Arsenal are often derided because of a perceived inability to grind out a result while playing badly, but that's exactly what they did yesterday at craven cottage. Yet while that suggests a question answered, nagging ones remain, and some new ones may even have been raised.
The main one relates to cesc Fabregas. Now, with all the passionate rhetoric in the world, this guy is our captain and he has to let his performances on the pitch do the talking if he wants to prove his commitment. He did set up Van Persie's goal with a trademark moment of vision, but other than that he looked off the pace, giving the ball away profusely, and often in dangerous areas.
I always complained about the way Steven Gerrard would take the plaudits from a game in which he'd disappeared only to provide one moment of decisive quality. It's an admirable trait of course, to be a matchwinner, but for people to then surmise that he's running games Roy Keane-style is a gross misconception- one that was amazingly widespread. Even last season, with Xabi Alonso pulling the strings in the centre and Gerrard playing an adavanced role just behind Torres, you'd still often hear about how Gerrard apparently "made Liverpool tick", "how everything went through him" and other such lazy, trite statements. We're often patronisingly told by ex-players that you have to have played the game at their level to understand its workings properly- I defy anybody to listen to the rantings of pretty much any Sky Sports pundit and then accept their superiority.
Now, having always been disappointed with the sort of undeserved praise that I thought "Stevie G" was getting, I have to be fair and say that I don't think Fabregas is influencing games the way he can, the way that he once did. And it has been a while.
Optimistic people will call this a loss of form. Football365 suggested that he's feeling the effects of injury, having never got a proper rest. I hope and pray that it's either of those things, but one does worry that he's gotten tired of Wenger's lack of action in the transfer market. We aren't far away from being the real deal, and news today of a record annual turnover finally seems to take away once and for all the excuse that Wenger is working under financial constraints, which in turn begs the question, why did he sit on his hands again all Summer? We clearly have areas that need strengthening, not just in terms of depth but in terms of the actual starting XI. I know I bang on about it, but Abou Diaby is really playing too many games, and putting aside loyalty to Arsenal for a second, who could really blame Fabregas for tiring of playing beside turds like Diaby every week? When he deserves so much better?
And our manager, our apparent messiah, just won't provide it.
We have to act like Alex Song is someone to be excited over. Sure, he's a much-improved player, hell, he might be our best player so far this season. But we shouldn't be relying on such raw talent if the coffers are overflowing. Denilson is now out for two months. So people can be optimistic all they want, Wenger won't pull the wool over my eyes.
We're a couple injuries away from a nightmare scenario now. With Denilson out, an injury to Song or Fabregas for any period will spell absolute disaster. THIS IS THE MANAGER'S FAULT. An injury to Gallas or Vermaelan will bring Senderos or Silvestre into the side. THIS IS THE MANAGER'S FAULT. You can talk about bad luck with injuries, but he knows we have an injury-prone squad. He's either gotta make it bigger- I understand that this would make the wage bill ridiculous, so it's unrealistic- or lose some of the dead wood and replace it with better, more experienced and LESS PHYSIcALLY AND MENTALLY BRITTLE talent!!! BUT NO!! [And on the subject of the wage bill- why do people like Diaby earn as much as they do? Seriously?]
Wenger is telling you that he doesn't want to hinder the development of his young squad, who he now sees as genuine contenders (stop sniggering!). He needs to understand something. His loyalty should not be to Bendtner, to Denilson, to Diaby. Not primarily anyway. His loyalty, and theirs, is supposed to be to something bigger. And if these guys are not good enough for Arsenal, and everyone can see it.... well, I've said it before and I'll say it again, questions have to be asked of this man, who talks and acts like a man who thinks he's untouchable. The unbeaten team, now they were untouchable, for one whole league season. He was a hero then to me, but almost ever since it seems like he's severing all his ties with such success, in the name of some principles that can no longer be applied to this sport. It's admirable in its way of course but fans have more interest in trophies, glory, that type of thing. When did Wenger lose touch with that reality?
Sorry, back to the game for a moment. Two big positives, other than the result, in this sea of mediocrity. Van Persie's goal- world class. I asked a question of him regarding the games where he may miss one big chance. Here he provided a moment of stunning quality with what was really just one half chance. We see him do it a lot in fairness but this was a reallt tight game and he's gotta take a lot of credit. If he can start putting away some of the easier chances he'll hopefully build an impressive tally this season although his position in that still stuttering 4-3-3 may prove a hindrance. Don Vito Mannone in goal- 21 years young, in the fourth professional game of his career- did what Manuel Almunia has NEVER done for Arsenal. He won us a game we should have probably lost with a series of saves. Even if it proves a flash in the pan, it's a reminder of what a difference a decent goalkeeper makes.