Bolton Wanderers 2-1 Arsenal - That Just Happened

I have no anger left with this team.

I'm not the only one either - the two typical defensive lapses on set pieces (sandwiched around a brilliant equalizing goal from Robin van Persie) elicited "oh, that just happened" reactions where once outrage would reign. In fact, the only legitimate rage I felt during that match at all occurred when Mike Jones contrived to whistle Johan Djourou for a penalty. I understand that referees have a difficult job, and if someone dives convincingly's a dishonorable skill but a skill nonetheless. This one may have been the worst penalty decision of the entire season though, and boy oh boy does that cover some ground.

So, I won't be spending a lot of time talking about the match itself. Suffice to say that Arsenal, like any great band at the end of their time, played all of their greatest hits. Sitters missed, slack marking, over-elaboration, conceding early, moments of breathtaking skill - it was all there. The encore was the same as well - the destined-to-fall-short rally at the end (though as ludicrous show-ending rallies go, I much prefer AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock We Salute You").

Since this season's patient is terminal (and frankly, was a dead man walking for several weeks), let's talk about the next of kin. The thing is, love us or hate us, there is so much about Arsenal that over the last decade or so has been so undeniably certain. The epicenter of that solidity was, of course, in the professorial manager patrolling the touchline. For most of his reign, we have played a very specific way, with very specific players. We have arguably had the most consistent identity of any major club in world football.

Now, what once was cast in stone feels far more malleable. I hate to say that we're at a crossroads as my god that is such a cliche, but damn it, we're at a crossroads. Things are getting tense in Arsenal Land, and something is going to give at some point.

You have the manager - for so long he wore a veneer of stoicism and detachment. Now, the illusion is gone. Was this always the storm raging inside of him, or is he finally losing patience with the men who personify his goals? I don't want to double back over old feelings on the subject are well known. However, whether you want him to stay or go, some of the vitriol out there towards the man (and I should know better than to read comments on Facebook, and yet...) is just beyond the pale. It's one thing to think that perhaps his time is up, it's quite another to describe him in words you'd normally hear from Chelsea or United supporters (you know, the pond life that would hang out in the front of Nevada Smiths, allowing an easy escape route when they lost, and a gauntlet of jeering neanderthals to navigate when they won).

Either way, it is obvious that he will not be sacked...I don't know what circumstances would have to occur for that to ever happen, and I don't want to find out. Regardless, we'll come back to him shortly.

What of the playing squad, then? Surely, the 25 who finish this season will not be the 25 who begin anew in August. Of course, major upgrades are unlikely. Whether that's down to our financials or the manager's decision, we're probably never going to know. But, there are some who have decisions to make this summer. Gael Clichy has a year left on his contract, and rumor has it that he wants out. Normally I'd bite your hand off for 5-6 million for him (perhaps a shade less given his contract situation), but can Kieran Gibbs go three games without a major injury? If not, the options are either recall Armand Traore (meh) or buy a replacement. Gibbs would be the best choice in my view, but also the least plausible. The left-back situation is one to watch, to say the least.

And, what of Samir Nasri? He too is coming up on one year left on his deal, and no extension has been inked. He has taken a major leap forward as a player this term, to the point where his case has become a mission-critical decision. Can we convince him to stay in these troubled times? Will his wage demands exceed what we should pay for what is a wonderful-at-times player who has largely failed to make an imprint on the truly momentous occasions of a season?

The midfield engine room is cast into further doubt when you consider the Catalan elephant in the room. If the usual protracted transfer sagas - the template penned by yet another wantaway captain in Patrick Vieira - hold true, then Cesc Fabregas is almost certain to finally depart for the Nou Camp this summer. Personally, I think he's as gone as gone can be, and I can't say I'd blame him. He's a brilliant player miscast in the captain's role, a desperately hungry player caught in a revolving door of near-misses. He has been a wonderful servant to the club, and I hope we Gooners don't unfairly take out our frustrations on him when he goes...he has not wronged us in any way.

Then, there is our diminutive Russian. So frustrating. He's been MIA for months now, and has given no outward expression to what is going on in his head. I can't help but wonder if this isn't a case of a fantastic player in certain conditions, who happens to not be in a club that meets those conditions.

Conversely, there are the ones we'd like to see go. Denilson heads most of those lists, and rightfully bloody so. Emmanuel Eboue may be another whose expiration date has passed (a sad development only for the sheer range of songs he's inspired - as a player, he's far too inconsistent). Others are not so obvious. The relative merits of Nicklas Bendtner, Abou Diaby, Marouane Chamakh and Alex Song have been vociferously debated on forums and conversations alike. If you want my opinion, my patience with Diaby has long run out, but the other three are salvageable. Still, why are these guys underperforming (you can add our central defense to that as well - Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou are better than they've been showing)? Why are players with this much talent showing such little return?

One argument is that sometimes, losing begets losing...especially when it's been in the ways that we've managed it. I'm no sports psychologist, but I can't help but feel that games like Newcastle stay with you. If you're not careful, an entire squad can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom that can be impossible to fully shake. Now, maybe that's not the case. I could certainly be reading far too much into things. Isn't it at least plausible, though? And if so, major surgery and fresh recruits may be required - which won't happen of course, bringing this circle back to the beginning.

That beginning, of course, is the manager. He's come out in the Guardian saying that he should be blamed for this season's derailment, and I'm not arguing the point. It is up to him to put together the team, train them, decide the tactics and to keep the squad's mental state on track. He has completely, utterly, spectacularly failed on all of those fronts for the last six seasons. I'm not saying the requirement is to win everything every season. We're not Real Madrid, and I'm glad we're not. But, the rate of return has been far short of what should be expected for this club and I believe it's on him far more than the players.

The thing is, I haven't mentioned it much but I do believe he's on the right track. When he says he wants us to play the right way, I'm on board with that. You don't have to be Barcelona to succeed with attacking thrust - just look at Schalke '04 this season. His particular version of this philosophy has been found wanting, and the more damnable thing is that not only is there no Plan B, he insists that one is not required.

I believe that guys like Chamakh, Song and Bendtner can be important cogs of a team that wins things. I think we've got a stellar goalkeeper right now in Wociech Szezcsny, who can be our keeper for the next 10-15 years. I think we've got guys who already fight the good fight and give everything of themselves, guys like Bacary Sagna and Robin van Persie who can hold their heads up no matter what happens the rest of the way. The core is there. This strikes me as a job for a scalpel rather than a hatchet.

But, something has to bloody change. The mentality, the tactics, the coaching. Hell, probably all of it in some combination. If Arsene Wenger can finally admit that adjustments need to be made, then by all means, I will follow to the gates of hell. If he makes changes but six seasons become seven, I'm fine with that. It'd be progress. What I don't want to see is another in an endless and soul-destroying series of Groundhog Day seasons that all begin and end the same way. We deserve better than that.