It’s such a sad old feeling
the fields are soft and green
it’s memories that I’m stealing
but you’re innocent when you dream
Tom Waits — Innocent When You Dream
For once in 473 posts, I’m nearly at a loss for words.
The legion of problems with this Arsenal side have been categorically explored. So, it simply doesn’t make sense to say “man, Arsenal sure could use a solid midfielder” because I’m not adding anything new to the stream. You know it, I know it, and Danny Murphy knew it yesterday, Arsenal’s midfield is not good enough. Pointing the finger at Denilson and Diaby for their shameful performances yesterday isn’t going to make me feel any better.
It’s unfair to point at those two players. Sure, they mailed that performance in yesterday, but can you blame them? There’s no competition for their spots, no one on the pitch who will kick them in the ass when they are trundling around doing the bare minimum, and the manager clearly is unable to inspire them to come out and put in the necessary work to overcome Fulham. No, picking on Denilson and Diaby is unfair, they’ve been left to their own devices now for a whole season and this is how they feel they should play.
Left to their own devices? Surely not?
Yes, this team is leaderless, I’m as certain of that now as I am of the fact that this team, while talented, lack that last little bit of class needed to finish these games. This team has no leader, no voice in the locker room, no voice on the pitch, and after yesterday no belief in themselves or each other.
In retrospect, this lack of leadership has been brewing now for two years. William Gallas’ appointment to the spot heralded the beginning of a new leadership philosophy by the manager. A sort of “grease the squeaky wheel” method of giving captaincy to the players. Gallas was the most petulant player in the club, openly refusing to play at right back in his first season, instead of putting him in his place Arsene coddled him, gave him his favored center back spot, and eventually the captaincy. Miraculously, this worked last year because Arsenal had two real leaders left at the club: Flamini on the pitch and Gilberto off it.
Ironically, the act that saw Gallas stripped of that captaincy was, again in hindsight, possibly the most leaderly thing he’d done in his entire tenure. I say that because we now know very clearly that he was absolutely right. This team is full of drifters. Players who feel they have reached their zenith and have nothing left to prove or learn. I just wish Gallas had chosen to say what he said in the locker room, instead of the French papers because maybe if he’d have gone to the team and had a clear out meeting the boss could have stayed behind the man and used the criticism to get this team off their laurels.
As it happened he had no choice, Gallas had lost what little he had of the locker room and so Wenger put Cesc in charge. At first the decision was greeted with universal praise and the team seemed to respond under Cesc’s “leadership.” But the telling moment for Cesc as leader was when he went down injured. In that moment, he went into his shell, fucked off to Spain, and left the team rudderless at one of the most crucial moments in the season. He complained, rightly, that he’s done nothing but play football since he was 16 years old and needed a rest, a break from the game. But the problem is the team, HIS team, needed a leader and instead what they got was “captain by committee.” It’s incredible to me that the official captain of the squad hadn’t even made a locker room appearance until last week. How could he do that? How could he leave his team like that in the midst of all this turmoil, in the midst of a title race, and just leave them to their own devices?
More importantly, how could Arsene Wenger let him just leave the team like that? Hell, how could Wenger do half of the things he’s done this year? How could he go after Alonso and when that failed, look to Song as the replacement? How could he retain Gallas as captain after the Birmingham episode? How, the fuck, do we get to the point where we are so desperate for a goal that not only does the manager leave on a clearly unfit Arshavin and risk him for the rest of the season, but his squad is so bereft of players that his only “attacking” option is to take off Sagna and put in Eboue?
The ugly truth is that if the squad are lacking leadership in the locker room and on the pitch it’s ultimately not Cesc’s fault and if the team has players who are happy to float along and put in half-asses performances, it’s not really their fault. We can expect them to be professionals but if they haven’t been properly taught how to be professionals and they aren’t being lead by the manager, then it’s only human nature to do what’s asked of you. It’s the exceptional player who, when asked to do so little, bucks the system and works extra hard. Clearly, this is not a team of exceptions.
Ultimately, this happens because Wenger is not leading them properly. “Judge me at the end of the season” he says in his own defense.
I’m judging Wenger right now, based on the performances this team has put in, and this team, and Arsene’s leadership, have been found wanting. Rather than some great bit of skill, if Arsenal secure 4th place it will be because Villa screwed up — it would be a lucky escape for the Arsenal. That says it all. Wenger has fucked up this season, no doubt.
That leaves all of us with nothing but a dream. Villa had the kind of season-ending collapse today against Stoke that Arsenal need in order to take them. Despite the fact that I think we are more at the level of Everton than Villa, we can dream that this team suddenly wakes up and realizes that they are the Arsenal and not some two-bit team of grifters.
Personally, I remain hopeful the dream will come true because I think Wenger finally realized the attitude of this team is wrong when he said, after the match,
There is a lot of mental investment in the Champions League and we are not mature enough to prepare well and get the priorities right.
The only thing that remains to be seen is if Wenger will take himself and his captain to task for their part in all this. If he does, then maybe it won’t just be a dream.