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Arsenal Review: Is This Rock Bottom?

Arsenal - Bradford ScorelineI was writing a different piece, one that had nothing to do with the Arsenal.  I figured “Hey, I got time before I need to touch upon the Gunners again.”  And then yesterday’s loss happened.  Damn it.

I don’t care that it was the League (nee Capital One) Cup.  I don’t care that we’ve qualified for the Champions League knockout stages.  Even the win over the weekend against West Brom feels more like a reprieve than a turning of things.  As we stand here today, Arsenal are in the midst of their worst run in the Premier League era and in the worst run under Arsene Wenger.  6 wins, 6 draws and 4 losses in the Premier League for a total of 24 points.  Across all the various competitions, Arsenal’s 2012-13 record so far stands as 10 wins, 8 draws, 7 losses.  (By way of comparison, league-leading Manchester United have a record of 19 wins, 0 draws and 5 losses in all competitions).

And let’s not mince words here: for all the firepower and branding of the Premier League, this isn’t the league of a decade ago.  The super teams (Arsenal’s Invincibles, Man United’s Fledglings, Mourinho’s Chelsea) are nowhere to be found.  Each and every one of the teams in the PL is entirely beatable – even United with their makeshift defense and mixed goalkeeping can be beat as Everton and Norwich showed.  You expect a team to occasionally rise up to the occasion and take a big club’s scalp.  But it seems that Arsenal’s scalp is always there for the taking to anyone who dares to dream.

But it’s been in the cup tournaments where things have stood most dire.  The comeback against Reading may have hidden the many flaws that were exposed that day but the loss against Bradford just put them on display once again.  The poor performances against Montpellier, Schalke and Olympiakos in the Champions League, where we were gifted a good group to dominate and could have won it in the last day if only the reserve team that was out there could have kept Olympiakos out. It seems that this team is incapable of putting together good runs of form across multiple competitions.

Arsenal - GervinhoWhat’s so horrific is not that Arsenal is getting beat but the almost repetitive way they are getting beat.  Press Mikel Arteta and prevent him from moving the ball up.  Put two defenders on Santi Cazorla and deny him anything but the most distant of scoring chances, which he’ll take out of frustration.  Allow Gervinho the chance to run himself ragged down the left channel and he’ll do it every time.  Let Arsenal push the ball out wide to where no one can cross it and there’s no target man.  Go at Thomas Vermaelen and he’ll make a mistake.  Don’t wait for Arsene Wenger to make his substitutions – you know they won’t happen till the 68th minute or so.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Part of the reason I was doing  the “Honest Debate” pieces was that I do think there should be an honest examination of the root causes for the problems that have plagued and continue to plague this club.  After this result, further assessment is likely unnecessary.  We know there’s a problem.  It needs to be fixed and fast!

But here’s where we come to the crux of the problem.  Because there is no easy solution or answer to it that I or any supporter can affect.  Is it firing Arsene Wenger?  Well, the board will never sack him and he’s too proud/stubborn/resolute to resign.  Even if the board found it in their nutsacks to do such a thing, can they be trusted to tap the right replacement?  (Forget Guardiola or Klopp.  Those are bigger pipe dreams that hoping the club will sign Neymar or Falcao).   As for “sacking the Board” (a popular idea on Twitter) all I can say is bitch and please.  Unless you have a billion pounds sitting in your bank account and are willing to trade it in for Stan Kroenke’s shares, the board is going nowhere nor for that matter is Kroenke himself.

Arsenal - AW at BradfordSo is it buying new players?  While I do think reinforcements are in order for this transfer window – a new striker, a new winger, a defensive midfielder should all be considered – I am hesitant to consider that the answer.  After all, today we featured players who have arrived in the most recent transfer windows and make up the bulk of our first team and most of them failed to be counted when it was needed.  From Lukas Podolski to Per Mertesacker and from Marouane Chamakh to Gervinho (and Gerviinho and Gervinho) no one covered themselves in any glory today.  The best that could be said was that guys like Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hustled and busted a gut for the club.  But even that isn’t enough.

However, buying players is a tricky solution because you are always gambling that the new player will bed in straight away while the squad members whose spot is being challenged will respond accordingly.  Now some of that tension should be deflected because players like Chamakh, Arshavin, Squillaci and others have to know that their time at the club is over.  Whether or not they can be moved on is irrelevant.  They might be sold or loaned out, but they’ll likely never wear the red and white past January 2013.  Still, if we buy Huntelaar, are we certain he won’t turn into the next Arshavin?  If we get Zaha, are we buying the next Theo Walcott or the next Alex Hleb?  There are no easy answers in the transfer market.

And this is where we find ourselves.  Without answers or solutions.  What’s worse, we are left with a sense that the people in charge at Arsenal aren’t in much better shape than we are in finding an answer.  Because if they had one, they obviously wouldn’t have waited till now to spring it into action.  I can’t imagine Ivan Gazidis and his team aren’t aware of the troubles Arsenal - Bradfordsurrounding the club or the ire of the supporters.  I also can’t believe they are so obtuse as to believe that the angry mob can be dispersed with a win or two or a shiny new toy (oooohhh, Huntelaar).  Then again, Tom Fox’s recent comments (Read them here if you care) do make me stop and consider that maybe they do, in fact, give little to no care whatsoever to the concerns of the supporters.

As I watched the game, I tweeted that, a decade ago, Arsenal were the cause of both fear and awe in opponents whenever they turned up at their ground.  And it’s true.  The Arsenal of Henry, Vieira, Pires and Bergkamp were like a Ferrari pulling up.  It didn’t matter what you had or where you were.  Everyone had to stop and take a look.  Opponents, specially lower league ones, never stood a chance.  They were affected with a sense that they were playing a different game from the superstars from North London.  Even the sides that featured Fabregas, van Persie and Nasri could inspire fear in opponents.

This Arsenal side scares no one – except Gooners.  Teams don’t cower in fear when they turn up.  They often turn up and appear to have had little to no interaction with one another; forget about appearing as a singular team that is united in both vision and purpose.  Whether that falls on the shoulders of the captain, the manager or higher up is another one of those questions we cannot appear to answer.  Too many questions.  Too many issues.  Not enough answers.  And my concern is that, after Swansea, after Bradford, there might be a lower level of hell to be found in this season.

Rock bottom? We might wish it to be but who can be certain? In this season of questions, it appears none of us know what will happen next – not even the people who are supposed to know better.

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