February 16th, 2008 • 5:54 pm
I am afraid this was a truly abject performance. Yes, it was a significantly weakened team, due to both injuries and strategic decisions by the manager, but that is no real excuse. Second-string players are supposed to step up to the plate and show that they are deserving of a first-team spot. And first-team regulars are supposed to treat every fixture as a fixture that can be won, no matter how unlikely that outcome is.
None of this happened today, and the Gunners were deservedly spanked and humiliated. The score could easily have been even greater. It was as if everybody on the Arsenal side was having a bad day at the same time. It was simply not acceptable. Not a single shot on target. Not a single opening. Not a single chance. The statistics are unbearable.
How could this happen? What on earth has happened to a player like Cesc Fábregas? Where are his incisive passes, his vision, his commitment? Since returning from injury, he seems to have become a shadow of his former self, of the player that he was earlier in the season. In recent games, other players have made up for his shortcomings, and he’s shown glimpses of what he’s capable of, but today was a day where he was really expected to put on an outstanding performance. Instead, like everyone else on the team, he was guilty of all-too-easy capitulation.
Gilberto did nothing to convince anyone that he has a future at the club. Hleb and Eduardo tried a few things, but didn’t get very far, and did not do nearly enough defensive work. Bendtner never got going, never tried to impose his presence. Hoyte and Traoré were obviously not up to the task. And Gallas and Touré had a shocker. What else is there to say?
Ah yes, Emmanuel Éboué. He’s always had an attitude problem, but this was easily the lowest low of his Arsenal career. Is it because Sagna has taken his place and Wenger has been trying to convert him to a winger position? I am afraid when you are paid that kind of money and you are given a first-team opportunity in a high-profile club, people expect you to seize it and try to succeed, even if you are not 100% convinced it is the right position for you. And when things don’t go well, you keep fighting—within the laws of the game. His attitude today was simply shocking. Being reduced to 10 men was the last thing that the Gunners could afford after going 3-0 down, yet it’s exactly what happened, and there can be no excuse for it. With him went the vague hopes of a second-half recovery, and after that there never was even a sign of a possibility of a consolation goal.
What is going to happen now? Sure, out of the three competitions (the EPL, the Champions’ League and the FA Cup), the FA Cup was the lowest priority, but you don’t lose 4-0 at Old Trafford without consequences. Now is the time to try and build some momentum, not to collapse and run home to mummy crying. Will 4-5 days be enough to recover and find enough of the self-belief required to beat a team such as Milan AC? Will this blow knock the Gunners off course in the title race? Everything is possible, including the worst.
I know it’s all about keeping the faith when you are a fan, but surely even Wenger will have doubts after today’s display—doubts that there is enough commitment in this crop of players, and doubt that the second-string players are even close to competing for first-team action. Once again, with the complaints about the squad being thin, I question the decision not to buy any players in the January transfer window. When you are a club as rich as Arsenal now is, you can only use the thin squad excuse so many times before people start questioning your strategy and your long-term plans as a manager.
In other words, this result raises a lot of questions, all of them very uncomfortable ones, and we’ll need a quick reversal of fortune with a string of very convincing performances to believe that this was indeed just a blip, like the Carling Cup semi-final defeat was, and that there is still a big potential for greatness in this team this year.