Following Arsenal these last few weeks has felt a little like being a nightclub DJ at 3am when everyone left an hour ago. It has been an effort to muster up the interest, largely because it has been so plainly obvious that the players felt precisely the same way. That some of them were playing for their futures didn’t seem to hit home, neither did the fact that at no point was our season officially over. Every match until the very last one mattered for some tangible reason, even if it was eventually the failed avoidance of a Champions League qualifier.
How did we get here? Just two months ago we had the league title in our hands, and were riding high off the back of a stunning win over Barcelona. We had a healthier squad than usual, were in a cup final, and Van Persie was scoring for fun. The latter is the only thing that has remained, and for that the Dutchman should get immense credit. Sadly, his astonishing achievements have been overshadowed by the malaise that hangs over the heads of his teammates.
It is extraordinary to recall that the league title was truly a two horse race, and we were one of the horses. It is worth noting that United’s total of 80 points is five fewer than they managed last season, when they didn’t even lift the trophy. Even with their late winners, their ability to pull a result out of the fire, they were there to be beaten by a solid team. But none was to be found.
Even after we started to fall away, when Chelsea were hitting form and second place looked in danger, I said that it wouldn’t take a brilliant run of form to hang on to a top two slot. Chelsea had a tough run in and would drop points – they should be relatively straightforward to catch again. And I was right – they lost two out of their last three games and finished on 71 points, a massive fifteen less than last season. And they were indeed caught on the final day, but not by us. By Manchester City.
And just to be clear – City haven’t had a massively improved season, contrary to what you will be reading. They only managed four more points than last season, a season in which they didn’t reach the Champions League. Their 71 points would not have been enough for a top four finish two years ago.
There have been great moments this season, flashes of brilliance and even good spells on form early on. But we have chucked it away in spectacular fashion. Put it this way – after 27 games, we were on 56 points. Sixteen points from the last eleven games would have been enough for second place, but we managed just twelve. That is relegation form, stretched out for nearly a third of the season. It is a quite remarkable collapse.
All we can hope for is that this is the trough from which we start to climb. The fallibility of the squad is now an unquestionable fact – not even Wenger can claim few changes are required. And although he is still talking about the players in a positive light, I’m going to ignore that entirely and look at his actions. He either wants to keep, or get the best price for, each individual, so he isn’t going to be publicly admitting some of them aren’t actually up to much.
In that regard, the wheels are already moving. Denilson and Bendtner have already stated their intentions to leave, Rosicky is unlikely to get another contract, and Clichy’s contract situation gets more untenable by the day. I’m less concerned about Nasri as all the noises I’m hearing are that his contract is due to be signed imminently, but others will surely be on their way out. Almunia and Eboue are dead certs.
Not even Wenger can lose six or seven members of his first team squad without bringing in replacements. And he will have funds – Clichy and Bendtner appear to be highly sought after and will command decent fees. This summer could and should be the busiest we’ve seen in years.
With Chelsea, City, United, Liverpool and maybe even Spurs likely to improve next season, it will need to be.