Weekend Roundup: Sad But True - The Better Team Won


It's often a comfort after a loss to point out one or two performances that directly contributed to the result. It allows for order and categorization, which, at least to me, means that hope remains (i.e., fix this, then we'll do better! Now who wants ice cream?!). Unfortunately, this occasion does not allow for such comfort.

Manchester United came into our home and figuratively took a shit on our rug and walked out. They dominated the match from start to finish, and while there are a few performances that were more dreadful than others, the effort put forth by Arsenal on Sunday as a team was staggeringly below par. We simply were not up for it and were outplayed for 90 minutes.

That's not to say that every player did poorly. This being a big match, Andrei Arshavin looked energized and interested throughout, which was a welcome change; but being played out of position as a central striker, again, limited his effectiveness. Alex Song put in his usual abov-average performance in the holding role I thought, and god knows how much worse than 3-1 it would have been if he hadn't been in the side. Cesc worked his socks off to track back and to create, but wasn't allowed much space all day, and all credit to United for that. But apart from these three, no one distinguished himself in a positive way.

Clichy had one of his worst performances in an Arsenal shirt, if not the worst. Nani tore into him ruthlessly and just owned that side. Almunia had another just plain awful game, although I hesitate to call it his worst, or even among his worst, because he's had so many poor performances; but he did spastically bat a ball into his own net for ANOTHER own goal this season. He's just killing our team and to say he looks mentally fragile back there would be kind indeed. The thought of Denilson in our starting XI right now makes me physically ill, he's been that poor. Not only that, he doesn't even look as though he's trying. We have no strikers to speak of, and the transfer window is now shut with, as expected, not a single player joining the squad (barring Sol, but he'd been training with the squad for months anyway). Surely we could well have done with an addition up front, with van Persie out indefinitely, Bendtner only now just recovering, Eduardo poor in form and now re-injured, and Vela and Walcott so out of form that they don't even warrant mention as options. The money was there, and with the revelation that Arsenal Supporters Trust uncovered a clause in the Ashburton Grove stadium refinancing dictating that 70% of transfer income must be reinvested into players, it needed spending as well.

I realize that with the rash of contract extensions leading up to January, the manager had himself mostly covered should he sign no one (as he did); after all, the signing bonuses for multiple players and the signing on fee for Sol added up to a decent amount, I'm sure. But that never covered the manager on the need to sign players; with our squad's fragility when it comes to injury, and seeming complacency in the performances of a number of players, the depth and increased competition for places desperately required signings. Arsene has ignored this to the detriment of the squad and our chances at winning anything this season.

We do often talk about the importance of doing things the "right way": of not overspending for players so as to keep the club financially stable now and for the future; of "home-growing" players, if you will, in the Arsenal style of football; of thinking long-term about the club's best interest. These are all good things, and Arsenal Football Club and Arsene Wenger should be lauded for sticking with their plan for the future. But there are extremes in either direction, with Chelsea and Man City at the one end of the spectrum, and we on the other. But not to spend anything on new players when the squad so critically and obviously required it just looks like hubris... I've made this very claim about Arsene when it has come to transfers in the past, but this January has solidified it in my mind. Arsene is so dedicated to winning things with "his team" that he has ignored the very thing that may have brought the skill, energy and desire to accomplish that very feat. He has gambled, and as of right now, we look like the losers.

The simple fact is, the squad on display on Sunday was not good enough to beat Manchester United, even a more-beatable side than they've looked in recent seasons. Not only that, but the players available for selection didn't all give 100% effort, and that is inexcusable. It is all well and good to talk about what great financial shape we're in compared with United, but at the end of the day, United are in a title challenge right now, while as of right now, it doesn't appear that Arsenal are.

I'm not going to go in-depth about the match any further than I have already. It was a poor performance, and if we don't step up about three gears higher than we played at against United, then Chelsea are going to bend us over and aim for penetration on Sunday. The question now is less will the team respond, but can they? I desperately hope so.

For all the talk of how we've progressed from the team we were last season, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. United came to the Emirates in the Champions League semifinal last season and convincingly beat us 3-1; yesterday, United came to the Emirates and convincingly beat us 3-1. I'm not some kind of brain scientist or rocket surgeon, but that doesn't sound like progress to me. Last season, we went to Stamford Bridge and walked away 2-1 winners. If we don't get all three points, how far will we have progressed?

We're currently 3rd, 5 points back of leaders Chelsea who, as expected, beat Burnley this weekend, and 4 points back of United. While we're certainly not out of it now (we were 11 points back when Chelsea beat us 3-0 in November), a loss on Sunday will be one more coffin nail in our title dreams. Win and we're still in with a shout, provided we start ripping other teams apart. I'm not ready to admit defeat, no matter how down I feel right now. Let's make everyone nervous and start another nice, long, undefeated run. There's no time like the present, and we can't afford to wait any longer anyway. Come on you Gunners.

Hope you enjoyed the weekend, apart from the result. You stay classy, mon Arsamis.