Apologies for the lack of posting yesterday, I was on a course and didn’t have time to post my thoughts on the defeat to Bayern Munich on Tuesday night.
As you will probably know, Bayern Munich cruised to a 3-1 victory at the Emirates and Arsenal were totally outplayed by a much better team. Arsenal started brightly and by that I mean they had the better of the opening 5 minutes. Then a minute later, Bayern took control. Toni Kroos scored and it was already looking difficult for Arsenal. Six minutes in and one away goal conceded already. Just over twenty minutes on the clock had been played when Bayern made it two. Daniel Van Buyten saw his header saved by Szczesny before Thomas Muller scored on the rebound to make it even more difficult for Arsenal.
Arsenal’s response in the second half was better. But the thing that hurt us in this one was, like so many times this season, we started too slowly. The first five minutes were great. But after the setback of conceding in the 6th minute, Arsenal allowed Bayern to dominate for the rest of the half. Even in the second half the Germans played well and could have had more than just the 1 goal in the second half. There’s something wrong at Arsenal. Why do we only wake up in the second half?. What’s the issue with showing up for a full 90 minutes?.
Arsenal’s goal was fortuitous to say the least. It came from a very rare source. A corner. Neuer failed to deal with the corner and former Bayern player Lukas Podolski had the easy task of nodding into the empty net. Arsenal had some life again. Bayern aren’t used to conceding goals, their recent record has been very good.
After Podolski’s goal you felt Arsenal may be able to salvage a draw of a game that appeared to be beyond them. Olivier Giroud could have scored with his first touch after replacing Podolski and then maybe it was a different game altogether. Giroud’s first time effort was straight at the keeper though. Had he put it anywhere else, it was most likely in!. I’m not knocking Giroud at all because Arsenal’s strikers had barely any service all night and to get that one chance having just come on, it’s not easy. Plus it was a really good effort, one he did well to have, just unfortunate that he couldn’t direct it past Neuer.
Mario Mandzukic all but finished Arsenal off in the 77th minute with what was in all honesty a scrappy finish. However, they all count and it has pretty well killed the tie off. It would have been a hard enough job for Arsenal in Munich at 2-1, but 3-1 with 3 away goals in Bayern’s favour is near impossible.
Another year without a trophy then it seems. What frustrates me is the Blackburn game last weekend. Resting players for this game when Arsenal’s best hope of silverware was always going to be the FA Cup. If you saw the draw for the next round, Blackburn were drawn away to Millwall. That is a winnable tie for Blackburn, let alone Arsenal. So a potential semi-final appearance was there had they decided not to rest key players against Blackburn. That can only be the manager’s fault.
It’s a difficult situation to be in. I want Arsenal to do well but I am getting fed up of the “4th place is a trophy” excuse every year. I want Arsenal to win silverware. This weekend is the League Cup Final. Bradford will be playing Swansea. That competition is one Arsene Wenger should have won many times during his reign, but a lack of respect for it over the years has prevented him from doing so. The FA Cup is another we could have lifted a few times during the 8 year trophy drought. Instead we’ve had to watch Chelsea win it most years during that period. Why?. Because they took it seriously. You saw at the weekend against Brentford, they named a strong team. They treat their opposition with respect and the tournament with respect. That’s why they’ve been successful. That’s one of the reasons Arsenal were so successful during the first 9 years of Wenger’s reign.
I feel with the Champions League, Arsenal’s best chances of winning it under Wenger have gone. In 2004, had Wayne Bridge not scored a last minute winner, I believe the Invincibles had the quality to go on and win the tournament. In 2006, Arsenal SHOULD have beaten Barcelona in Paris, despite playing much of the game with 10 men. Since then we have gone downhill in the competition. It shouldn’t be ok to just have a squad capable of qualifying for the competition, you’ve got to have a team good enough of winning the thing.
Honestly I think this Arsenal team is one good enough for the Europa League. I think they’d get to the latter stages of that competition, whether it’s the semi-finals or the Final itself. They lost the UEFA Cup Final in 2000 to Galatasaray on penalties after finishing 3rd in their Champions League group. If it was good enough for Arsenal then and good enough for the fans in the mid 1990′s, we have to accept that this may be where the club belongs right now. No team has a given right to Champions League football and the Europa League is possibly the only shot they’d have at winning something. I couldn’t see Wenger taking that seriously though.
I just feel that the defence has been poor for the majority of the campaign and unless we go on a similar run to the one we had from February – May last season and the teams above us fall apart again, we’ll be saying hello to channel 5 on Thursday nights next season.
We have some quality players going forward. Jack Wilshere is the star of the team. Cazorla has his great days. Podolski offers a lot to the team and Giroud and Walcott are fine players too. Defensively is where my concern is. Sagna isn’t looking the player he once was, Vermaelen is more inconsistent now than he was back in 2009 when he joined, Mertesacker and Koscielny are very on and off. Gibbs is so injury prone and that halts his progress. Monreal appears a decent enough signing, but there have been a few nervy moments already with him.
We have some deadwood such as Squillaci, Arshavin, Bendtner and Chamakh coming off the wage bill this summer as their contracts are reportedly up. That’ll free a lot of space in wages. If Arsenal qualify for the Champions League, they reportedly have £70m to spend in the summer on players. Attracting players won’t be so much of an issue if they do qualify for the Champions League, although we have seen players say the trophy drought has played a part in their decisions not to join Arsenal / even leaving the club.
Attracting players into the Europa League however would be a very difficult challenge for Wenger (I am assuming he will be around in the summer still, as the board clearly want to keep him no matter what). I felt Tottenham attracted pretty good players to the club last year (Vertonghen, Dempsey, Lloris etc) after failing to qualify for the Champions League. It is possible, but players will always choose Champions League over Europa League and rightly so.
Another thing I am thinking is membership renewals. Arsenal can talk the talk about this summer transfer kitty all they like. In previous summers we have heard very similar things from the board before the memberships / season tickets were renewed. Then after that deadline passed, Arsenal did very little in the transfer market yet again despite having a big budget. I think a lot of fans are getting fed up with it and I expect renewals of both season tickets and memberships will most likely take a hit.
All I can say is, Champions League or no Champions League, it will be a very interesting summer at the Emirates once again. Before that we have the rest of the season to play out. Aston Villa are the next visitors to the Emirates. Villa are actually starting to put a decent run together and might fancy their chances on Saturday!. I wouldn’t blame them either!.