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The Emirates, London, 02/04/11
As far as months go, they don’t get much worse than that. In the last 35 days, Arsenal have cocked up wildly in the Carling Cup Final, gone out to a vastly superior Barcelona side in the Champions League, failed to turn up against Manchester United in the FA Cup and have drawn their last 3 league games, more or less handing the league title to United. Let’s not forget that our seasons have followed a similar pattern to this (although never quite THIS painfully) in recent years. Against Blackburn we looked a shell of a team. Predictable, one-paced, lacking in ideas (on and off the bench), unable to change tactics and most damningly, lacking in leadership. What Arsenal need is some characters. None of the Arsenal squad (Eboue-aside, and hopefully he won’t be part of the set-up much longer) are horrible. Not one of them looks capable of mustering a hint of passion, let alone anger, frustration, excitement, nastiness, anything. Anything that would show them as having character. Who’s there to drive this team on when things are going badly? No-one. It’s the case on and off the pitch and it needs addressing. Either Wenger needs to change his methods or go. For the first time since Bruce Rioch’s reign, there is genuine discontent amongst the fans. That probably comes from the fact that this was our best chance to win the league in years, and unless something extraordinary happens between now and May 22nd, we’ve blown it.
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The Emirates, Premier League, 05/03/11
With 87 minutes gone, there’s something wrong if you’re still yelling “WAKE UUUPPP!!” at your team. But that’s what happened on Saturday.
Arsenal never really turned up. Chances were few, Sunderland contained, defended well and, courtesy of a couple of fine saves from Mignolet, kept any inroads at bay with relative comfort. Diaby and Denilson were two players symptomatic of this malaise. Strolling through the game, barely conscious, with no forward drive, these two midfield titans had all the presence of a pair of daisies in a gale. Replacing Fabregas and Song with these two is akin to replacing Royal Shakespeare actors with the cast of Grange Hill. And with Bendtner disinterested, Arshavin struggling for form, a referee blind to a clear shove in the penalty area and a match-changing, incorrect off-side decision against us, this was a performance not to dwell on.
Wembley Stadium, Carling Cup Final, 27/02/11
After 90 minutes of stout, faultless defending against the ultimate long ball merchants on Wednesday, this. Undone twice by a 6’ 8” striker and two monumental defensive errors. We weren’t at our best; possession was surrendered too easily, in both halves we visibly tired after bright starts, our finishing wasn’t clinical enough (we had enough chances to win the game and should’ve put the game to bed during a prolonged spell of second half pressure), too many individual performances were lacking and substitutions were mystifying. But none of this could’ve prepared us for 1st half flap by Sczezny allowing Zigic to head home and an appalling lack of communication between the keeper and Koscielny to let Martins tap in with 2 minutes remaining. All of which meant that Van Persie’s superb volleyed goal from an Arshavin chip will be forgotten. Much like I want this whole day to be.
The Emirates, Premier League, 23/02/11
For the first meeting of Arsenal and Stoke City since Ryan Shawcross snapped Aaron Ramsey’s leg in two a year ago, talk was of the man and his hated team entering a ‘cauldron of hate’. What he got was more like a le creuset of indifference. An insipid atmosphere, truly a post-Barcelona comedown. The football on show could not have been more different either.
Now, there are many different ways of playing football. Arsenal’s game is based on pace, movement and skill. Stoke’s is based on organisation, discipline, physicality and either kicking or throwing the ball very far and very high. And to be fair to them, they are bloody good at it. So good, in fact, that they make the game barely resemble football as I know and love it. How their fans put up with such tedious, unambitious tactics is beyond me. Their lives must be severely lacking. Stoke’s constant pressing in numbers meant that we only found a way through once, Squillaci scoring from a close range header. And defensively, we dealt with everything they threw (literally) at us with ease. A vital, hard fought but ultimately BORING 3 points.