide, but it was Gervinho’s incredible miss of an open goal from just five yards that will be best remembered.
Which brings me neatly on to another of Wenger’s failings — his insistence in playing certain players out of position. Last night we had a German striker on the wing, a clumsy Ivorian winger up front and a Welsh central midfielder out wide. But then this is the man who signed a talented Russian playmaker, the star of Euro 2008, and made him run up and down on the wing for his entire Arsenal career, never once playing him in his best position just off the front man. We’ll never know how good Arshavin could’ve been for us.
As the second half kicked off I was still confident we’d eventually break down the Yorkshiremen and blag our way into the semis, but if anything Bradford came into the game more and it was quite even for a while. So obviously another terrific halftime teamtalk from Mr Motivator then.
With twenty minutes to go the home side started to tire having worked so hard and Wenger sent on the fresh, inventive legs of Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain. At this point Parkinson took Wells off and went 4-5-1 and it was then, and only then, that we started to dominate.
Before that we didn’t have a single shot on target — the honour of our first fell to the Ox. Wenger’s post-match excuse for defeat was that we couldn’t convert our chances, but the truth is most of these came from the 70 minute mark onwards when our opponents tired, and in extra time when they were out on their feet. That’s just not good enough.
We went level when Vermaelen nodded in with two minutes left and we could even have won it in injury time, but Matt Duke produced two excellent saves to deny Cazorla.
We camped inside the Bradford half for the whole of extra time but there were more overhit crosses than clear opportunities. Cazorla hit the bar but Bradford held on for spot kicks and it seemed inevitable we’d go out. After all, they’d won their last eight shootouts and we are a team of bottlers who choke when the pressure is on, so to see us only convert two out of five penalties wasn’t a surprise.
Congratulations Bradford, you deserved that for showing more heart, determination and backbone than your more talented but less committed opponents.
The post match interview with Wenger showcased just how much this once great man has lost it. He was clearly getting irked by the Sky reporter who kept using the word ‘humiliating’ when asking him a question, so much so that he eventually cut the interview short and walked off. But not before he once again refused to blame the players, claiming:
“I cannot fault the effort, we gave everything for 120 minutes.”
Really Arsene? Really? The only people I saw giving everything for 120 minutes were wearing claret and amber stripes. From the Arsenal camp, only Jack Wilshere and the four thousand travelling Gooners (who once more sung their hearts out and were incredibly supportive) could hold their heads high.
So where do we go from here? I really can’t see Wenger recovering from this. The Birmingham Carling Cup final defeat was a massive blow to our belief we can win a trophy (one from which we haven’t really recovered) but this is something on another level. Last night was further evidence that Wenger doesn’t have the respect of the players or the ability to motivate them adequately to get us into the top four and serious questions must now be asked of him at board level. But that won’t happen because he makes the club millions in transfer revenue, which raises the price of the shares and therefore the board members stand to pocket huge amounts when Kroenke eventually decides to cash in and sell. So why would they rock the boat?
Wenger has made himself untouchable and this rot will be allowed to spread further unless he does the decent thing and falls on his sword.
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