FTK blog: Have we made progress? and Hitler reacts to Blackburn...

The season is again drawing to a close, and Arsenal fans can rightly claim a sense of frustration and deja vu about the opportunities missed. The same weaknesses prevail and finally Arsene Wenger has acknowledged our defensive flaws publicly, something that we the fans all knew three seasons ago.
On this blog I have argued time and again that success begins at the back. Arsene Wenger should  have know himself as his first two successful seasons were founded upon the best back four ever to grace the Premiership. Yet it does not serve our purpose to keep harping back to former glories, and even less satisfying to recall the names Dixon, Bould, Adams and Winterburn. Since the departure of these players, Arsene Wenger has failed to rebuild a back four worthy of their comparison. Not least is the deficiency in the goalkeeping department, the very bedrock upon which all good defences are based.
David Seaman may have had a problem with long high balls across the face of his goal in the latter stages of his career, but no-one can ignore the fact that his skills were key to our championship wins. After Seaman, there came the mercurial Jens Lehmann, misfit or genius? Whatever your judgement, please never forget that he was the keeper that held the gloves for the arguably the best achievement of any Arsenal team that ever existed, the win in the 2003/4 season, our Invincibles. Almunia has failed to cement the confidence of Arsene Wenger, and the latest gaffs of Fabianski are leaving Gooners close to despair.
Whilst the stats argue that Arsenal continue to make progress, FTK is predictably going to swim against the accepted wisdoms by saying whilst this season is not a failure, it certainly is not one to be proud of. Arsenal fans have now had to learn to accept second best, not a comfortable position from the the early years of Wenger’s reign. We have had luck this season, and had one of Manchester United and Chelsea been more consistent, then we would have been out of the championship race long ago.
I argue that the final league position is not because the premier league has become stronger, rather that Arsenal has yet again failed to strengthen in key areas at a time when our rivals became weaker. The wunderkid Ronaldo left Manchester United, the pass master Alonso left Liverpool and Chelsea’s keeper Petr Cech became inconsistent,  The club has been carried by teenagers and players who should still be learning their trade. In truth, I suppose that in itself, it is something that Arsene Wenger can be proud of, yet Arsene has hardly aided their development by failing to replace the experience that Thierry Henry, Dennis Berkamp and Patrick Vieira must have provided on the training field.
Vermaelen was a revelation, but for Arsene Wenger to argue and finally realise that the problems lie defensively is hardly something to feel proud of. Blaming everyone except the person responsible for buying and strengthening the squad is now becoming tiresome and I expect better from our great manager.
So the stats say that Arsenal were close to amassing the highest number of points for several seasons and the final league position now on offer since the dark weeks in November is something that most of us will concede as progress, but where I argue that we have gone backwards is in our work ethic. Arsenal players have become slower in reactions and lazier in putting pressure on the ball. We have ceased to become exponents of Wengerball, the art of one touch passing and high paced counter attacking. We seem lethargic and often taking two touches before running into a brick wall of defenders.
Our obsession with trying to thread the ball through the middle has become so predicable that we are the only team in the top four that teams lower down the league are able to harbour hopes of getting something out of the game. I shall give you an example. Earlier in the season Wolverhampton Wanderers were fined for fielding a weakened team against Manchester United, they would never have done that against The Arsenal. Then one can recall that in 2005, teams often set up weak formations against Chelsea at the business end of the season. There was a sense of inevitability about the results and so Chelsea profited from this mindset and won games just by turning up in the team bus. Here at the Emirates since the departure of Thierry Henry, Arsenal teams have failed in their ability to strike fear into the opposition. One gets the regular impression that teams love to play Arsenal to prove that they are no longer the irresistable force.
Arsenal players hardly score from outside of 18 yards, and are now vulnerable to rapid counterattacking. Diaby gets pushed off the ball far too easily. the passion has gone only to be replaced by a creeping lethargy which pervades the entire squad. The fans have become disalllusioned and worse still, the divisions between supporters increase. So as the vultures of doom circle, we reflect on what might have been. There is not much wrong that a decent goalkeeper, centre back and holding midfielder to assist Song would not put right. For the fourth highest wage bill in the Premier league, we are getting poor value for money.
It is now time to face home truths and realise that if in the event Manchester City achieve fourth spot, we will again be pushed further down the pecking order. If the Manchester United Red Knights pull off their takeover and leave the club virtually debt free, we will be left yet again to pick up the scraps from the bargain basement of players left after the big boys have had their fill. I can see very little change in our league position next season if Wenger only brings in Chamakh on a free and one other player.
We have become wedded to a top four postion and regular Champions league football, but unless we invest, we will remain stuck in this slot, with no hope of beating those teams who invest heavily. The obscene investments of the Chelsea’s, Real Madrid and Manchester City are wrong in principle, and there should be fairness with regard to wage/turnover ratios, but until clubs are heavily regulated to get their financial affairs in order, we shall sit on the moral high ground isolated and outside of the trophy banquet hall. What is really galling is that the expenditure of only £40 million over two seasons would have given us at least one title in my reckoning. Perhaps the critics of Arsene Wenger are right, winning trophies of merit is a measure of progress, especially that we are some five years down the line with this youth experiment.  I shall keep the faith because if we don’t who will…?

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