Monday, September 26, 2011

Even The Silver Linings Are Turning Grey

Arsenal 3-0 Bolton

The first half was another slog, but the Gunners finally cut loose in the second to record a comfortable victory.

Bolton started well and could have opened the scoring early on. A fine volley from Darren Pratley was acrobatically repelled by Szczesny. Thereafter, Bolton pursued a policy of containment, and it worked very well for the duration of the first half. There were precious few openings.

The best came when Arteta released Gervinho with a defence-splitting pass. The winger's first touch was so woefully overhit, it was practically a back pass.

Van Persie curled just wide from a free kick, and Gervinho cut inside to blast a shot over the bar, but it was familiar, pedestrian fare at the Emirates. Arsenal's midfield was not responding well to some robust scrapping from Wanderers, and there was little in the way of creativity.

Seconds into the second half, Van Persie blasted the floodgates open. Gervinho was felled on the turn in a central position, and Mark Clattenburg played a canny advantage, allowing Ramsey to drive on. He found Van Persie in the box, and the Dutchman took a couple of touches to escape the attentions of Reo-Coker, and drilled a low shot inside Jaaskelainen's near post.

Bolton are even worse form than Arsenal, and a goal was always likely to dishearten them. They had still less cause for optimism after David Wheater was dismissed. Ramsey's through ball threatened to release Walcott, only for the winger to tumble under a light tug from the centre half. The kind of "dive" that is widely practised in modern football: feel the contact, take the fall. Wheater could have no complaints.

It says much about the fragility of this Arsenal team that even at home, against ten men, against a team that had shown so little adventure, they still gave up a reasonable chance. Bolton broke after an Arsenal corner and suddenly, Chris Eagles had a sight of goal, but his early shot was close to Szczesny and Arsenal escaped.

Walcott, in typically frustrating form, soon helped put the game to bed, speeding onto Ramsey's pass and squaring for Van Persie, who deftly shinned the ball beyond Jaaskelainen for his 100th Arsenal goal. Walcott was denied by the Finn in a one on one from Song's pass, before the Cameroonian iced the cake with a fine curled shot in the closing stages.

Some blessed relief in the form of a result, but the aftermath has provided more cause for tortured introspection. Van Persie, by a distance now Arsenal's most valuable player, has refused to commit to a new deal. His current contract runs out in a couple of years.

Looking at the current state of the team, and at the fact that Van Persie is 28 years old, you'd have to assume he is thinking seriously about a change of scenery next summer. That's without even contemplating the kind of pay rise Manchester City, or any of the other big spenders, could offer him.

The news comes mere days after Wenger admitted his concern that Arsenal cannot compete when offering deals to the top players. I read an interesting article a few weeks ago that suggested Wenger was at loggerheads with the board during the summer. The story went that while the board were willing to provide money for large transfer fees, they were not willing to change the club's wage structure. Thus, perhaps, the inability to complete the capture of Mata before Chelsea blew us out of the water.

The pay structure of the club is certainly in need of review. It seems that most of the first team players earn a similar amount. In effect, our best players earn less than they should, and our worst players earn much more than they should. Hence the trouble Arsenal have had with moving on players like Bendtner, Denilson, and Almunia. No club wants to pay those mediocre players the same money they've been earning at Arsenal.

Conversely, there will be plenty of clubs willing to offer RVP a nice juicy financial incentive to go and fulfill his sporting ambitions elsewhere. And frankly, it's hard to find many reasons he'd want to stick around.

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