It's very hard to understand what is currently going wrong with the Arsenal team. On the face of it they had a great chance of winning their first Premier League title in seven years this season, but they have now failed to win a league game since they beat Stoke RFC on February 23rd. Since then they have lost a Carling Cup final to Birmingham City in bizarre circumstances, been eliminated from the Champions League by favourites Barcelona, and lost an FA Cup quarter final away to league leaders "Manure".
In that time there were only three Premier League games, due to the international break. Those games were at home to both Sunderland and Blackburn, and away to West Brom. Those were three games which any contender for the Premier League title would have seen as almost certainties to win, but somehow Arsenal conspired to draw them all. If each game is taken individually it can be explained away, but as a whole it simply isn't good enough.
They were desperately unlucky to have a goal ruled out, and a penalty claim turned down against Sunderland, but they still should have beaten the team in the current worst run of form in the Premier League. They started slowly against West Brom, and when Manuel Almunia went walk about he cost them a goal which put them 2-0 down. At least they came back to gain a draw and Arsene Wenger said the spirit was good after that come back. Then there was the inept display at home to Blackburn on Saturday, which was just after an international break of course.
Those are all perfectly legitimate excuses when taken individually, but when you look at the picture as a whole, it seems there is no belief whatsoever in the Arsenal team. True winners are notable by their ability to bounce back from their setbacks, and use them to make themselves even stronger. It would seem that the Arsenal players have found the experience of exiting all three of those tournaments in quick succession to be too much for them. Instead of using the setbacks as an incentive to go out and win a trophy, they have used them as a tool to feel sorry for themselves.
It all started to go wrong when Newcastle made their remarkable comeback from a four goal deficit against Arsenal back in early February. When Laurent Koscielny made that fatal error in the last minute of the Carling Cup final it would seem that the confidence drained from the whole squad. They have now won only one of their last seven games, and that was against a team two divisions below them in an FA Cup replay at the Emirates. Despite beating Leyton Orient 5-0 that night, Arsenal were still far from convincing.
The excuses have been lined up, and the players have had their turns to tell the fans how mentally strong everybody at the club is. The only way they can make the fans realise that they are actually mentally strong, is to go out and play their last eight games as if their lives depended on them. The time for talk is well and truly over, and only actions will speak now.
Arsenal play again on Sunday, away to Blackpool, and it's a game that they should win. Blackpool play good football, but they leave themselves open at the back, and that has to leave room for Arsenal to score a few goals. As long as they treat the game in a serious manner, and go for the win from the first whistle to the last one, they simply should be too good for Blackpool. I'm not trying to insult Blackpool in saying Arsenal should win, and if Arsenal play within themselves yet again it could be an awful day for them.
The true judgement on the team's achievements, or lack of them, cannot be made until the end of the season, but the boss cannot tell the fans that progress has been made if the Premier League trophy is not delivered. The fans accepted the collapse last season because of the injury problems at the business end of the season, but the boss didn't do enough to strengthen the squad in my opinion. Both Jack Wilshere and Johan Djourou stepped up to the plate this season, and showed they have very bright futures at Arsenal. If they hadn't come through, it's hard to know where the team might be right now, as they both played important roles when the team were doing very well.
The boss had no way of knowing those two players would step up this season, and to be honest they may well have saved him by doing so. Wojciech Szczesny looked like the real deal before injury interrupted his season too, and like the other two he got the boss out of a tight spot. Those three players have played without fear when they have played, and a few of the more experienced players could learn a thing or two from them. At times recently it has seemed like the players are afraid to make mistakes, and they pass the responsibility on to other players.
The decisions the boss made have come back to haunt him, and it will be his fault if Arsenal's season ends in failure yet again. What happens then will be anybody's guess, but I am no longer sure he will be the manager next season. If he does keep the job he will have to break with his policy of not buying experienced players. Arsenal need some players who will die for the cause, and inspire those around them in the team, and I think those players will have to be purchased.
The youth project is not completely dead, but certain players who came through it need to be sold if possible. That should make way for better players to come in, as well as promoting a few players who might not be afraid to take their chance when it comes along, like Wilshere, Szczesny and Djourou were this season. If the boss will not make those decisions then he needs to take a look at his own position, and decide if he really has won all he can win with Arsenal. I hope he decides to make the bold changes that are needed, but whether he stays or goes I will always love and support Arsenal, as they are bigger than any one player or manager.
That's it for today.
Here's a look at how Arsenal won the double in 1998.
See You Tomorrow.