Two weeks ago, Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal side began what was meant to be their road to the quadruple at Wembley. What a fantasy that turned out to be, eh? Since that calamitous defeat to Birmingham City in the League Cup Final, the Gunners have stumbled out of both the UEFA Champions League and the FA Cup, and are now five points behind Manchester United in the Barclays Premier League. But whose fault is it exactly?
Surely Wenger himself must take the blame for his side’s downfall. His failure to splash the cash on a new defence has left Arsenal fans aghast as Wenger persists with a “he is not to blame” attitude, after stand-in goalie Manuel Almunia was again at the centre of a defensive mishap which gifted West Bromwich Albion a 2-0 lead on Saturday. It appears that the only person in England who cannot see where Arsenal are failing is Wenger – after their comeback against the Baggies, he said, “Mathematically, we lost two points but psychologically we have won a point”. No Arsene, it doesn’t work like that. You drew the game, and with United securing three points against Bolton, how can you say that you “psychologically” won a point? Yes you may have come back from two goals down, but a side worthy of winning the Premier League shouldn’t find themselves 2 goals down to a team battling relegation. Besides, the league isn’t based on how many ‘psychological’ points you win, especially at the top of the league where teams are relying on one another to drop points, as Arsenal did, which duly allowed United to extend their lead to five points.
It is unbelievable to think that a player as instrumental as Cesc Fabregas has only won the FA Cup and Community Shield during his 8-year spell in England (on a club level). Along with Abou Diaby, Theo Walcott, Johan Djourou, Thomas Vermaelen, Alex Song, Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski, Fabregas is literally licking his wounds as he watches the likes of Almunia and Sebastien Squillaci unstitch the work that himself and Walcott put in during the first half of the campaign to give the Gunners a shot at the quadruple. And guess who Wenger has replaced Szczesny with? None other than Jens Lehmann! Yes, you Arsenal fans can breathe a sigh of relief now. Sarcasm aside, not only is Lehmann 41 years old but he hasn’t played for 13 months. Is Wenger finally reverting his philosophy and bringing back the stars of yesterday? What next, the return of Tony Adams and Martin Keown to replace Laurent Koscielny and Squillaci?
On a serious note, it is unfortunate that Arsenal have lost such substantial players through injury, especially at this stage of the season, but again this must come at the fault of Wenger, who has failed to back up his players with replacements good enough of fighting for the league. When you look at Manchester United’s bench for their game with Bolton, they had Dimitar Berbatov on the bench. Berbatov is United’s top goal scorer. When you look at Arsenal’s bench for their game at West Brom, they had Nicklas Bendtner. He may claim to be the next best thing, but as Muhammad Ali once said, “it’s not bragging if you can back it up”. Unlike Ali, Bendtner hasn’t backed it up. If Robin van Persie gets injured in the near future, which he probably will do when looking at his history of injuries, his replacement comes in the form of a Danish striker who isn’t even in Arsenal’s top 5 scorers this campaign.
I’m not saying that Arsenal cannot win the Premiership. However I’m only basing this on the fact that they have fewer games than United. Their game in hand over United is the North London derby at White Hart Lane in April. Then on May 1st they face the Red Devils at the Emirates, a game which I believe will determine the outcome of the league season. The Gunners will be favourites in all of their other remaining fixtures, although the Premier League has conjured up some amazing results this season.
Heavy responsibility will be placed on Arsenal’s attacking maestros if they want to win a first trophy in 6 years because defensively they are funnier than a knock-knock joke. It’s difficult knowing whether to laugh or cry when watching Arsenal this season; on one half of the pitch you have van Persie, Nasri, Arshavin and Wilshere running rings around defences, on the other you have Almunia, Koscielny and Squillaci throwing away Arsenal’s hopes of achieving any silverware this campaign. The Gunners have kept just one clean sheet in the 12 league games Koscielny and Squillaci have started together, and this might just be the season where Wenger realises that for 6 years he has led with the wrong philosophy.
Some fans have been calling for the sacking of Wenger, but who will replace him? Hopefully someone tells the Frenchmen that he has to start spending. There have been rumours of Pepe Reina leaving Liverpool for £20 million, as well as centre halves Mamadou Sakho and Gary Cahill joining from Paris Saint-Germain and Bolton Wanderers respectively. Whoever it is, if Wenger wants to win trophies he needs a self-assured duo at the back, sitting in front of a keeper who knows it’s not right to sprint 30 yards from his goal-line in pursuit of a ball which he will never make even if he was Usain Bolt.