|12 Mar||5:15 PM||FA||Manchester United (A)||0||2||Lost|
It's a very long way home from Manchester after being knocked out of the FA Cup, but the more depressing part of the day for me was seeing Twitter, 606 and Talksport flooded by fans clamouring for Wenger to resign or get the sack. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it all seems more than a little knee-jerk to me. Sure, it has been a terrible fortnight for Arsenal Football Club, but the time to judge this team is at the end of the season. We are not in a relegation scrap - a change of personnel is not going to change the result of this season - so let this team see out what they have started, and there might just be a pleasant surprise in store.
Don't let the doom-and-gloomers convince you otherwise, we actually played quite well on Saturday. Perhaps there was a lack of urgency at times, and a touch of over-elaboration at others, but on the whole, it was a spirited and gutsy performance, with plenty enough chances to put the game to bed. On the whole, I felt that every player put in a shift, with varying degrees of success, and there is no doubt that they wanted to win that game.
I am usually not a fan of Denilson, and he was at fault in the build-up to the first goal, but he worked incredibly hard, and made some important. Likewise, for me, the jury is still out on Diaby, with so much promise and yet so little consistency. For much of the game, he was energetic and direct, and looked close to his best. Often we look most threatening when a player is prepared to take a risk and beat a player, which is why I think we are usually too quick to get on Arshavin's back. Diaby made a number of excellent runs early on, as Wilshere did throughout, but it was obvious he tired midway through the second half, beginning to look sideways rather than forward. If he can get fit, I think he can still be a very effective player for us.
My final defence of the day is reserved for Koscielny. After Djourou was ruled out for the season with a dislocated shoulder, the prevailing feeling from Arsenal fans seems to have been that Koscielny would cost us the title. Our defence has been much improved with Djourou and Koscielny at the centre, and for me, the concern is more that Squillaci has not adapted to English football well enough to carry us for ten games. Koscielny reads the game excellently, often covering for the other centre back, and he is good with the ball at his feet too. He was not at fault for either goal yesterday (Denilson allowed Fabio to ghost in for the first, the second was a catalogue of noncommittal play from Gibbs and the midfield) and I think it is about time he gets the recognition his performances have deserved.
There are things which we could improve – of that there is no doubt. Djourou completely lost Hernandez for the first goal, after a fairly nothing attempt at tackling and tracking from Denilson, and as already mentioned, Gibbs also made a pretty poor effort at challenging in the run up to the second. These are mistakes that we need to cut out to succeed at the top level, something that can perhaps be achieved by sorting out the defensive coaching at the club. But my biggest gripe with us yesterday was that we were tactically naïve. Too often in recent seasons, we have attacked any team which Ferguson cares to put out, without due caution, and they have been able to pick us off on the break.
The main reason Ferguson has held the upper hand over Wenger in recent seasons, I believe, is that he does not try to win the games, at least at the start. How often have we seen an Arsenal side dominate, pop the passes around, and attack in numbers, only for the keeper to make a save and then launch a counter attack from which United score? I can count two occasions from yesterday alone.
Ferguson is content to let Arsenal press forward, until both our full backs are camped in opposition territory, so the picture is thus: In Man United's half of the field are approximately 8 Arsenal men and 10 United players. Arsenal lose the ball, and United counter, with two or three players pouring forward in support of the centre forward. At no point are more than four players attacking, but because the Arsenal defence and midfield are miles up the pitch, it's enough, and they race through for a counter attack. And because they are not throwing too many men forward, those that do attack are given license to really go for it. Both the goals on Saturday came from second ball knock-downs where the United player had gambled, yet at the other end, Van der Sar was able to parry shots and scoop up the loose ball, as our players were too concerned with not getting caught out.
This tactic of small but committed attacks is why usually we play against sides packed with defensive midfielders such as Fletcher, Scholes, and Park (as with the da Silva twins and O'Shea on Saturday), who are box-to-box players content to sit in front of the defence, but who have the determination to get forward when the opportunity presents. It is also why we usually outplay them, and yet lose. There are occasions when you can see why we are going out all guns blazing from the word go – we will need to win the league game at the start of May – but in a game like Saturday where a draw is not a terrible result, I believe it was a little bit naïve. However, that is not a reason to sack a manager who has done, and still does, so much for this club.
I think it was Robbie Savage who suggested yesterday that Mourinho would never manage Arsenal because he is too good for Arsenal – he would rather manage Sp*rs. Mourinho has shown just what a great manager he is this season at Real Madrid – as the media would have you believe a 5-0 loss is *clearly* better than our 4-3 aggregate defeat after a dodgy dismissal. To my mind, Mourinho teams are (a) boring, (b) expensive to assemble and (c) good for nothing after a couple of years, because he picks players who are nearing 30 years of age, and so he would be incompatible with our club on all three counts.
Wenger has managed to nurture a team of players who plays beautiful expansive football which is the envy of almost every club in the world , a team which cost almost nothing to assemble while clubs around us are spending millions every year, and most importantly, a team which is still improving (if you want to disagree, you only have to look at the emergence of Ramsey last season, or Wilshere and Nasri this time around). And he has managed all this while keeping our club competitive. Sp*rs have spent a massive amount more money, on worse players (They paid £15-17m for David Bentley!), and still struggle to finish in the top four, yet we are a game in hand away from topping the table, despite our budget approach.
I read a great article this morning by @arsenalreport, (you can find it on my twitter page @nellypop13) which talked about Arsenal's 10 year plan, and highlights exactly why it would be foolish to remove Wenger at this point. We are closer to winning the league than at any point in the last few seasons, and the strength of the players coming through is undeniable. But the biggest reason for keeping the faith with the Arsenal way is that it has kept us close for the past six years with the youth players coming through, and now we have the youth players coming through as well as the established players who still remain. Five years ago, we had Fabregas, van Persie and the like coming through at 17, 18. Now we have Wilshere, Ramsey, Miguel and more coming through at the same kind of age, but still with the stronger first team players at the club.
This club is run in a sensible and sustainable way, and is the envy of almost every club in the world from that perspective at least. It may have taken a few years of relative poverty to get to this point, but in the long run it will serve us well. Chel$ki poured out £50m for an injury-prone striker, while Man U repeatedly splash out large amounts of cash for players who take years to have any return. This kind of outlay cannot be maintained for the long-term, whereas our model will keep us competitive for the foreseeable future. The future is bright. The future is red and white.
If you'd asked Arsenal fans at the start of the season if they would accept our current situation, I think that a lot of us would have taken it, being pragmatic. Knocked out of the Champion's League by the best team in the world, the final of the Carling Cup, going out of the FA Cup without any great shame, and being 3 points behind the league leaders with a game in hand and a great chance of lifting the title? It is a massive improvement on last season, and shows this great club is heading in the right direction. We just need to have a little more patience and let our management team finish off the project we started, so that we can be back where we belong, among the silverware. I firmly believe that Arsène is the man to lead this club forward, with his passion, his philosophy, and his stout defence of all that is right about this club.
Replacing Arsène? No. Replacing Trust in Arsène? Much more like it.
Keep the faith.
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