Back with a bang and an unsettlingly early post again. Any sort of consistency is out of the window this week, rather like Arsenal’s form in recent months. The club of course off doing proper things such as preparing the for the upcoming date with destiny but not without dealing with the important issues in life and fair play to them for doing just that, making it public knowledge which pubs around Wembley will be absolutely stowed out on Saturday. Make sure you double up your rounds when ordering. So ends the public service announcement, no guitars unless of course you are listening to the current playlist.
And Wembley should on everyone’s mind as we pack up our troubles in our old kit bag and smile, smile, smile. It’s the week of the FA Cup semi-final and surely we can forget the trials and tribulations of the Premier League. As you have guessed, I am working hard to convince myself of that one as well. It’s not an entirely convincing argument – in fact, it’s nowhere near a convincing argument – but there are whole bunch of straws in the box and I am clinging onto them for dear life this week. And then you read that Aaron Ramsey is being lined up for a start against Wigan because Arsène doesn’t think that Mikael Arteta and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain are capable of playing three games in a week. Except they don’t have to, Mathieu Flamini is only suspended for two, beginning with Saturday. It isn’t entirely clear why Ramsey would even be considered to start, the logical choice is surely to give the Arteta / Oxlade-Chamberlain two games and then bring back the Welshman to start next weekend at the KC Stadium. He could start alongside the returning Flamini. Kim Kallstrom is also being touted as a starter which, if a criticism of Arsenal at Everton was a lack of pace and narrowness, is not really solving the problem if you ask me. Which no-one did and I am well aware of that, thank you very much.
If the midfield isn’t down to bare bones, it’s because Flamini hasn’t been tackling hard enough in training. But being the week of a ‘big match’, we can expect a dash of bad news between now and the weekend with someone picking up a knock, knack or tweak with a late dollop of good news as one of the walking wounded makes the biggest comeback since, well, insert your own ending to that sentence. It’s the norm for Arsenal these days. It’s not unusual for the past either. Wenger must feel like the man who went to Monte Carlo and bet everything on red. The roulette wheel is about to be spun and he is think about throwing his shirt into the mix as well. The casino owners – the board in this case – are waiting to see if his luck is in. He could gamble on the fitness of Diaby, for example, in a one-off attempt to provide impetus for the run-in but instinct tells me that Wenger is too cautious to take the risk. Is that reckless from the player’s point of view as well but a risk worth taking from the club’s short-term view? Unless he is confident of the squad’s reaction to recent weeks, what other options does he have? For Arsène, the question is whether his luck for this season has run out and the absence of investment comes home to bite him on his Arsenal or can the magic be produced again?
The biggest question seems not be about fitness but mentality. Santi Cazorla echoed the views of many on here and among the wider Arsenal support in an interview with Sport360. It brought loud criticism of how the Spaniard had betrayed the club by speaking out about the ills in the lead up to Saturday’s game which is utter rubbish. Cazorla’s assessment is unpalatable because it destroys the utopian image they have of the club, of how there is nothing wrong and it is all the fault of supporters who don’t whole-heartedly believe in Arsène Wenger any more. The key thing which was missed amid the hubris, is that he used ‘we’ continuously through the interview. He didn’t say, ‘they’, ‘he’ or ‘them’, it was an acceptance of collective failings and his own part in them, not an absolution of himself, it isn’t the same as a player who has jumped ship and made a mea culpa into a youa culpa. Ambition underpins everything the Spanish international spoke of, the desire to win and he is not alone in the squad in wanting a career filled with medals. They all do; it’s why his views won’t be unique. If they are, there is a problem right away,
We’ve been unlucky in several games. We had a lot of chances to win against Manchester United and there was Ozil’s penalty (against Bayern). We couldn’t recover after going out against Bayern in the Champions League. And the defeat against Stoke finished us. You can’t lose against Stoke if you aspire to be the next champion.
We haven’t got a winning mentality and we have to believe in ourselves (more). Sometimes you can get used to not fighting, but we can’t do that. Arsenal is and will always be a historic football club, we have to look forward. Arsenal has everything to win. History, infrastructure, an incredible stadium and great players. But we have to improve at crucial moments and sign the best football players because if you don’t do that, you may lag behind others.
That is what makes it different at other clubs. You’ve a good example in Manchester City who signed Fernandiho, (Alvaro) Negredo… or even Manchester United with (Robin) Van Persie and (Juan) Mata. Arsenal know what they need next season, but it’s almost impossible to win a title if we haven’t got these kind of things.
The last two paragraphs of that are positive but at the same time, a damning indictment of the club. The foundations are there but there is no substance. It is a requiem to the missed opportunities of the summer; we know what everyone thinks about Higuain or Suarez, they are the past and only important when learning the lessons so that the failures are not repeated again. It’s a cycle Arsenal have not shown any inclination to break out of previously and more worryingly, little inclination to learn from the past to make a better future. The echoes of last summer are whistling through the winds, when the likes of Arteta and Wilshere made similar observations about signings.
There is no right to win trophies, of course not, but the phrase “We haven’t got a winning mentality” underlines why Arsenal need the FA Cup this season, it’s why I felt the League Cup in 2011 was so important; victory proved to the team that they could win, lifting a burden. Instead the millstone weighed heavier around their necks. That’s why, as he points out, losing at the likes of Stoke is not the mark of champions. It isn’t but it wasn’t the performance of champions either. Desire was absent. It is an almost mythical collective trait but the energy levels at the Britannia were non-existent for huge swathes of the game and that, I think, is why so many of this season’s defeats hurt. Yes, the scorelines are appalling but the repetition of previous failings, the naivety is just baffling. Quite simply we aren’t learning on or off the pitch.
I understand why some are critical of Cazorla, I understand the complaints that his form is such that he shouldn’t be speaking out now but what would you rather? Do you want players to tell you it’s alright, everything’s fine, they are working hard? We’ve heard that before so many times and it’s the same as standing in a room with your fingers in your ears, shouting, “LALALALALALALALA, I CAN’T HEAR YOU“. Well, I’m fed up with the mellifluous words, their saccharine sounds that make it seem as if everything’s alright. It isn’t; we know it and they know it. Burying heads in the sand isn’t going to solve anything, it doesn’t make me trust them any more. I trust them to try their hardest every day to understand why it has gone wrong and how to put it right. The trick is to put it right on the pitch as well. As Cazorla puts it, to discover the winning mentality.