Saturday, August 20, 2011

Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool first impressions

If it takes a nightmarish August to wake Arsene Wenger up, maybe it will be worth it.

But listening to the man talk about Arsenal's defeat afterwards, you would wonder if he is beyond waking up.

"I believe the goal was offside today. And that is absolutely scandalous, that every single decision in the last three or four months...."

He trails off here, perhaps at last losing belief in his own narrative of self-pity.

Suarez was, marginally, offside just before Miquel unluckily knocked the ball off Ramsey, over Szczesny and into the net. But this idea that "every decision" is going against Arsenal? First of all, why is he even dwelling on last season? Secondly, if he wants to dwell on last season, surely it would be more constructive to acknowledge Arsenal's tendency towards self-destruction, rather than blaming it all on some imagined official bias.

Maybe when Wenger talks of decisions in the last few months, he should talk about his own decisions in the transfer market. Spending substantial amounts on players of potential, players who cannot make an immediate difference, and ignoring the widely acknowledged need for experience, and for players who can make a difference now.

In some senses, Arsenal suffered bad luck today. They were missing players. Fabregas has departed. Song and Wilshere usually form a stronger base in midfield- both were missing. With Djourou and Gibbs out, losing Koscielny early on was harsh luck. It left Arsenal with three very inexperienced players on the pitch- Jenkinson at right back, Miquel alongside Vermaelen, Frimpong in central midfield. Sagna was out of position at left back, and Nasri was playing for a team that he wants to leave. None of this is ideal, and some of it is bad luck.

But "luck" is an overused word in football. Arsene Wenger had a long summer in which to get the Arsenal house in order, and he has failed to do so. That is what I personally find scandalous, over and above the fact that the linesman failed to spot Suarez a few inches offside.

He was surely aware of the likelihood of Fabregas's eventual departure. And of Nasri's desire to leave. Yet Arsenal have done no business as yet that will ease those losses.

Apparently, Arsenal missed out on signing Juan Mata because they allowed a deadline to pass and a buy-out clause to go out of date. That, too, is scandalous. If the club knows they are practically certain to receive sizable sums for two departing players, why are they still acting like they don't have money to spend?

Except, of course, on players that are young, have no experience of top-level football, and are unlikely to make much of a difference this season.

They may be stars of the future, but Arsenal need to start thinking of the short term, because make no mistake, there is a scrap on for 4th place this season.

Also on the subject of bad luck, it is not bad luck that got Alex Song suspended, it was stupidity. Likewise Gervinho.

And Frimpong's second yellow today was not remotely unlucky- it could have been a straight red. He is naive, enthusiastic. If you keep inviting a reliance on young and naive players, that's the kind of "luck" you get.

In summation, it was not a totally unexpected result, considering the shape Arsenal are in at the moment. That Arsenal are in such a mess is, in my view, solely down to the manager, and he deserves little sympathy. There is a bad atmosphere around the club at the moment, and booing at the end of the season's first home game, played in such difficult circumstances, is disappointing; but it's also understandable.

The players did not fall short in terms of effort and I think it should be understood that the jeers are not really directed at them but at their manager. The bad atmosphere was present at the end of last season, but the arrogant Wenger has allowed it to grow and grow over a summer of inaction and that, more than injuries or misfortune, is the reason Arsenal are in a sorry state at the moment.

Only three points were lost today, on the face of it, but it does not bode well for the rest of the season, or indeed for the next few days. The squad is already decimated, confidence is low, and Udinese will scent blood in their efforts to overturn a narrow deficit in that vital Champions League qualifier. Then, next weekend, it'e very hard to see how Arsenal can get a result at Old Trafford.

The manager's downbeat demeanour is also a bad sign so early in the season. As is the constant flipping and flopping over Nasri. Should he stay or should he go? Is there any plan at all?

If August continues in such a miserable vein, it becomes more likely that Wenger will abandon his trademark caution and make the kind of signings we should have had tied up weeks ago. But even with some worthy additions, it's already shaping up to be a very difficult season.

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