Whatever slim hopes we had of winning the league this season were comprehensively dashed yesterday as our boys lost 3-2 at Wigan.
There are two contrasting schools of thought that could provide the reasoning for yesterday’s result.
The first comes from the optimists, blaming the injury crisis and a lack of quality players for the defeat. The second comes from the pessimists, blaming the team on the pitch of complacency and the manager of incompetence. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
I spoke after the Spurs game of the fact that we are always going to find it difficult to win games when each and every one of our key players, the first six names on the team sheet, are not available. Once again Cesc Fabregas, William Gallas, Andrey Arshavin and Alex Song were injured, joined by Thomas Vermaelen after last week and with only Robin van Persie on the bench. Once again we found it difficult.
People will point to the fact that we had cruised to a 2-0 lead as proof that the starting team had enough quality to win the game. While that is a fair point, a game of football is played over 90 minutes and it was late on that our lack of quality, particularly in the midlde and defensive thirds of the pitch, was punished.
Can you imagine if someone had told you at the start of the season that the defensive core of our team with five games to go, with the title still in sight, was made up of Lukasz Fabianski, Sol Campell, Mikael Silvestre and Craig Eastmond? You would have quite literally laughed in their face. But that’s what we had and when the going got tough, they and the players around them crumbled.
In saying that there is no denying the fact that the team got complacent. Yet as frustrating as it was to see, particularly after the 2-2 draw with West Ham earlier in the season, it was also quite understandable. When you are lacking the key, experienced players, the ones that keep motivation high in those situations, it’s much easier to get complacent.
As I’ve said before, the best example of this is Abou Diaby. Love him or hate him, Diaby is not a leader. He is a support player, at time a spectacularly devastating one, that requires experienced, reliable players around him to bring out his best performances. He is not the smartest of players at the best of times and with Eastmond and Samir Nasri as his partners in the middle he undoubtedly lost his focus in the second half.
But do you get rid of a player like Diaby just because he is not a cerebral genius or a leader? Or do you accept his flaws as a player and understand his role in the team, that of an attacking midfielder who can create like very few in world football when he supported by experienced players? I know I would.
So the issue of complacency in this game is one worth asking, but in my opinion the problem lay in a complete lack of key players providing the sort of guidance to protect the young players against it, rather than a general problem within the squad. Just one or two of the group I mentioned above would have been sufficient to prevent our rather spectacular demise.
I might be alone in thinking this but I saw three major positives to come out of this game.
The first was the performance of Craig Eastmond, who was absolutely superb in only his second league start ever for the club. His statistics via Guardian Chalkboards showed he made 30 complete passes at a 97% completion rate and that, combined with his excellent composure on the ball and intelligent positioning bodes well for the future.
Likewise, Tomas Rosicky’s energetic performance was a terrific sign of things to come. Observant supporters will have noted he barely ever completes 90 minutes, undoubtedly due to the manager wanting to nurse him back to health, and never plays two games in a short space of time, with the exception of a shocking performance at the Camp Nou played three days after a full match against Wolves. Rosicky will undoubtedly continue to work on his strength and fitness over the off-season and will become a very important player next season.
Finally, the manager’s post match comments suggest to me that he is getting frustrated with a few players, particularly his goalkeepers, and that he may well be at the end of his tether. Another terrific Arsenal blogger, Wrighty7, made the point that he felt Wenger turned down the opportunity to make one or two more January signings to give a few of his players one more chance to prove themselves. I think it’s fair to say he’s been let down by a few – I won’t name names yet – and it will be interesting to see what goes on at the end of the season.
Before then we have work to do.
Spurs are breathing down our back, a desperate Manchester City are up next and third is no longer a certainty. From the season being over, it is all of a sudden back on again. Not in the best way, mind.
PS. For the people calling for Arsene Wenger to be sacked off the back of this performance, just read this.
Have your say on Arsenal’s loss to Wigan by leaving a comment.