The Road From Stamford Bridge

Following yesterday afternoon’s deeply disappointing result at Stamford Bridge the Arsenal blogosphere is full of doom and gloom. Nobody feels more depressed than me. I’m starting to have nightmares about Didier Drogba.
First things first. Chelsea were worthy winners yesterday afternoon. There’s no getting around that I’m afraid. Yet again we proved insufficient to the task against one of our closest competitors. It becomes inevitable that the manager’s position will be under the closest scrutiny. Regular visitors to will know that I’m no knee-jerk critic of Arsčne Wenger. If he jacked it in or got fired tomorrow he’d be assured of his position of one of two transcendent Arsenal managers along with Herbert Chapman. We’ve had other excellent managers through the years as well.
George Allison, Tom Whittaker, Bertie Mee and George Graham also deserve mentions. As does Harry Bradshaw who guided us to promotion as runners-up to Preston North End in the old Football League Division Two in 1903/4, our first ever appearance at English football’s top table. Let’s also mention some great coaches we’ve also had, principle amongst them Don Howe (who also occupied the manager’s chair), Ron Greenwood and Dave Sexton, all of whom made great contributions.
We clearly are going to have to address our repeated failure to rebuild a team capable of winning the top flight League. Wenger’s last successful League campaign was in 2004 when that wonderful Invincibles team went 49 League games without defeat. With Jens Lehmann in goal succeeding one of the all-time great Arsenal goalies in David Seaman and a back four of Ashley Cole, Kolo Touré, Sol Campbell and Lauren in front of him and O Muro Invisible (the Invisible Wall) Gilberto in front of them providing cover we could defend as well as attack. We had balance. A balance we singularly lack at the moment.
I never thought Jens Lehmann was the complete answer in goal. He was mad as a March hare and prone to daft errors, but one thing he didn’t lack was confidence, a quality singularly lacking in Manuel Almunia. He’s been particularly jittery recently and this lack of confidence is spreading to the rest of the defence. Neither are the full-backs getting the cover they need out wide. Likewise the central defenders from the central midfield. Quite simply we don’t defend nearly well enough as a team. We’re also much too easily run over physically in the middle of the park.
The frustrating thing is that we can all see the deficiencies, which include giving away far too many “soft” goals. Yet we keep on making the same mistakes. The definition of madness is constantly repeating the same actions and expecting a different outcome.
And yet, and yet. What are we going to achieve by a supporter implosion in the stands? We’ve still got vital League games to play to ensure Champions League football again next season and two vital round of sixteen ties in Oporto next week and at the Grove next month coming up. We play Liverpool at the Grove on Wednesday night. We’re only five points ahead of them in fourth place and six points ahead of Spurs (with a League visit to their place to come). Citeh would be only two points behind us if they were to win their two games in hand. We simply must level out and start to fly straight. If we don’t our season could go into a REAL nose-dive.
I’m afraid we’re going to have to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. We need to get behind the team. Giving them and Wenger the bird is not going to help us salvage what we can from this season. We also need to keep a sense of proportion. It’s not as if we’re plummeting down the table. Neither is a change of manager likely to do anything for us at this stage of the season. Panic is neither dignified nor helpful. Like most Gooners I’m in mood to tear my hair out in frustration at our repeated tactical and mental deficiencies not being addressed. I honestly think these two factors are far more important than perceived lack of physical size, although the latter is a factor.
They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. We’ve got to be strong for the rest of this season to get at least a third place finish in the League and go as far as we can in Europe. At the same time – and behind closed doors – chief executive Ivan Gazidis and the board have to sit down with the manager and ask some very serious questions and get some very serious answers about how we take the team to the next level.
Yes the situation is not yet disastrous. Our continued inability to step up to the next level at home and in Europe is a major concern however. It must be addressed. The planning for next season must start now whilst doing our best to turn around recent disappointments.

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