EPL 2007-2008: Manchester United 2 – Arsenal 1

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
April 13th, 2008 • 2:52 pm

I have nothing much to add to what I have already written about this season in recent weeks.

Arsène Wenger took his final gamble of the season by replacing Senderos with Song in central defence and bringing Lehmann back in goal in lieu of Almunia.

The latter was a highly questionable move following Lehmann’s latest ugly rants earlier in the week. What signal was this supposed to send to Almunia? As it happens, Lehmann did have a couple of impressive (albeit slightly fortuitous) saves during the game. But he had his big chance to prove that he was better than Almunia in the big games by saving Ronaldo’s penalty, and he did not, so the conclusion here is pretty obvious.

I don’t think Almunia is a better keeper than Lehmann, but he does not seem to be worse to me, and at least he does not get himself booked for idiotic behaviours. Wenger will still need to find a world-class replacement sooner rather than later, but it’s not exactly fair to blame Almunia for our lack of silverware this season.

As for the rest of the game, yes, it was yet again a somewhat dodgy penalty decision, but handling the ball in the area at Old Trafford is always a pretty risky behaviour. It was unfortunately the highlight of Gallas’s game. And since Adebayor’s head probably got a helping hand as well for the Arsenal goal, it is hard to feel cheated here.

The truth is that the Gunners played very well during the first half, but had absolutely nothing to show for it at the half, which was unfortunately an all-too-familiar refrain. Given that Manchester United were missing their best central defender, it was simply unacceptable for the Gunners to have all this possession and not get ahead.

Then they did get ahead early in the second half and, once again, were unable to hold on to their lead for more than a few minutes. The rest of the game was a bit of a blurry mess, but the tide had turned, and Lehmann failed to stop that Hargreaves free-kick. (I could have said “Hargreaves scored a beautiful, unstoppable free-kick,” but then Lehmann clearly implied in his comments he could make the difference in a big game. This was another chance to do so. So much for turning your words into actions, Jens.)

I don’t understand what Wenger didn’t give a starting berth to Walcott ahead of Éboué, but then I am not a manager. Clearly Wenger sees something in Éboué that no one else can see. Seventy minutes later, I don’t think anyone can see it any better. And it was too late for Walcott to really have an impact.

For all of the Gunners’ dominance, there were not enough of the truly incisive runs that would have created unstoppable chances. Adebayor wasted a number of good chances and Hleb still refuses to shoot, which I find highly problematic in that the opposition’s defenders clearly know that they don’t have to bother trying to block his shots. Van Persie still hasn’t recovered his pre-injury form, and Fábregas still squanders too many opportunities himself.

The big question now is: How all of this going to change next season? Wenger does not seem to be willing to adjust his thinking, and continues to complain that his players “get slaughtered” by pundits even though “we fight until the end of the season with teams who have spent much more money – some teams spent over £100m.

While it is perfectly true, of course, it’s hard to be surprised that the media don’t give credit to Arsenal for not winning anything. There’s no trophy for still being in the title race in April while having spent £100m less than the others.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want trophies at any cost. I don’t want a takeover financed by Russian oil money, and I don’t want a team of mercenaries. I also don’t want an idiot like Rooney in the Arsenal team, regardless of his actual talent. I don’t want to “win ugly,” at least not with constant ugliness (bullying, referee harassing, cynical fouling, etc.).

But to me these three trophy-less seasons mean that something has to change. There needs to be a shift in attitudes. There needs to be a combination of youth and experience, of agility and physicality, etc. Wenger seems to have taken things too far in one direction, and it’s not paying off. Yet he still seems to believe that he is right.

Belief is of course laudable, and you need plenty of it to win things. But that belief needs to be backed by concrete facts, and there have been far too few of those in recent weeks, during the crucial part of the season. There is no point in building up expectations if you cannot deliver. Do we really want to go through the same thing all over again next year?

For a club of Arsenal’s stature, I cannot help but feel that three trophy-less seasons is about the longest barren spell that they can afford. If this continues, sooner or later the fans will turn against the players and the manager, or key players will become dissatisfied and leave, and so the cycle will continue.

The parsimonious approach was understandable and acceptable when money was indeed tight. But what is the excuse for continuing with it now? Will the focus on youth development really be lost with the addition of a few key players with experience and grit?

Arsène knows—supposedly. But sooner or later he’ll also have some explaining to do.

Comments are closed.

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.