Arsenal 5 – 0 Burnley
It was only fitting that more people remained for the celebration than did so at Leicester’s post-season pitchside amble.
The sun shone and everything went to plan. A nice guard of honour, a well-deserved show of appreciation as Arsène strode around the pitch before heading to the touchline. By the time Per Mertesacker hugged everyone, the game was already won. And handsomely.
Cheers for the BFG with commentators squirming as the words to the song came through loud and clear. “Gee, honey, those Brits are normally so reserved…”
Touchingly, Vic Akers was getting hugs off the subs and I’m sure the fourth official got in on the act as well, off-camera.
For once in this otherwise miserable season, it all went to plan. 5 – 0, Arsenal relaxed and played arguably better football than in most games this season. I guess Arsène sees this all the time in training and thinks “we don’t need anyone”, which is where the disconnect comes.
Mavropanos continues to show promise, which is good not only for him but also hinting the new recruitment team might know what they are doing. There will be duds along the way and we’ll pass on someone good; that’s football and every club has a name or three in their history who went on to star elsewhere.
It was a day where the unheralded ventured into the spotlight briefly; Kolasinac enjoyed the freedom of the left and rifled in a cracking goal. Iwobi, with his mix of infuriating good and bad passing, netted another, leaving the £100m attackers to take the other three between them.
Jack Wilshere flicked, shimmied and dribbled; life was all good with nothing to dampen the mood beyond reports of t-shirts being nicked off seats. And one other thing, which I’ll come to later.
Searching for Something Good
With the normally energetic Burnley so supine, judging performances is tough. However, Mavropanos and Chambers both played well in terms of the basics. Yes, there were a couple of moments where mistakes were made. The Chuckle Brothers are a ‘World Cup winner’ and experienced international footballer and they’ve made horrendous errors, so a couple of youngsters can be forgiven for theirs.
Where Arsenal’s performance levels are picking up is in discipline. Or rather, Granit Xhaka’s discipline. He still looks a better player with a defensive midfielder alongside him, but this season his consistency has improved. The Swiss since Christmas is showing the best form at the club to date. Will the new boss be able to get anything more from him?
Arsène repeated his feeling that the squad is two or three players away from challenging for the title; it’s a generous interpretation when we need two new goalkeepers and two experienced centre-backs before we even look at other positions.
However, there are signs the younger players in the squad can solve problems. Maitland-Niles needs to nail down a position in the team and drop the curse of versatility. Others – Nelson, Willock and Mavropanos – need to continue their development and as long as they continue on their path, there is a promising future ahead.
Which is leave the question of where some senior players fit in. Mesut Özil, suffering a back problem yesterday, is currently ‘Sickly ickle’ Mesut Özil. For £300k per week, he needs to ‘man-up’; his ‘illness’ levels are on a par with Cesc, Flamini and Almunia when they left the club.
And if we really only have £50m to spend, he is one of the saleable assets to boost funds. We’re at a point where we can’t carry passengers and certainly not for that money.
Excuses Had Their Uses
And when the final whistle went, the tears flowed.
Had the club thought about it, a little specimen jar was the perfect gift for each ticket-holder. As the waterworks flowed, they could be caught and then, as ABC declared, tears really are souvenirs.
Arsène was the focal point of attention and his few words, simple and well-chosen, fitted the occasion. He, like Vic Akers, Per, and Alex Scott, received a warm round of applause. Sir Chips received a healthy round of boos; the board deserve it for not one of them comes out of this situation with any credit.
Despite knowing of the discontent and seeing the declining performances, they failed to put a plan in place for his succession until now. Enos and Junior must surely have requested it before last summer? Wenger was in his sixties when Kroenke became majority shareholder and its rank-bad governance to not have a structure or succession plan in place.
The one criticism of the day I would have is the gift chosen by the club for Arsène. I see why they did it and understand the sentiment. It is a fine memento of the achievement he oversaw, but is it right for the club to give it away? It was awarded, after all, on the back of the efforts of not just the manager, but the coaching staff and players as well.
It’s a bit like recycling Christmas gifts. To some it’s perfectly acceptable. To others it’s a complete no-no. The only damnation is that the board felt it entirely appropriate for the occasion. It just feels like something custodians of a club wouldn’t do. Each to his own.