And so it’s come to this. The final weekend of this season lacks the frenetic edge of previous campaigns, the results this weekend need to be so disastrous that third place is pretty much assured even in defeat. The goal difference between the two sides might be seven goals but United have scored less so need at least six at Hull to overhaul Arsenal. Steve Bruce might not have beaten Manchester United since becoming a manager but such a capitulation barely seems credible.
Speaking to the media, Arsène claimed not to be concerned by the recent travails in front of goal. I wouldn’t necessarily be worried by the goalless draw against Chelsea, taking a point from a team who were at that point soon-to-be crowned champions was a half-decent result. It also signalled a step in the gradual improvement in results in the big matches, a small sign that there was some substance to the belief that we have turned a corner in those fixtures.
Swansea and Sunderland are different matters. Both sides came to The Emirates to defend with little prospect of adventure. Some may view that as harsh and indeed I would agree that there is nothing incumbent on sides to come to Arsenal and play expansive football. The object of the exercise is to win or at the very least for them, to avoid defeat. It is Arsenal’s responsibility to break them down and the lack of guile in front of goal ought to be concerning the manager for no other reason than it’s a well-known and for some, a well-rehearsed tactic. I’d expect Albion to do the same tomorrow and Villa to some extent in the cup final.
Arsène won’t be able to argue that we haven’t had enough practice against this tactic…
Maybe he has a point in terms of the player’s focus. Maybe this coasting into third is the problem but that was not a conscious choice – or I don’t think it was – but whatever the reason, Wenger needs to put the proverbial stick of dynamite up some backsides to sharpen their performances. As he said yesterday, it’s not like switching on and off a light switch which is why Olivier Giroud’s lack of goals is something of a concern. For a player who thrives on confidence, it’s not always so easy to rediscover his touch.
Arsène’s job is a lot easier when there is an intensity to performances, generally arising from the pressure of needing to achieve the minimum target of a top four place. It’s not hard to see players losing some urgency in their performance when they know they have made the following season’s Champions League.
Third is still a disappointment given that until the Swansea match, second place was very much on the cards. It’s not a title but for a team that habitually finishes fourth, runners-up is a massive improvement and a genuine basis for belief that they can take the next step forward, launching a genuine title challenge. There is some benefit in this drop-off with Arsène not deceived into believing that a quiet summer is on the cards. The players may want to stay at the club but not all of them will.
The club will talking to the player but Arsenal won’t be telling the media when, putting any leak firmly in the court of Team Walcott. Arsène dislikes dealing with agents, you can tell that from the barely hidden disdain reserved for Raheem Sterling’s advisors. He’s made no bones about stating Walcott’s advisors are difficult to deal with in a different way but as he said, you take the player, you take the package and entourage that comes with him. It depends on how much you want the player to stay or join.
Keeping transfer or contract talks are becoming increasingly difficult in an age which the media feeds an obsessive interest in every aspect of the game, especially in the summers when there is no Euro-centric international tournament to distract. Arsenal seem to be better at keeping things quieter than most but whilst it is relatively easy to control information from bigger clubs, third parties on every deal mean more opportunities arise for ‘leaks’ to the media.
I wonder sometimes if Arsenal miss a trick in this sense. The club has taken the long-term view that denial until photos appear on the official website is the line they want to follow. It’s hard to criticise them for that and I wouldn’t per se but sometimes I wonder if they miss out on building the excitement of a new arrival by waiting for any announcement. Injecting a sense of feelgood factor into the Arsenalosphere is something they should want to do, rather than relying on the media controlling the storyline.
It’s not just Arsenal but something of an English thing. Some continental clubs have embraced a culture of ‘introducing’ players to a home crowd of sorts and I wonder if Premier League clubs have missed the boat at building a sense of anticipation but not cultivating this habit? Is it too late and in any case, are English supporters too ‘reserved’ – to use the national stereotype – to enjoy that sort of relationship with the club?
I genuinely don’t know if it’s the sort of thing which would catch on. Perhaps when I was younger, I would have enjoyed that sort of thing although I’m not sure that Perry Groves would have got the pulses racing had he been introduced in that way. It only works for a certain calibre of player of course but with Arsenal shopping in that kind of market, is it viable? More to the point, would it have a knock-on effect of improving the oft-criticised matchday atmosphere, fostering a genuine sense of kinship between the club and supporters.
Anyway, on that meandering note, I’m off to sharpen the quill ready for the last Premier League preview of the season. You can’t just switch it on and off like a light, you know. In the meantime, you can catch this morning’s playlist on Dad’s Jukebox or in the right sidebar.