Ten days into the season, and the ‘Arsenal in crisis’ stories have rarely been more prevalent. The opening exchanges of a new campaign have been, at best, fraught, and at worst, downright embarrassing.
Regular readers will know that I’m one of the most optimistic people out there (for example, I’d suggest that now is an excellent time to place a bet on us finishing in the top four – you’ll get good odds), but even I have to admit that the situation has progressed into the realms of the comical. Let’s just recap.
Three games gone – our major new signing, Gervinho, is one match into a three game suspension, Song is sitting on the sidelines for the same period while his impressive replacement, Frimpong, also misses our frankly frightening trip to Old Trafford. All banned. Alongside them, Wilshere hasn’t yet featured due to injury, Gibbs picked him his inevitable hamstring pull, Djourou followed after less than ten minutes on the field, and now Koscielny and Rosicky are also crocked. Add to that the Chamakh invisibility shield and Squillaci’s
absence due to be quite plainly awful and out of favour ‘injury’, and the squad is looking staggeringly threadbare.
And I haven’t even mentioned the departures yet.
Back in March, we had a massive squad, and for once, they were largely fit. The bench was packed with talent, some getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of opportunities. Fast forward six months, and the inexperienced raw kids that you would want to see on a Carling Cup night have moved from the reserves, on to the bench, and then straight into our exposed team for vital early season clashes. Crazy doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Cesc, Nasri, Denilson (loan), Clichy, and Vela (loan) have gone, all players that played significant parts of last season. And behind them, JET, Randall and Traore (loan) have also been shunted out the exit door. Coming the other way, there is potential in Jenkinson, Miyaichi, Campbell and Oxlade-Chamberlain, but only the former has seen minutes so far and has, on occasion, looked as raw as you would expect a man so young to be. Only Gervinho has experience, and despite his early red card for slapping Joey Barton (frankly, I wish he had properly hit him, and he probably does too), he is at least a breath of fresh air. Relying on any of the others is as unfair on them as it is inevitable.
In the league, we have already paid a heavy price for the uncertainty around the squad. While we looked good defensively against Newcastle, we barely threatened, and that story was to repeat itself against Liverpool on Saturday, only for Ramsey’s freakish own goal to put the visitors in control, a lead they had never looked like gaining, but equally once ahead, one they were not going to let slip. Even the bright points were bittersweet – Frimpong was terrific but his sending off leaves us short of options for Old Trafford, while Nasri gave us a timely reminder of how good a player he can be before finally completing his move to Man City. A painful day all round.
The story in Europe is not as bad – despite a very impressive Udinese side coming to the Emirates looking for goals, they went away with nothing, leaving Walcott’s early strike the difference between the sides. Wilshere looks set to miss the second leg, but with the domestically suspended trio and Van Persie all available, we have a good chance of nicking the away goal that should send us through. And what a relief that would be.
However, even the silver lining of Europe has a cloud of frustration hanging over it, namely Wenger’s frankly nonsensical two match ban for ‘contravening the terms of his initial suspension’. Arsenal asked for clarity before the first leg, and were told by the UEFA delegate that Wenger could communicate with staff, but not be pitchside, in the dressing room or have any direct communication with the team until fifteen minutes after the final whistle. At half time, they changed their tune, saying he could not even communicate with staff, and despite him following that rule in the second period, they have still slapped him with a fine equal to one they often dish out for overt crowd racism, along with a two match suspension.
We should not be surprised, given Platini’s long standing feud with Wenger, but it still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. They have spent the summer ignoring all forms of tapping up and financial irregularity, but have decreed this to be the hot topic that requires their attention. What a petty bunch of small minded morons.
Arsenal are appealing, but UEFA have already shown their hand by saying that the appeal will be heard after the second leg, during which Wenger will sit in the stands anyway. It is a farce no matter which way you look at it.
I have to say I’ve always found the concept of touchline bans odd. In what other profession could an organisation that is not the direct employer of an individual prevent them from walking into their place of work (owned by their employer, not the organisation), or even conversing with fellow employees? Just for laughs, I’d love to see it challenged in court – it is flimsier than Joey Barton’s conscience.
The only saving grace is that if this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, that this is the catalyst for a siege mentality within the club, then it might eventually be seen as a good thing. Because right now, it feels like a scriptwriter is taking the piss.
“We’re going to get someone goaded by Joey Barton into getting suspended. Which club shall we go for?”
“Make it Arsenal. And make it two players. Oh, and make sure one of the players is the only player available in that position. And if they find a decent kid to replace him the following game, get him sent off too.”
“Great idea. Now we need to throw in a string of injuries in someone’s backline. They all have to be innocuous – you know, a back seizing up when no-one is near the player, a few muscle pulls, that sort of thing. All have to be defenders from the same club, just to put the shits up them.”
“Oh, make that Arsenal too. Everyone says they need defenders anyway, might as well give them an excuse to trot that line out again.”
“Ooo, I’ve just had this hilarious own goal idea where a defender boots it against another one, and it loops in. That’d be BRILLIANT. Maybe we should give that one to…..”
“Arsenal. Definitely Arsenal. And make one of the players a replacement defender for all those you crocked earlier. The irony will be hilarious. The manager will be livid. Find a way to ban him too. Just for a giggle.”
It is the sort of situation we find highly amusing in other clubs, but it is painful to have it happen to our own. Of course, it is fixable – we are utterly flush with money after receiving enormous sums for Cesc and Nasri, and with Wenger promising to spend before the window shuts, he has to find the right people, and quickly. Frankly, paying a little over the odds is to be expected now – everyone knows we’re desperate and holding out for the best deals would be futile. Get them done.
But first, we have an enormous match to tackle. I’m not talking about United, a game I was writing off even before I saw that Howard Webb had been put in charge, but Udinese. Qualification for the Champions League would be an enormous boost, and would leave no reason for players not to join. The alternative is not worth contemplating.
Tomorrow is pivotal.