I went to Old Trafford on Saturday, filled with hope and nerves. I knew from the offset that we had the capacity, the skill and the ability to beat those bastards into the ground. This season we’ve shown that we can beat a jinx, Barca at home, Chelsea at home – games where Arsenal stepped up and showed they could win regardless of how.
But I also knew that this is a team that can be wasteful. This is a team that can conspire against itself, make mistakes and hand chances to the opposition on a plate, without making them work particular had for it. This is a team that has every ability to turn up and lose against anyone.
The fans were fantastic – singing from start to finish, although admittedly we all went a bit quiet when they scored the sucker punch after half time. It never fails to amaze me how vocal the away support is, and yet the home support just sit and watch like a movie from 1902 – no sound. The away fans were fantastic, plenty of stick and some great singing, a credit to the club. More so than the supposed ‘captain’ Robin Van Persie who just fucked off straight down the tunnel. I get it, he was unhappy, we were all frustrated, but he’s the captain. Samir Nasri and Jack Wilshere came all the way across the pitch to applaud the away support, most of the players at least clapped. But the captain, the person in charge of the team on the pitch, just walked off. To be fair it summed up his day, head down/sulk on. Unfit or not, no player should shoulder the responsibility of the captaincy if they’re going to set an example like that. The one player who put in a captains performance, both during and after the game was the 18 year old new boy. It’s simply not good enough from a senior member of the team.
In the last day or two something I’ve read elsewhere and heard from fellow Gooner’s is the oft cited:
Look at our injuries! No other team could cope like we have!
And United proved that wrong at the weekend. A combination of a thin squad, injuries (Ferdinand, Nani, Valencia just returning etc) and resting players for the mid-week Champions league game (Scholes, Giggs, Fletcher, Carrick, Berbatov) meant United lined up with 7 defenders. Seven. Playing the Brillo headed chuckle brothers on the fucking wings, whilst Wes Brown dicks about as a full back was/is/will never again be a 1st choice starter. And yet they beat an Arsenal team missing only Walcott, Fabregas and Song (you can’t even count Verm anymore, so long is it since he played). United’s ‘fringe’ fringe beat our mostly full strength team convincingly.
Other teams can and do manage without key players. It’s not always pretty, but they do – certainly ‘big’ teams still win key games. Or draw, sometimes they draw, but they don’t throw it down the fucking drain, lose, and then blame injuries. They just get on with it.
I was chatting with Dev yesterday – one thing is clear, the more competitions you are in, the more injuries and suspensions you will suffer purely on the number of games you must play. Our campaign this year has been hindered by the fringe players unwillingness or inability to perform against lower opposition. That we have had to throw Fabregas on in two legs against Leeds or play key players against Huddersfield and Leyton Orient has meant those key players, who could have been rested entirely have played more games. That only exacerbates the effect of many competitions.
But we have to ask ourselves – do we want to duck out of those competitions early, do we want to concede our chances of silverware? Do we want to avoid games like those in the San Siro, beating Barca at home or knocking Real Madrid out of Europe? Or do we want to keep those games? If we do, then we need to stop whining about injuries. Injuries happen, and teams like Arsenal should be good enough to absorb the impact – it certainly shouldn’t mean we start losing games and it isn’t a good enough excuse.
As I’ve mentioned our fringe isn’t good enough at times. I’ve defended our players, both on this blog and elsewhere. If you follow me on Twitter (@kieran_Delaney) you might have read mine and Dev’s conversation yesterday – some players have not improved in the past few years at all. Denilson hasn’t improved in the last 3-4 years. Diaby (even making allowances for injuries) has not improved in the last 3-4 years. Bendtner has not improved in the last 3-4 years. I don’t mind players making mistakes, or having bad games, as long as they improve and learn from them. Diaby is still conceding possession needlessly as often as he did 4 years ago. Denilson’s positioning has not improved in the last 4 years at all. Bentdner has the worst 1st touch in the squad, and that has not improved for years. These players have limitations that they have not overcome and that is where a large source of my personal frustration lies. They make the same mistakes repeatedly and if they cannot remove them from their game, it’s time to move on.
Compare and contrast that to Walcott who has addressed his problems well – he’s not perfect but he’s already ironed out a lot of the issues in his game. Samir Nasri, this season in particular has stepped forward again, Djourou has become so indispensable that his shoulder injury at the weekend is a bigger blow that most other injuries. These are players who have all made mistakes but who have learned from them. These are players that are still improving. These are players who you struggle to remain angry with after a mistake because you know it will have a positive impact.
Finally, we have some outstanding talent on loan currently – Lansbury and Bartley just two that appear to be making a big impact. Those players are currently improving massively whilst out on loan and you can only hope those players return to Arsenal and take any chances that are handed to them – that they take the Jack Wilshere route to the 1st team rather than the Carlos Vela route to West Brom.
Until we cut loose the players who have stalled in their careers and replace them with the players we have who show the desire to go out and fight for Sheffield United, Norwich and Rangers we will consistently struggle with injuries – the players we have replaced our injured with this season have not been always been good enough.
Arsenal have an excellent first 11. We have our faults, our inability to get behind defensive teams for example and our inability to beat the keeper when shooting, but these are problems that can be ironed out over time. What worries me is the pool of players beneath.