Like a weary marathon runner on his last legs, we haven’t been able to muster the effort to cross the finishing line even though it’s been in sight for a while now. Suddenly, with Spurs making a sprint finish and looking likely to pip us, a surprise hero hoists us off our knees and onto his shoulder, dragging us across the line right under our rival’s nose.
That hero wasn’t van Persie, Koscielny or even Wenger. It was a hapless Hungarian by the name of Martin Fulop who did more than anyone in red and white to ensure we finished third yesterday.
It was astonishing that after the horror opening to last week’s farce against Norwich we found ourselves in the exact same position. After all the talk about this being our cup final and a renewed determination from the squad to cut out the silly mistakes and focus properly on every game, we still threw away an early lead against ‘inferior’ opposition to find ourselves 2-1 down midway through the first half. It was a sad case of deja vu made all the more depressing by the news that Spurs were winning.
We got ourselves level when Santos’ shot squirmed in after more poor goalkeeping but there wasn’t much fluency or penetration to our game and it was still just as likely to be West Brom who scored the decisive fifth goal as it was us. Thankfully Fulop proved there is a worse Premiership keeper out there than Fabianski and handed us a crucial lead.
We held on thanks to a decent stop from Szczesny and a wonderful late tackle from Gibbs to finally seal the final Champions League place that should’ve been sorted weeks ago.
Naturally I was as delighted as any Gooner, punching the air at the final whistle and gleefully texting my Spurs mates. But I’m trying to work out why after the initial euphoria and relief had subsided I’m feeling despondent today.
Adebayor laments the loss of his Champions League qualification bonus
As Wenger has been at pains to point out we have recovered from a nightmare start and wobbly January to finish a creditable third. This is crucial because we can now plan our summer transfer strategy knowing we have the Champions League money and Champions League football to offer players we’re interested in. And given that we have the fourth highest wage bill in the Premiership, par for the course would be fourth, so a higher finish is a bonus really. To do all of this while balancing the books (which nobody else in the top flight does) is nothing short of miracle work from Wenger and he should be applauded.
So why the despondency? Because for all his genius in developing youngsters and balancing the books, he has two massive faults which ensure we will never challenge for another title until he addresses them and I see no sign of him doing so. This is a shame as the relative weakness of the Premiership means an opportunity is being squandered.
1) His stubborn refusal to teach his players how to defend properly (or at least hire a coach who will do that) is our achilles heel. This is perfectly illustrated by us producing another defensively inept performance yesterday that replicated the shambles of a week ago. Surely we should’ve been working all week on tightening up and not gifting our opponents time and space on the break? Yet we did just that. Again. I spoke last week about how our most defensive midfielder is encouraged by Wenger to go forward too much and how it leaves us too open and this falls under the same category. We need to pay just as much attention to stopping the opposition as we do to scoring ourselves because defending is a massive part of the game too.
2) We still under-estimate weaker opponents and that comes from the manager. Losses to Blackburn, Swansea, Fulham, QPR and Wigan prove this, not to mention the draws at home to Norwich and Wolves where we eased up after taking an early lead. Ditto the start yesterday. This is down to a poor mental attitude that stems from the manager’s arrogance. So imagine how dismayed I was to read Wenger actually praising their mental strength last week on Arsenal.com: ‘This group’s mental quality is one of best’
Are you kidding me Wenger? Our mental approach to games is holding us back and has been for years. To see him come up with more propaganda and spin to try and convince us otherwise really drains my hope that anything will be done about it next season.
Now I accept most clubs would settle for fourth place every season and don’t get me wrong, Champions League football for 15 years running is excellent. But Wenger’s unwillingness to tweak his admirable but foolish ultra-attacking policy means it doesn’t matter which players he buys or sells, the net result will be the same — an arrogant, defensively-naive team with a poor work ethic but who play pretty football but can’t cope with any sort of pressure come the business end of the season.
It’s been that way for years and will be for more to come. I’m supposed to feel happy we finished above Spurs and of course I do. But should that really be all we have to celebrate every year because nobody at the club dares to pick Wenger up on his faults? We could do so much better…
Follow oohtobeagooner on Facebook
for more latest Arsenal transfer news, injury news, team news and rumours.