So, there you have it. All of the season’s follies came home to roost when West Ham rolled over and let Liverpool tickle their tummies. To be fair, relying on the Hammers, Middlesbrough, and whoever City are playing is essentially, a crap plan. While we can reach 75 points, it’s most likely not good enough to reach the Champions League, a competition we’re not good enough to win. The Europa League, if we’re talking levels of sporting competition, is the Arsenal level.
And yet finishing fifth still seems to surprise some people. It’s a wake-up call but there’s no sense of alarm. Arsenal, one of Europe’s wealthiest clubs, are a country mile behind the elite, with the already wide gap getting larger with each passing season. In 2009, we were deservedly in the semi-finals; now we’re in no position to even compete in the Round of Sixteen, let along reach the last eight. The Promised Land of the Champions League, where reward is plentiful, turned out to be nothing more than a fallow field.
Mega Bottle Ride
Arsène observed that the champions of the past two seasons haven’t played in Europe. Factually correct, it ignores several truths which Arsenal must address. Firstly, these are the anomalies; prior to Leicester, all the champions until as far back as Blackburn were in Europe. They were the last bolt from the blue. And white, if you want to be factually accurate. It’s not the new ‘norm’ just yet. If it is, that shows the depths to which English football’s mediocrity has slumped.
The second is irrespective of that, we flattered to deceive yet again. We have a decent set of players but mentally weak; astonishingly so. Losing at Bayern didn’t undo our season; that was after we’d lost at home to Watford and at Stamford Bridge. The roots of our struggles trace back to being ill-prepared for the season. Barely able to field an XI against Liverpool, taking just a point at Leicester compounded the woes.
Of course there are plenty of other turning points in a season and Wenger pointed to Everton and City, and the manner of those defeats. He’s so confused that he now thinks Chelsea was after Bayern; he’s a boxer reeling in the ring, tagged by a punch he didn’t see coming. The warning signs were there last season where the second place finish thanks to Tottenham’s collapse, masked deficiencies. Wenger’s inability to bring the players out of the post-Bayern slump exacerbated the problem.
Yes, he needed to do that; it’s what the manager or coach is supposed to do but the players needed to respond. Forget the talk of ‘letting the manager down’; they are all in this together but it is the Frenchman’s job to ensure preparedness for the season and find solutions quickly when problems arise.
Bummed Out City
It’s not just this season; the pattern is repetitive to the point where the only surprise about not reaching the top four is that it took so long to happen. Since 2010, Tottenham and Everton have both gifted us a Champions League berth when none should have been vacant. The logic was that the table doesn’t lie; it does tell fibs though.
The planning for next season is under with decisions influenced by the formation. There’s still a sense that Arsène dislikes three at the back, primarily because it was forced upon him by the collapsing situation and it is principally about shoring up the defence; it’s not winning football in the ‘right’ way. However, it is successful compared to the flat back four not just because we look stronger in defence but also in midfield. Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka found their feet in the roles, even Francis Coquelin seems a decent player albeit against a Stoke team which was mentally on the beach.
To revert to 4-2-3-1 next season would be typical of the Frenchman’s stubbornness and affirmation that he is entrenched in his views. Retaining the formation and investing heavily in the squad could put forward a convincing case for progress. We will need essentially two squads; one for the Premier League, one for the Europa League, and that’s not treating the latter like a European Carling Cup; it represents an avenue back to the Champions League which must be pursued as vigorously as the top four. United will finish below us in the league and may yet feature in the Champions League next season. If that doesn’t focus minds, nothing will.
Cool ‘n’ Out
Anyway, Arsène is set to meet the press soon and tell everyone that the top four isn’t over just yet, Middlesbrough, Watford and West Brom are sure to put up a big fight to take points off Liverpool and City. And in any case, fifth is the new fourth.
Finally, there is a new playlist on Dad’s Jukebox: Jukebox Classics: #3 The Songs Which Influenced Arctic Monkeys is as eclectic mix as could be found; it’s here while the Record of the Week – Paul Weller’s A Kind Revolution – is found here.