Saturday, February 25, 2012
Will Arsenal's Year From Hell Finally End This Sunday?
A year ago today, everything seemed rosy in the land of Arsenal Football Club.
We had just beaten Barcelona in the Champions League, joining only a handful of clubs who have managed to defeat one of the best club sides every assembled. We still appeared to have an outside chance of winning the title. We were still in the FA Cup. We had our first Cup final in four years to look forward to, and our first since the new Wembley had opened.
Were the seeds of our undoing already present? Who knows, but the weeks before the Carling Cup Final had been filled with a few ominous signs of things to come. Fabregas had hobbled off in the uninspiring 1-0 win against Stoke days before the final, ruling himself out of the Birmingham game. Newcastle had clawed back a four goal deficit against us in humiliating fashion. We had been unable to beat Leyton Orient in the FA Cup the weekend before the game.
But going into the Carling Cup final, we were all pretty confident that we were on the cusp of a new dawn; a moment when we feel the sweet, sweet warmth of silverware once more, and when the club would take its first real step towards the dominance that the move to the new ground had supposedly promised.
I can still see Obafemi Martin's goal in my mind now: Foster punting the ball upfield; Zigic beating Djourou to the flick-on; the ball falling; Koscielny sticking his leg out and retracting it without making contact; the ball bouncing off Szcezsny's chest, and falling almost directly into the spot where Martins was standing; my howl of anguish as he passed the ball into the net.
When it happened, I instantly looked to the sideline for a foul, for an offside, for something. It seemed inconceivable that what had just happened could have occurred without foul-play. But, no. We were the masters of our own undoing.
Since Koscielny's half-swing and Szcezsny's half-gather, very little has gone right for the club. We only won 2 of the remaining 11 league games in the 2011 season. We lost due to horrendous refereeing in the Nou Camp, and due to a horrendous performance in the FA Cup.
Then came the summer.
Fabregas sulked and got a cut-price move. (I don't care if he's from Barca, the way he acted was disgraceful.) Nasri actually acted more professionally and was sold for a farcically high fee. Eboue and Clichy were no big losses, but the former was replaced by a kid from Charlton, and both Gibbs and Santos have seen more of the injury room than the pitch since Clichy left.
And then we couldn't get rid of the pile of dross that littered the squad, eating up our wage bill. We couldn't give Almunia away. We had to loan Denilson and Bendtner because no-one would buy them.
In the midst of the transfer window debacle, we got hammered 8-2 at Old Trafford, and we finally bought in some bodies to try and stop the bleeding.
Since September, our form has vacillated wildly. We lost to Blackburn 4-3, and then looked brilliant for about 3 months, before losing practically all our games in January. We signed nobody in January despite the fact we have only one striker that Arsene has any faith in. We tried to patch things up by bringing Thierry back, but now he's gone and the club is a van Persie muscle-tear away from oblivion.
And then today, after two pathetic performances which have seen us knocked out of Europe and the FA Cup, we decide to get rid of one of the few players we have who has made a difference this season when he's come off the bench.
Maybe the booing incident against Manchester United affected Arshavin more than we know, but to further weaken our already paper-thin squad in a period where we can do nothing to strengthen it just seems to be an act of utter, unbridled madness.
Why do we always buckle? Modric wanted to leave - Spurs told him to shut up and play. Ronaldo bitched about wanting to leave for years and Fergie only let him go on his terms, and for a fee which will probably not be equalled for some time.
In any other business, I would think that Arsenal were owned by corporate raiders, who were methodically asset-stripping the club. When we beat Barcelona last year, the players who had the ball in the build up to our second goal were Fabregas, Nasri, Wilshere, Bendtner and Arshavin. With the exception of Wilshere, who's crocked, all those players have left. They've been replaced by Ramsey, Gervinho, Arteta, Park and Walcott. I'm not saying those players are bad, but they're not as good as what we had even 12 months previously.
It's coming to the point now where something has to change. Either we accept that we aren't going to be among the top-four for a while, or more of the players in the squad have to stand up and make a difference. Walcott has to show he can be consistent; Park needs to prove he actually exists; Gervinho needs to stop running down blind alleys; Ramsey has to start turning those key passes into assists, or start racking up a few goals himself; Gibbs needs to actually play more than one game a season.
There is no better time or place than the North London Derby, at home, to turn our season around. Especially as we have only won one of the last seven league meetings with Spurs, which is simply unacceptable.
It's time we stopped the rot and started the healing process that will hopefully gather pace in this summer's transfer window, when we finally replace the deadwood currently festering within the squad.
Whatever happens on Sunday, the players must leave everything on the field. There cannot be a repeat of the performance we saw in Milan. Just like there's a time when you sense that the party's over, there's a moment when you can feel your hangover lifting after hours of agony, and you realize you're head isn't gonna explode, and that things will get better.
Let's hope our hangover ends on Sunday. It's about bloody time.