Saturday, 16 February 2013

Arsenal Exit The FA Cup Without So Much As A Whimper

Arsenal's most realistic chance of a trophy this season was in the FA Cup and a home game against Championship side Blackburn Rovers gave them the opportunity to progress to the last eight yesterday. It was the first game in a big week for the club with a home game in the last 16 of the Champions League against Bayern Munich to come on Tuesday night.

With that in mind Arsene Wenger left a few of his more important players on the bench. Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott are seen as the current players who can make a real difference for Arsenal, but they all took a back seat from the start. It meant a few of the fringe players got a chance to show what they could do on the day.

Both Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen were passed fit to play and were paired together at the centre of the defence. Champions League cup tied Nacho Monreal played at left back with Francis Coquelin at right back and Bacary Sagna rested. It looked like a pretty strong defence to play against a mid table Championship side.

The big changes were further forward with Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky playing in midfield with Mikael Arteta. The attacking trio consisted of Olivier Giroud through the middle with Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain either side of him. I thought the Arsenal team looked good enough to get the win on the day.

In the first half Blackburn offered very little going forward as they tried to stop Arsenal scoring. Arsenal weren't playing at their usual speed and a few players had very poor games. I was highly unimpressed with Chamberlain, Gervinho, Giroud and Diaby in particular.

They did come close to scoring a few times in that first half with Gervinho missing the best chance when he shot wide with only the keeper to beat. The Blackburn keeper also made a very good save from a Diaby header and managed to keep a Vermaelen header out too. At the other end there was very little for Wojciech Szczesny to do.

The second half started in the same manner as Arsenal ambled towards what they saw as an inevitable breakthrough. The pace of their game still was nowhere near the required level as the clock ticked on. The boss decided it was time to send for reinforcements with 20 minutes left to play. As Wilshere, Walcott and Cazorla all warmed up Rosicky had a great shot which smashed off the crossbar.

The players to make way were Chamberlain, Gervinho and the aforementioned Rosicky. I wasn't too happy to see Rosicky leave as he looked like the Arsenal player most likely to make something happen. With the reinforcements coming on everything now looked in place for Arsenal to grind out a victory.

However, they lost concentration at that very crucial time and the Blackburn left back made his first foray forward in the game. Walcott should have gone with him but he didn't and Coquelin had two players to contend with. Martin Olsson got his shot off and Szczesny could only parry it out to Colin Kazim-Richards who somehow managed to put the rebound into the net.

With Vermaelen on the line his mishit shot bounced into the ground and bobbled in off the post. It was a lucky finish but it gave Blackburn the crucial breakthrough goal. Arsenal had 20 minutes left to rescue their season.

As has happened so often this season the team suddenly realised the importance of their situation when they went behind. They found the urgency that had been missing before that, but Blackburn defended resolutely and managed to hold on. Arsenal came close a couple of times but the decision making at crucial times wasn't good.

At the final whistle boos echoed around the stadium as the fans voiced their dissatisfaction. What they had seen simply wasn't good enough and Arsenal's chances of a trophy were gone for another season unless they can miraculously manage to win the Champions League.

Fourth place in the league is still a real possibility, but not if the players play like they did yesterday. Maybe it was arrogance that caused them to play so poorly as they thought they just had to show up to beat a lower league team. That's the second time this season they have exited to lower league opposition in a cup competition.

In the past Arsenal have had players who could get the team out of a hole and win a game all on their own. They no longer have such a player and when the team can't make a breakthrough there is no one to go to.

Under Arsene Wenger Arsenal have broken many records, but the current team is setting all the wrong records. As a rule under Wenger Arsenal don't lose to lower league opposition and don't lose at home in the FA Cup or the Champions League group stages. One of those rules might be broken very rarely, but for all three to be broken in the same season shows where the team are.

Lessons quite simply are not being learned and the team/squad is obviously not good enough to compete with the best. It's a sad indictment of the clubs ambition and policies that the team can be in such a state with so much money available to spend on transfers. Continual under investment in the transfer market has seen the team/squad fall to a level that isn't far above mediocre.

It pains me to watch Arsenal at times and remember how good they used to be. There is absolutely no consistency to the team and each time you feel like they have made a breakthrough they fall back into the same old habits. Where it all will end I don't know, but it has to end one way of the other very soon.

The pro manager fans say there is nobody to replace him, but surely there must be other managers who can at least match the current ineptitude. The fans who want him out don't really care who comes in as long as he goes. I'm somewhere in between as I can see the relevance of both arguments.

There cannot be any other club with the resources of Arsenal which would allow the team to go eight years without a trophy and become completely uncompetitive at the top too. The club is one of the richest ones in the world but that money is just not being invested in the team. Players of the highest quality are needed to change things at the club and they're needed now.

Players have been sold and replaced by lesser players and the team has suffered. Time and again Arsenal are investing their money in young players from abroad to build for the future, but very few of them have made it into the team. There was real promise in the established players bought last summer and the purchase of Moneedl in January.

In my opinion the squad needs even more players of their ilk, but there's something else missing too. If the manager cannot get his message through to them to make them play the way they should it doesn't matter who is in the team. I have no doubt that the current squad is awash with talent but the application of that talent is failing.

I have supported Arsenal for over 40 years and if they don't win the Champions League this season they will have had their longest spell without a trophy in that time. If the team wants to know where they have gone wrong they need only look at the Capital One Cup final next Sunday where Bradford City from League Two are playing. They put Arsenal out in the quarter finals of that competition and despite it being almost a second rate trophy it was well within Arsenal's reach this season.

We have been told Arsenal are planning for the future, but for how long can the present be sacrificed for the future. The future must arrive at some time before all the good work of the past had been lost.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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