Was it just myself or is it that the commentators on Sky Sports or whatever British sports channel who have developed some serious eye defects as they kept commentating that Arsenal are playing some of the best football in Europe if not the world each time the Gunners are to play?
I’m plain honest when I concede that the Arsenal have reached a slight descent in the curve and, while not exactly on a steep decline, are in mild danger at losing their place in the Premiership zenith. They do entertain at intervals, but sometimes, the youth in the team is a little too telling as to the fate of the team. And to comment that they are playing the football reminiscent of the Marc Overmars-Dennis Bergkamp era is exaggeration, as is the ‘Unbeatables’ season. Some of the football played is rather boringly normal but with the impression at which the Arsenal carried through recent memory, it’s hard to imagine otherwise.
While watching the Blackburn game recently before Christmas, I thought that the porous defence, which have been notorious at leaking in goals from set-pieces for the past 3 seasons or so; germinating from the Vieira era, then gathering pace post-Vieira and then culminating in full blown damage since they moved from good old Highbury.
Kolo Toure easily knocked down former Arsenal flop David Bentley and then Shabani Nonda, the AS Roma loanee stepped up and converted a fairly easy penalty kick. But to me, it’s not the simple case of the Arsenal conceding goals; it’s the alarming frequency at which the defence allowed fairly simple ones to get in due to some breakdown in communication amongst the defenders. I supposed that the Gunners have lost all of their best defensemen over the past few years; Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn, Sol Campbell (when he was good), and probably add the midget of a man in Ashley Cole to the picture as well. Of course Monsieur Wenger does not need to break the bank to add a world-class defender into the equation, since he pulled off one of his trademark shrewd business dealings in recent times when he roped in William Gallas from Chelsea but I’ll admit that Gallas does have his moments of lapses which could have cost the game but he did impress when given the chance.
But with Gallas sidelined till after the festive season, the young defence are left to fend for themselves again and Toure seemed the best candidate to lead the defence line, but as we can see from the Bentley example, he was caught buck naked at the back again and have resorted to crash into the Burnblack forward to fashion something out of that danger. And don’t count on new talent Emanuel Eboue to fish the defence out of a tight spot as he just stood and watched as Kieron Dyer scored at the Emirates for Newcastle in a 1-1 draw on 18 November 2006 had it not for Thierry Henry to rescue the Arsenal again.
Poor defending is normal for a young squad. But the rate at which Emanuel Eboue and Gael Clichy ascended the Arsenal first 11 ranks tells a pretty good yarn as to how persistent (or is it insistent?) Wenger is at his grandiose ideas of a 10-year Reich to dominate the EPL and hopefully win a couple of European Champions League titles as well along the way. Alex Ferguson did produce a similar project with the Beckham-Scholes-Butt-Giggs-Neville(s) Dynasty and have won impressively during their heydays. For that to happen, the youngsters need role models just like Bergkamp had been a mirror for Robin Van Persie to reflect on his progress and so on. Whether Wenger succeeds, no one who knows Arsenal inside out can tell. To be honest: I’m not against youth but the way they perform at times betray the trust Wenger had placed in them. Justin Hoyte and Alexandre Song are total jokes, if anything.
The thing is:- Youngsters can flop faster than the fishies you can manage to pull out of the water but my main point is that even the seniors rarely get the chance to pull their own weight when the odds are against them. I cite Bolton and Fulham games as a prime example as to how the seniors in the team let the youngsters down when it was the young Gunners who are making the differences. For example, I can’t see Fredrik Ljungberg playing a pivotal role in the team that much anymore. Not only has the goals completely dried up; even his darting runs down the either flanks are easily blunted by defenders not worth his trouble 5 years ago. Yes, his age…of course I can’t expect him to re-enact his earlier performances and bedazzle the crowds with his speed but today, he can’t even make his way up any flank without running into any trouble and then looking at the referee for some redress for his sorrows. And his passing! His passes are not bad, but they can’t get any worse than this. Wenger may be thinking to ship him off to some other club come summer 2007. By contrast, Gilberto Silva has won my admiration (hopefully this won’t jinx him) by responding well into games which are turning against the Arsenal favour. His goals could not have come at a better time and has scored 7 so far. Well done to the stand-in captain!
And it’s time to get a new goalkeeper, Monsieur Wenger! Jens Lehmann has found his legs rather rusty this season and has performed well only for a handful of games. His positioning against the Anelka goals and the Portsmouth ones are also disappointing and has even had some unwarranted aggression towards refs these days. The sooner a new goalie comes in, the better as I can’t imagine Lehmann performing at his near-best anytime soon.
Monsieur Arsenal has also been quiet lately. He has goals to show for it, though and hopefully get back to full fitness for the crucial January-February games which can dictate a lot of the fate of the team. Arsenal needs him and needed him quickly.
Of course, when Thierry Henry comes into the picture, a new hero comes into it as well:- Emmanuel Adebayor is quickly winning Gunners fans and no wonder- he saves the team when in trouble and his extra work-rate makes him hard to fault. he did have his occasional howlers and missed sitters but that’s okay with youth. Robin van Persie has also gained his spurs lately with well-taken goals and against Blackburn, he shown Brad Friedel the same jinking runs to score again for the latter’s viewing pleasure followed by a stunning shot later on which was Wenger’s favourite goal of the 6-2 demolition of Burnblack.
Of course, the Arsenal have abundant talent in the team to make a strong statement in their well-pronounced ambitions to win the EPL and the ECL this season, but I would quite frankly, not accept that this is possible. It’s still a strange transition season, or in other words, a moment of truth for the youngsters at the club to make it big or face being a forgotten Bentley. Of course the EPL title has been lost for some time now and even the strongest chain of performances would not have mattered much, had it for the dropped points against Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Portsmouth and Everton at home which have already put paid to the title hopes. 15 potential points were lost at home, could the same be said when playing away? The fantastic away win against Manchester United is great, but consistency; so often the hallmark of championship winning teams is simply not there. I’d say the Gunners are possible 3rd place candidates or even the now not-so unfamiliar 4th spot for the ECL but are far from being champions.