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Arsenal Review: Welcome To The Nightmare

Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel
Was just a freight train coming your way
Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel
Was just a freight train coming your way

If there’s one thing I can say about Arsenal’s current form, they can break through the fog of my pursuit of  Master’s Degree and force me to put some thoughts down.  Hey, it’s the things one has to do in order to stay sane.  (You’d imagine sports were the diversion, but you’d be so, so wrong).  Now…where do I start?

Obviously, by now, you know of the mess we made at Ewood Park.  Leading 2-1 at halftime and, one has to say, looking good doing it, I doubt anyone could predict the capitulation that followed.  Two own goals – by two of our senior, experienced defenders, no less – leaves us with just 4 points from the first 5 games and 15th on the table.  Through these first 5 games, there’s been 5 goals scored…but 14 goals conceded.  Depending on results tomorrow, we could very well find Arsenal in a relegation spot come Monday. 

Naturally, the reaction has been all over the place.  Anger, frustration, anger, desperation, anger, recriminations, anger, shock, dismay, crazed laughter, derision from some corners and, of course, more anger.  Some blame the departures of players.  Others point the fingers square at the manager.  Others say it’s the board or the people above the manager.  And all are certain that this is the year Arsenal are finally found.  Oh, and somewhere, the media executives, editors and pundits are thankful for the chance to trot out their broken cannon images and their “Arsenal In Crisis” headlines again. 

This follows the perceived “turning of the corner” that happened within the last week, where a win at home against Swansea and a draw against Borussia Dortmund seemed to signal a slow crawl out of the pit.

But that’s obviously not the story anymore.

Look, some will blame the players.  But a lot of what has gone wrong this year is the same that’s gone wrong in years past.  The same set piece defending (actually, just defending in general) remains shambolic.  The inability to hold leads.  The toothlessness in front of goal.  The mental capitulation when the tide turns against the team.  The players change but the song remains the same.

And before you say, “it’s because we don’t have Cesc Fabregas or Samir Nasri,” let’s remember: Cesc played at St. James for that 4-4 draw.  Samir Nasri started at the heart of midfield in that Carling Cup monstrosity as well as the disaster at Wigan.  Having talented players has not been the answer to our issues. 

Some might say it’s because we have never solved our defenders issue – that, if only, we had bought Gary Cahill or Christopher Samba and/or Scott Dann (the latter two started against us today) it would have been different.  Go back, though, and examine how many defenders we’ve brought in since 2006:  William Gallas (Free), Kieran Gibbs (Free), Bacary Sagna (£7M), Mikael Silvestre (£750K), Thomas Vermaelen (£10M), Laurent Koscielny (£8.5M), Sol Campbell (Free), Carl Jenkinson (£1M) Andres Santos (6M) and Per Mertesacker (£10M).  You’ve got experienced Premier League winners, a former Arsenal legend, talented young defenders and seasoned experienced veterans for a total of just over £43 million. 

So…if it’s not the players, it’s gotta be the man in charge, right?

It would be easy to scream for Arsene Wenger’s job like many have.  And I am sure that is happening as we speak.  Even the most devout Wenger loyalist has to say that 2011 has been his worst year ever.  He looks dejected, tired and, most of all, lost.  He’s watched his side destroy leads at Newcastle and at Blackburn, seen his side give away a trophy to a relegated Birmingham and experienced his worst defeat ever.  If he were to say he’s had enough, I don’t know that many would stop him.

The problem I have is that I don’t know that firing the manager is the solution that many make it out to be.  If it were, I’d pack his bags myself, build him a statue and send him to a retirement career in French TV.  Oh, I’m sure a new manager would mean changes.  It’d have to.  However, changes for the sake of changes can be just as destructive as constructive.  Firing Jose Mourinho didn’t make Chelsea better.  Shipping Martin Jol out for Juande Ramos didn’t bring much more success to Tottenham nor did firing Ramos and bringing in ‘Arry Redknapp – their Top 4 finish that year had as much to do with Liverpool’s woes and Manchester City’s misfirings than anything they did.

And that doesn’t take into account the real problem that, by now, any manager we might covet is likely working at another place.  So firing Wenger means having to go finding a replacement in the recycling bin.  Anyone up for Rafa Benitez?  Claudio Ranieri?  Or maybe we can convince Sven-Goran Eriksson to leave Notts County.

Plus, getting a new manager doesn’t guarantee that the new boss will get the funds to refit the team as he desires.  How much of Arsenal’s roster deficiencies are down to Wenger and how many to the board or the executive?  Who makes the final decision to spend?  We don’t know.  We think it’s Arsene, but that’s only because he comes out and takes responsibility.  Is it true or is he being a company man to cover the bosses above?

Let me introduce two words you are likely to hear and read a lot in the next few days: systemic and endemic.  Systemic means pertaining to or affecting the body as a whole.  Endemic means natural to or characteristic of a specific people or place.  Right now, I think the problems within Arsenal are systemic – that is, they are affecting the club as a whole, but they can be fixed.  They are on the verge of becoming endemic – like Spurs finishing below us – these problems can come to define the club.  

Now some might say that the constant injuries, the mental lapses, the poor defending and the choking away are endemic.  But I don’t think so.  I think (and some of it might just be dumb fan’s hope) that the problems we have can be fixed.  That coaching can cure our defensive issues.  That the right leaders (like Vermaelen and Wilshere) can prevent heads from going down and spirits sagging when adversity hits us.  That Arsene Wenger still has the know-how and skills to turn this team around.

The greatest problem is that so much ground has been lost that every setback becomes bigger and bigger.  And we’ve only begun the season.  How many more chances are there to be had?  How much longer do we hope for that light at the end of the tunnel? 

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