Having frequently criticised Arsene in the past, there will undoubtedly be some members of our fan base who will hold the view that supporters like me, who openly question our manager, take some form of enjoyment from seeing him come under increasing pressure from fans and the media. However, the reality is that the sadness I feel from watching the demise of a man I once revered can only be likened to witnessing the deteriorating health of an elderly relative.
After what was achieved by the club during the first half of his tenure, I had always hoped that when the time finally arrived for Arsene to leave his position as our manager, it would be an amicable parting of ways and that he would leave on a high. Given the obvious difference in class between ourselves and Barcelona or Bayern Munich, it would be unrealistic to target Champions League glory before his departure.
The domestic league title on the other hand, particularly this season where the regular title challengers have performed well below their expectations, became an achievable goal a couple of seasons ago following the removal of the financial shackles that were put in place following our move to the Emirates stadium. Sadly that scenario is becoming an increasingly unlikely one, with our title hopes all but over for yet another year.
Whilst an eleven point gap between us and Leicester City, albeit with a game in hand, might not seem insurmountable to some, were we trailing Chelsea or Manchester City by the same margin at this stage of the season, the realists amongst us would most certainly be of the opinion that the title is beyond our reach. Given the consistency Leicester have shown over their thirty one matches to date in losing just three times, it is difficult to see them not getting over the line. With Spurs waiting in the shadows, it might be better that Leicester do finish the job as we are consistently inconsistent.
Although the victory at Goodison Park, followed by the two week international fixtures break, will serve to temporarily clear the storm clouds that have been hovering above Arsene’s head, he has done himself no favours by once more publicly criticising the clubs supporters. Not only were his comments ill-timed but quite frankly, they were insulting too.
Many of those in attendance at the Everton game, were also in Barcelona and in both games, the away supporters sang and got behind the team throughout. His words were clearly the result of the anti Wenger banners that have recently been displayed, despite his claims to the contrary, that they don’t remotely concern him. However, the increased levels of defensiveness and aggression in his responses to the media when questioned, certainly suggests otherwise.
Although the banners subject is not one I wish to discuss at this juncture, there can be no doubts that Arsene should have chosen his words more wisely than those he used to directly criticise our entire fan base. At any other club of our size and with our level of resources, he would have undoubtedly received far greater pressure from the fans to deliver success. It would seem that he has forgotten that whilst he gets paid to do his job for the club, as supporters, we pay to do ours.
One of the most prominent songs emanating from the away end at Goodison Park called for majority shareholder Stan Kroenke to get out of our club. Whilst it would take far more than a few chants to make Stan even consider selling up, seeing the fans unite in this fashion made a refreshing change to the frequent Wenger in or Wenger out infighting that has become common practice in recent years.
There are of course certain aspects of Kroenke’s ownership that the majority of Arsenal supporters don’t agree with, taking an annual payment out of the club for his services for a start, but I can’t help thinking that the focus of attention being switched from Wenger to the American, is a very clever ploy by the supporters who remain unequivocal in their backing of Arsene.
Nobody outside the club really knows what money Wenger has had available to spend but what we do know is that Kroenke is not to blame for playing players out of position, poor team selections, making poor substitutions, failing to get the best out of his players and having a blind spot where goalkeepers, defenders and defensive midfielders are concerned. In truth I could go on as the list is endless.
Going back to on field events, the victory over Everton in our last encounter came after an impressive first half display that was followed up by a professional second half performance to see the game out. Prior to kick off I had expected a very stern test by the home side but they were way short of their best, with their main danger man Romelu Lukaku offering very little and being well marshalled by Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel.
The two goalscorers Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi once gain impressed and both players give us the pace and energy that we have often lacked during the season. The teenage Nigerian did tire after an hour or so though and should have been replaced far earlier than he eventually was. Since his return from injury, Welbeck has firmly established himself as our first choice forward and provides a combination of the attributes offered by Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott.
On a final note, following our defeat at Barcelona and subsequent clean sheet at Everton, numerous people questioned me regarding my opinion on David Ospina. My response was that my view on the Colombian remains the same as it always has. During the game against the Spanish champions I happily gave him credit for making some good stops. At Everton he wasn’t overly tested but in typical Ospina fashion, it took him a couple of attempts to hold on to what would be considered as straightforward catches, when he was called upon.
Ospina’s reflex shot stopping is generally of a good level, you would struggle to find a professional goalkeeper that doesn’t possess that attribute, but his handling is poor and he is completely non-existent on crosses, often choosing to remain rooted to his line. In summary he is better suited to European football because he doesn’t have to face the same number of aerial balls in to the box and Barcelona certainly don’t play in that way.
In fairness Ospina hasn’t made any glaringly obvious mistakes that have cost us during his recent run in the side but I will still feel far happier when first choice goalkeeper Petr Cech returns to action after the international break. Although I hope Cech’s presence will make the crucial difference, sadly the title isn’t in his or our hands….