Why Arsenal should never accept being 2nd best

Date: 11th May 2012 at 8:45 am
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I made, and persisted with, semi-serious comments that Arsenal would fail to beat Norwich in what would be a crucial Premier League game on the weekend. Despite “reassurances” from older heads and fans confident in the team’s abilities, I always knew I was right.

It’s unsettling that a team can fail to motivate themselves for a game that could have significant implications for the club’s immediate future. It’s even more unsettling that a group of experienced internationals and a squad who is renowned for their “great spirit and determination” can’t find the knock-out blow against a team who were promoted into the Premier League last season.

But it’s nothing new from this Arsenal side. At least since the move into the Emirates Stadium.

There’s an underlying sense running through the club, from top to bottom, that second best is acceptable. Or in most cases, fourth best is acceptable.

Too many yes men and not enough leaders. Teams like Norwich and Wigan can see as clear as day that Arsenal haven’t bothered to show up, and yet most players are more concerned with showing their immaturity through mediums like Twitter instead of getting on with the job at hand and getting three points.

But what exactly is Arsène Wenger telling his players? That they’re ready for their upcoming game? That they’re better and their patient passing game will eventually bring results, while obviously disregarding that clock running down from 90 minutes.

Aaron Ramsey has been awful for most of the season, but instead of giving him a firm clip ’round the ear, Wenger insists on pampering him and others through the season. There’s no improvement from his last game and there’s no sign that he’ll come out of this season-long slump.

OK he had that terrible injury, but it doesn’t excuse some of the performances he’s put in and the simple basics he continues to get wrong. For the most part this season, Ramsey has looked like a League One player, and even then, he would still look unsure of his surroundings in the third tier.

Meanwhile, Alex Song still believes himself to be a hybrid between Andres Iniesta and Yaya Touré. The assists have been there this season, but they’re few and far between. At least in relation to the amount of “Hollywood” pass attempts he’s made.

Norwich’s third goal summed up why Arsenal desperately need a holding midfielder; someone to break up play and protect the back four. Song’s advancing runs do nothing for a team looking to protect an important one goal lead, and there isn’t another player in the squad who can do what Song should be doing.

When it gets to a stage in the game where Arsenal can close out the last five or ten minutes while in a winning position, Song should not be advancing beyond the halfway line.

This problem of Arsenal not being able to pick up results when they matter has been a long trend at the club. The team has consistently failed to capitalise on opportunities, and in this case there’s no excuses. The team have been playing one game a week for months since being knocked out of Europe, and not even the results against Liverpool and Newcastle should mask the problems at the club. Specifically I said club, rather than squad. The Arsenal squad is significantly different from what it was three or even two seasons ago, yet the same problems remain.

It’s not a problem with ability, it’s a problem with desire and wanting to win. Too many players believe they’ve “made it” well before making any lasting contribution on the game, let alone the club. There’s an underserved arrogance about some players that is fuelled from their contracts and false levels of praise from the manager.

I’m not prepare to accept Arsenal’s position of third in the league as deserving; they’re in that place because of the faults of club’s around them, rather than their own consistent performances and results.

Written by Thomas Hallett

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