It has been a while. I’ve been on a self-imposed blogging break, partly due to work pressures, partly to do with an inability to collect my thoughts into something coherent. If I had written anything, chances are it would have been something of a ramble, repeating many of the things I’d said before, with a few platitudes thrown in for good measure. In other words, it would have resembled one of Wenger’s recent post-match interviews. And we know how well they’ve been going down.
So here are my collected thoughts on each of the pressing issues.
There certainly is a massive air of negativity around the club at the moment, and understandably so. Fading so badly towards the end of a season once is understandable, particularly when you’ve been struggling with injuries as we have in recent years. But not only has that excuse evaporated – Vermaelen aside, most have been available – our fixture list has been so spread out that the usual fatigue is not applicable. Since losing to Barcelona on March 8, we’ve had only one midweek game.
It annoys me that the pundits were right when they pointed to our mental fragility. It winds me up that those comments made earlier in the season, and dismissed during our optimistic moments, have been proven accurate. Two wins in eleven games is an appalling return when challenging for silverware, and the knowledge that even a semi-decent finish to the season would have resulted in Cesc lifting the Premiership trophy makes the collapse harder to bear.
We do lack leaders and organisers. That is no slight on Cesc or his captaincy, which I think is untouchably excellent. When people claim we are missing drive, they miss the point by accusing our captain. It is a bit like being in a supermarket with one till open and a massive queue. There is no point complaining to the person at the till – it is everyone else who is the problem. You cannot single-handedly make a team drive forward, likewise you cannot unfrighten ten jittery teammates by yourself. Everyone has to stand up and be counted, and quite frankly, Cesc is one of the few that do. I cannot understand people who think selling him would be a good move.
The other star of recent weeks has been Van Persie, but despite him scoring so freely, we’ve actually only scored twice in four of our last seventeen games. When you consider that he is breaking goalscoring records, you start to realise he is doing it alone. One of the fundamental strengths of the 4-3-3 system is the swarming nature of the attack, the fact that threats come from six angles at once. Right now, you nullify Van Persie and Cesc, and you nullify the team.
As many others have said, it isn’t all about personnel. Chamakh is the prime example – he arrived as a bulldozing, committed, throw his body on the line type of striker. Now, he is a timid shell of that former self. Is that all down to a lack of confidence, or do we have that effect on players?
I don’t buy the argument that this team doesn’t want to win, or doesn’t care enough about winning to try hard. Instead, I think complacency has set in to a chronic level, to the point where even one of the many lessons we should have learnt this season have not sunk in. This goes beyond just buying new players – someone needs to come in and kick some people up the backside. Wenger isn’t the screaming type, but I don’t see any reason why the likes of Lehmann and Keown cannot become a menacing presence on the training pitch, giving honest assessments and frank criticisms where necessary. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe the players are mollycoddled, but to quote an old phrase, there is no fire in their belly. Put the same squad out next season with the desire United show every week, and we’ll win the league. I have no doubt of that. But right now, we’re miles off.
…were not particularly physical, not particularly aggressive and not in the slightest bit hostile. They didn’t even play that well. But they didn’t need to – we were so woeful that we handed them goals on a plate and then showed no urgency in recovering the situation. It was appalling to watch, and could only be forgiven if the season was truly over.
And just to make the point – it isn’t over. City are two points behind us with two very winnable games remaining. One loss and we could be looking at a Champions League qualifier in August. Had Everton not done us a massive favour by beating City last weekend, we would already be behind them. It baffles me that the players seem so apathetic to their situation.
Despite everything I’ve said above, despite the complete and utter flatness around the club right now, I do not expect many changes this summer. Four or five players are likely to leave, some more obvious than others (anyone seen Denilson recently?). Three or four are likely to come in, down the spine of the team. But there will be no massive overhaul, no ten-man Championship Manager-esque clearout.
Perhaps more important are the peripheral changes. The right coach to give a fresh approach, the right change in attitude from the manager to his failing troops, the right switch of system. Any of those things could elevate this squad without making any personnel changes, but without them it doesn’t matter who we sign – the collective is currently wrong, and the collective doesn’t get fixed by signing Christopher bloody Samba.
This is a massive summer.