Despite the fact that King George the IV gave me back my hour (you can set your clocks back America!) I’m still finding it tough to get going this morning because the whole scene yesterday still haunts me.
Three Arsenal supporters, up at 8am, in a pub that’s playing the Arsenal match, the Chelsea match, and the Man U match. Chelsea are sticking in eleventy-hundred goals (against a team that we could barely manage a draw) and their supporters are whopping it up big time. Man U are getting polite cheers from the prawn sandwich brigade down at the other end of the bar as they go up 4-1. And here are the three moribund Arsenal supporters watching what could easily be the worst match I have ever seen Arsenal play. As Rory Delap polishes his ball in preparation of the very first long throw, I turn to T-Town Alex and with a cheshire grin say “did you know Stoke have scored 5 of their eleven goals this season on throw ins?” As the ball is rocketed straight at the goal I think, “oh crap” and sure enough there’s Kolo being held by Fuller (well they are sort of holding each other) and a little shove and Fuller gets some stubble on the ball and, of course, Almunia is frozen as the ball goes into the net. “Ok, 6 of 12.”
And from there it only gets worse: they score a second (even uglier goal) as Almunia leaps out of the way of Olofinjana as he’s stumbling into the goal, Adebayor is taken off injured after Shawcross tackled him from behind (studs up, right on the back of his ankle), van Persie is rightly sent off for a moment of sheer lunacy sparked by frustration and indiscipline, and then Theo is stretchered off with a shoulder injury he got from Stoke’s 15th late and dangerous tackle of the speedy youngster.
2 goals, 2 Arsenal injuries and 3 points; looks like Stoke got what they wanted.
All of Arsenaldom would be well within their rights to complain about the way that Stoke City played if only some semblance of an Arsenal squad had showed up yesterday. Instead, this Arsenal team played for a mere 10 minutes in the first half and 4 minutes at the end of the second half. Apart from those 14 minutes, this squad looked like they just didn’t care. Stoke beat them to every ball, closed space beautifully, and never let Arsenal get off a real shot. And so, my complaint about the overly physical nature of this Stoke team sounds hollow, even to me.
The result is that Arsenal drop to 4th place (gripping it ever so tentatively by dint of goal differential) and so many of us are asking “what now?” For me that’s the real frustration, what can I do? (I already washed the losing off all my shirts!)
What can I do? Complain that Arsene hasn’t bought anyone? What good will that do? There are two full months before the January transfer window opens and Arsenal have to face every single one of the top teams in that time frame. By the time the window opens back up this Arsenal team, if they have shown us what they are made of over this last week, could easily be fighting for a place in the middle of the table.*
No, the course of this season and (I think) the rest of Arsene’s career has been set. Arsene Wenger set out this season to revolutionize English football: he won with a big, bruising, Arsenal team and now he wants the beautiful game to come to England and he feels he’s the one who can do it. If you take into account the whole of his summer remarks and add in his backhanded compliment yesterday
People who love the traditional English game must be happy because they got what they like today. It was a traditional game with a lot of fight and commitment. At the end of the day Stoke deserved to win the game.
And his now public sparring with William Gallas over whether Arsenal should win ugly with Gallas saying:
Maybe we give too great importance on playing beautiful football… But I think our main failing is that we are not always clear in our minds.
And Arsene’s reply
We went to Fenerbahce, who had never lost a Champions League game at home, with a midfield of Under-21 players…. You listen to the clubs in Italy and in France and find that Arsenal is their model…
And his coup d’grace:
We have to be strong enough to keep on with the way we play and we can win the Premier League and the Champions League. I am confident because we have a very strong, united spirit and we want to do well.
Add it up… Wenger’s going to keep doing this thing the way he wants and the way he wants is to remake English football in his image. Call it his hubris, call it his pigheadedness, call it syphilis induced madness (as my friend Curtis the Everton supporter would say), call it what you will but as long as Arsene is manager, he’s going to do it his way.
So, Wenger’s going to stick to his plan; he’s going to continue playing beautiful football and he’s going to try to navigate through the muddied battlefields of the next two months. Love it or hate it, that’s what I think we’re going to have to deal with. Complaining that Diaby isn’t good enough, that Denilson doesn’t belong on the right, that Almunia is a joke, that van Persie or Adebayor aren’t good enough, and that the defense can’t clear a ball isn’t going to accomplish anything other than maybe make us all feel slightly better. Have at them if you must I know it makes me feel better some times.
But this is the club we love, right? No one is seriously going to call for Wenger’s resignation, right? So, let’s cheer them on and hope they get better and Learn from their Mistakes ™.
What else are you going to do? Root for Chelsea?
*I don’t say that lightly, mind you. Arsenal have let in 12 goals in 11 games and at that pace are set to let in 41 goals all season. That means that defensively, Arsenal would be among the middle of the pack clubs and not a top club like Chelsea who are on course to let in a mere 14.