I would love to be writing to say that it is a lovely morning and the sun is shining through the window. I would dearly love to say that Arsenal banked another three points by playing Leicester off the park and that we now sit level with the big boys Man Utd., Man City, Chelsea etc. Looking at the current league table, we are conspicuous by our absence at the top. Instead we are 5 points adrift and in reality, we are exactly where we deserve to be.
Those of us who expect much more from Arsenal have been bemoaning the fact that we need a top striker and a top centre half. We all know that. All the press and TV pundits know it but, alone amongst the top 5 teams, we have done nothing to improve our position from last season. We were not good enough to win the league at a time when Chelsea were out of the running before it got started. Man Utd. were in turmoil and Man City were performing under the shadow of Pellegrini`s dismissal at the end of the year. Fair play to Leicester: they got their heads down and turned a decent handicapper into a derby winning horse. Meanwhile Arsenal played away in our own inimitable style, making an art form out of possession with no purpose. We did play reasonably well against all the top teams but we strolled to defeat against many lesser teams some of whom were not even in the premiership. We lost too much to inferior teams in the EU championship and exited at our usual stages so, nothing to get excited about there then.
All the while, we operated with just Giroud as a proper striker and Kos with whatever partner there was available at centre-back. We lost an early match with Chelsea when Gabriel lost the plot during the game and in truth, Mertesecker was the best of a bad lot to partner Kos. The reality of the situation was that other managers identified Mert as the weak link due to his lack of pace and we paid the price when long balls were consistently used to take him out of the picture. We do have a glut of small, technically gifted players and they have been used in various combinations to mesmerise the opposition with pretty patterns, moving the ball sideways, forward, sideways again, backwards and sideways until eventually we lost possession and conceded goals. The Sun today says that Arsenal now have the “most vertically challenged forwardline ever to have played in the Premiership”.
On numerous occasions, it was obvious where the weaknesses were and some players were just crying to be replaced by a substitute. Unfortunately, our professeur manager could not seem to grasp the situation until 70 mins had elapsed and he decided to make substitutions. I confess that his tactical nous was light years ahead of mine and so I could not understand for instance when we were 2 goals down with 15 minutes to go and he took off Sanchez and replaced him with Coquelin! There were other occasions towards the end of the season when he foresaw a renaissance that no one else did for Flamini and Arteta and played them. I just cannot see how, in any circumstances that could be a constructive move. The usual end of season malaise continued and we knew weeks before the end that we were heading for 4th or 5th. By a last day miracle, Man City and Spurs imploded and we very luckily finished 2nd.
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Which brings me to the present. We signed Xhaka early and he looks like being a very good addition to midfield. When that happened there were stirrings of optimism. Uncharacteristically, the business was done efficiently and we looked forward to welcoming Xhaka to Arsenal after his exploits in the Euros. Until the recent signing of Holding, that was our business done. Our forward line has not been improved and Xhaka is still finding his feet. We do have a huge selection of midfielders and it is a genuine conundrum of how we fit them all in. We can only play so many. We still have glaring weaknesses at the back and good as Holding may be, he is not yet a solid replacement for the ageing Mertesecker. In short we have not improved the attack or the defence since last year so therefore I can see no reason to suggest that we will improve. I noticed too that in the Leicester match, the 70th minute substitutions reappeared.
We have been bombarded with stories that the usual suspects are being sought and that Higuain, Lacazzette, Draxler and Vardy were close to signing at various times. We also hear that efforts have been made to sign a top centre-half but unless Mustafi forces Valencia to sell him, we are not going to get one. In contrast, Man City, have Guardiola and he is making immediate changes to improve them. Mourinho has spent a fortune and the club is abuzz with excitement again. West Ham are cementing their improvement in a new stadium and Liverpool look as if they are going to be around the top 6. Even Everton have made some shrewd additions so clearly this is going to be a tougher year than last year. I hear today from Arsene himself when giving his press meeting after the Leicester match, he said that when he is spending the club`s money he has to make sure that the 600 employees that Arsenal have are paid, therefore he will not pay the money for players who he thinks are too dear. With the greatest respect, Arsene is the manager/coach of a football team and his priority is to produce results and sign players. There are accountants and Human Resource people to look after the Labour relations. A club the size of Arsenal cannot be run by one man. The money he talks about is the fans. The Sky and BT subscriptions are the product of increased fees from the viewers and that money alone should have been used for transfers. The Arsenal fans are paying the dearest price for tickets and producing the biggest revenue from the gates than any other club. We have the right to expect more than we are getting from the management.
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For myself, I am resigned that Arsenal will be fighting for 4th place this year and I believe that Wenger will go at the end of the season. I do not believe that any demonstrations or written complaints will change any of that so I will not repeat these complaints. I may send in criticisms or praise if deserved in regard to individual matches but otherwise this is my recorded view of the inadequacy of the performance of the manager and the board. In closing, I would really like to understand why the Wenger disciples, many of whom recognise these complaints are prepared to put up with what is a fraud being perpetrated upon them. I recognise that Wenger is a genius with the media and that he always appears to have a plausible explanation for his actions (or inactions), but the media are able to see through that. Mourinho was always good value for criticism, but it was the media who christened Wenger with the title “Le Professeur” as a mark of respect for his views. That was many years ago. It is a long time since he earned that accolade.