Regular readers of this blog will know that neither of the two D words in the headline are those I ever use about Arsenal, or anything connected with this great club. Optimistic and defensive in the extreme, I’m not one for reactionary anger, at least inwardly (opposition and incompetent officials are a different story), preferring attempts to rationalise and find mitigating reasons for the bad days.
But sometimes, you have to call a spade a spade. Wednesday night was an absolute shambles, with the worrying combination of an apparent lack of drive, and an inability to do any of the basics, ensuring that we had absolutely no chance against a Milan side who, while perfectly capable, were not as good as we made them look. From back to front we were beyond ordinary – simple passes cut us apart, while our own simple passes went astray.
But most worrying of all were the lack of excuses available for the defeat. We aren’t riddled with injuries, we weren’t tired coming into the game, and while their penalty was soft, our heavy defeat was not the fault of the officials. So it was no surprise to hear that Wenger, who puts an enormous amount of trust in the players, tore into them at training the next day. The press claim that as another sign of crisis – personally I like hearing it. That Wenger is so angry means that he still has the drive himself, the question is whether he can instill that in the players again.
Which brings us to this afternoon. In an hour or so, we kick off a tricky cup tie away at Sunderland. We won there last weekend in the league, but it required a late winner from a certain Frenchman who is no longer with us, after a week in which Sunderland were taken to extra time by Middlesbrough. This time round, we are the ones with the heavy legs, while they have enjoyed a week off. It will be tougher.
I don’t care if we play poorly again today, I really don’t. The only thing I care about is that the players have the same on-pitch reaction that Wenger had on the training ground on Thursday. If they do, the result could follow – if they don’t, we will surely lose to a well drilled Sunderland side on a pitch that has already claimed Mertesacker as a victim (quite how a Premiership club can even be allowed to have such dangerous playing conditions is another question entirely).
And if we look disinterested again today, in the one competition we still stand a chance of winning, then very serious questions need to be asked, from top to bottom. It will start with the players, of which there should (and I suspect will) be quite the overhaul this summer, but Wenger also has to answer plenty, given that the squad is entirely his to answer for.
A win would be a wonderful fillip. United and City are out, while Chelsea added to their congested fixture list by drawing at home to Birmingham at lunchtime. The FA Cup is really opening up, and with the exit to Milan now inevitable, our eased schedule means that we have as good a chance as any to lift the trophy in May. A draw is far from ideal, because it places a replay on Tuesday night, just days before the most important North London derby in years. Lose, and the reaction will be vicious.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I love the FA Cup and want this particular journey to continue, and as a club it feels like we need it to continue to reverse the negativity that is only ever one bad result away.
Enjoy the game.