It was definitely a defence mechanism, I’ve worked that much out. The nightmare scenario of Tottenham being crowned champions in a Technicolor world is becoming a reality with their drubbing of Stoke. The result itself wasn’t much of a surprise as I seem to recall reading they had a decent record in Middle Earth.
I was, I thought, immune to where Tottenham finished. If it was above us, it didn’t bother me nor the prospect of them becoming champions either. Arsenal’s problems were far greater than the concern that brought. How wrong you can be. We haven’t even got the chance of ending their title hopes as we did in 1985. As I typed that, my mind’s eye brought forth the image of Graham Roberts ferocious penalty cannoning off the top of the bar and into the gleeful derision of the watching Arsenal supporters.
In fairness, Tottenham do have a good side this season. A settled line-up and greater sense of purpose and belief, has seen their exuberant pressing style bring dividends. Second and five points behind Leicester City, whose luck may be running out with Jamie Vardy likely to be missing for the next two games through suspension. Faustino Asprilla and Rodney Marsh will be able to tell him what it’s like to be cast as the man who cost a club the title.
All season long, we’ve been waiting for the Leicester implosion. Now we wait for Tottenham to join them. It’s traditional, holding a certain reassurance that all is well with the football world. This year is different, even West Ham haven’t slid down the table as the Christmas decorations were taken down from walls and rooftops. No, I don’t put decorations on my rooftop before you ask. Yea Gods.
Arsenal meanwhile continued their Premier League slump into mediocrity. So much of what we are seeing now is reminiscent of the final months of George Graham’s reign and that of Don Howe. The standard of football offered on a weekly basis then was dire; both became acolytes of the Route One football that ruined the English game at the time. Graham found it effective in the cups but we were hopelessly exposed in the league.
At the moment, we aren’t slipping to the mid-table obscurity which threatened to engulf the club then. Arsène has set higher standards from which we have slipped and there isn’t a cup run to distract us as in the last two seasons. Fourth isn’t secure with United waiting to pounce but like our chase of Tottenham, they are hampered by an inferior goal difference.
Arsène knows how to eke the final Champions League place from the reserves but is it enough? The club is once more on the back pages for the wrong reasons. Fans attacking stewards, fans abusing Wenger. The former was caught on a mobile phone camera but the latter story in the Mirror has been roundly refuted by reputable sources such as Goonerholic. Smoke and mirrors as the media is trying to stir up a storm with the pretence of supporting the Arsène. Acting with a veil of decency that will slip as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
And before you ask, you know me well enough to know I find the abuse of the manager abhorrent. It’s just a lack of basic human decency, nothing to do with age, race or gender.
Arsenal have work to do this summer but I’m not sure it will be enough. The squad needs revitalising with the three ageing midfield amigos leaving, accompanied by Mathieu Debuchy and Joel Campbell no doubt. That’s five places to fill in the squad. Five players of quality who improve the squad, not just replace the departed but lift the technical levels of those already at the club.
Can that be done in one summer by Arsenal? There’s precious little sign of that. Recent transfer windows have seen good work and opportunism bear fruit but this summer needs a coherent plan with Arsène paving the way for inevitable disappointment in that sense. The fickleness of supporters will be on display when we shatter the club record fee paid and temporarily we lose sight of the weaknesses elsewhere in the squad.
The biggest issue is the malaise which engulfs the board. With Stan so in Arsène’s thrall that the end of the era is in the manager’s hands, the remaining directors are powerless to act even if they weren’t similarly mesmerised. Talk of challenging the likes of Bayern Munich years ago seem fanciful then; Ivan’s words are hollow as the gap to not just the continental élite but English football’s peak has widened and continues to grow.
Arsenal, as a club, aren’t capable of challenging for the title or Champions League. The latter is a chasm in talent and tactics; the former is a gulf we should be capable of breaching but we’re not showing any inclination. Everything about the way the club operates is passive unless there is a quick buck to be made. Even then, there is no recognition that investing in the squad to bring the games major honours to north London will enhance revenues.
Why bother when you can finish fourth, lose to Watford and Sheffield Wednesday in the domestic cups, and exit in the Champions League first knockout round but still be on television a record number of times. The cash rolls in despite the lethargic fug which hangs over the place.
Until there is a massive shake-up in the board, its composition and way of thinking, nothing will change. With no pressure on the manager, the same slide into mundanity which hallmarked the end of every other managerial reign in Arsenal’s modern history will engulf Arsène. It wasn’t supposed to be this way but that is the direction he has chosen and only one person can change that. The question is whether he has the will to do so.