With five games to go, 3rd place was in Arsenal’s hands. It wasn’t the season we’d hoped for, but considering how badly we started, we looked like saving some dignity. Four games later, we are looking at another typical end-of-season collapse.
Of course, it’s nothing like last season, where the prize we’d lost was far greater. This season there was never any hope of a title challenge, but following some strong form in March/April, we looked like saving ourselves from embarrassment. Once again our destiny was in our own hands and we couldn’t finish the job, something all too typical of Wenger’s teams to be considered a coincidence. In recent seasons our April/May form has been terrible; when it comes down to the most important games, the players we rely on most go missing.
Today at the Emirates Wojciech Szczesny in particular had a nightmare. He was clearly at fault for both goals in our home defeat to Wigan, and his weak hand on Norwich’s equaliser today started the mess. Although not directly at fault for the other two, he looked uncertain in everything he did.
There is no doubt he is a talented goalkeeper, and it would be wrong not to credit him for some of his saves that have kept us in games this season, but when you rely on youth there is always a chance of nerves or a lack of concentration. It looked like we finally had this cursed position sorted but, like most of the team, it could do with strengthening this summer. Despite some impressive-looking saves, his stats are poor, with a save percentage of only 63.3%, superior only to Paddy Kenny, Jussi Jaaskelainen and Paul Robinson (stats courtesy of @Orbinho). We lack, at least, an alternative to the young Pole if he does hit a bad patch. Fabianski is not someone we want to be looking to to come in for any prolonged period of time.
Of course, Szczesny is not helped by the fact that our defending is so often terrible. Today, as on many other occasions, players like Ramsey and Gibbs simply jogged back while Norwich broke at pace. How the players fail to learn from these mistakes is beyond me. Of course there has to be something wrong in the coaching, but it’s hard to believe there isn’t ANYONE looking at goals conceded at, for instance, QPR and reminding players to track back and put more pressure on other teams when they have the ball. The players were excellent at this against Manchester City when we claimed one of our biggest scalps of the season, so one has to assume it’s a motivation issue.
We are clearly capable of giving more. Big games seem to bring the best out of us, and yet perfectly winnable games like QPR away, Wigan at home and Norwich at home bring out the lazy and cocky Arsenal; the Arsenal that thinks it just has to show up to get three points. Aside from the opening two minutes in which we scored our opener today, we were simply nowhere to be seen until around the hour-mark. We took a 1-0 lead and didn’t bust a gut to add to it. From then on we were simply outplayed by Paul Lambert’s side. By half time the visitors had had a couple of penalty appeals wrongly turned down. Let this sink in: we were lucky not to be 4-1 down at home to Norwich at half time.
Two well-taken goals by Robin van Persie eventually saw us in front. At this point again we lacked the maturity and composure to see the game out. We were over-excited and looking too desperately for a 4th, leaving ourselves wide open at the back when Norwich scored their third. Once again Gibbs was miles away, jogging back lazily, but perhaps he was tired from all the running forward he’d been doing. At 3-2 there was no need to keep playing like we were losing, but these players lack any tactical awareness. After taking the lead, Norwich were obviously going to come at us and we needed to slow the game down, keep the ball and kill their momentum. I’ve seen this from Arsenal so many times this season and, quite frankly, I’m sick of talking about it.
We can still hope Aston Villa do us a massive favour against Spurs tomorrow, and it’s probable that Man City will beat Newcastle. However, I don’t see us winning at West Brom on the final day. We’re leaking stupid goals and our attitude stinks. West Brom are a good side and will want to send Roy Hodgson out on a high. I am officially giving up on 3rd place, and I’m not too confident of 4th either. Even then, Chelsea could defend their way to winning the Champions League and 4th won’t be enough. It doesn’t look good. And as much as we can bemoan Chelsea’s ridiculous luck in Europe this season, or even some questionable refereeing today (I’d still argue the penalty shouts evened out), this is entirely of our own making.
Wherever we finish, this is yet more evidence of Wenger’s decline. He simply has to go, or we can look forward to more misery every Spring.