Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The More It Stays The Same, The Less It Changes

Stoke 3-1 Arsenal

This was a rank display. Although not as spectacular as the collapse at Wigan at the arse end of last season, it had the same stale, end-of-a-fruitless-season vibe. Nothing to play for. Not even, it seems, professional pride.

Stoke were not very good, but comfortably good enough to beat a limp, lifeless Arsenal.

Arshavin got a lot of stick for helping give away the first goal. His team were not in grave danger as Jermaine Pennant held the ball in an apparent cul de sac near the corner flag. Arshavin stupidly pushed him over.

It's pretty absurd, though, that giving away a free kick is seen as a hanging offence. It was stupid, no doubt, because Stoke are dangerous from set plays. But here's a novel idea: how about, after all these years of "coincidental" underachievement, Arsenal learn to defend set plays?

Pennant swung a great ball in, Djourou was easily given the slip by Kenwyne Jones, and the ball bounced off the striker and into the net.

Pennant got the second himself. After a decent run he fired in a shot from distance. It was given a dipping trajectory by a slight deflection, and Szczesny failed to stop it.

Arsenal made changes at half time. Arshavin was scapegoated, as he often is. The manager pampers the substandard young players that fail to repay his faith, but because he did not make a star out of Arshavin, he has never shown favour to the Russian. Ramsey, ludicrously booed by the neanderthal home fans, also departed. Chamakh and Bendtner came on, leaving Arsenal with three out-and-out strikers on the pitch, plus Walcott. The changes had little effect.

Van Persie did provide yet another goal late on to provide a fleeting sense of hope, extinguished when Djourou pissed a clearance straight to John Walters, who made no mistake from close range.

It was a pretty abject way to destroy any feelgood factor after the United game. Maybe that's for the best. Arsenal have been poor for most of the season, especially the second half. They have produced a few good performances in that time, most notably at home to Chelsea and Barcelona. They failed, however, to build on the commitment of those displays. They failed to replicate it, because they either don't want it enough, or are not good enough, or a mixture of the two.

The game against Stoke did not have anything riding on it, so complacency was more understandable, if not acceptable. But the fact is Arsenal's season has been peppered with such displays, even when they were still supposed to be fighting for any of four trophies.

The tiresome talk continues, from both players and manager. 'Arseblog' has drawn attention to the fact that the players were admitting their own culpability in terms of character and commitment and the lack of it as long ago as the autumn of 2008. How many pay rises will these same players get before they are finally kicked out? 'Arseblog' also points to a comical quote by Wenger, who says that an inability to defend set pieces is an easy problem to remedy.

Arsene Wenger's team has had that problem for years. If it is easy to remedy, then where is the remedy? He has been a great manager for this club, and I hate to come across as negative (again), but frankly, he's looking and sounding more and more like a clown. His decline, and that of his team, shows no sign of stopping.

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