Arsenal 0-1 Blackburn
Saturday’s dismal defeat at home to Blackburn, in the FA Cup, only served to prove once again that Arsenal’s current squad is simply not good enough. Arsene Wenger cannot afford to rotate his team selection even against a Championship side, as the Gunners do not possess the strength in depth required to do this. And yet when reading out the names of those selected on Saturday, Arsenal really should have been able to secure their progression to the next round of the competition.
The utterly useless Gervinho and relatively inexperienced Coquelin aside, a team containing the likes of Szczesny, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Monreal, Diaby, Rosicky, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Giroud should have enough quality to overcome a Blackburn side that simply came to the Emirates with the sole aim of securing a replay. Michael Appelton’s side were well organised as they defended as deep as possible, allowing the Gunners to enjoy plenty of possession while asking the question, “can you break us down?”
The answer from the home side was an emphatic no, as Arsenal continually played in front of Blackburn, with no drive, determination or injection of pace whatsoever. Much has been made of the away side’s heroic defending but in truth they couldn’t have enjoyed an easier day at the office. There was no slick interplay between the Gunners midfield and attack, no passing and movement and without Jack Wilshere there was no one willing to drive forward from midfield. As a result, throughout the entire 90 minutes Arsenal failed to consistently pull the Blackburn defence out of position and get in behind them, with the Gunners seemingly stuck in a general malaise, slowly passing the ball amongst themselves, enjoying ample possession but ultimately doing nothing with it.
In fact Arsenal only managed to create one clear cut opportunity, which unfortunately fell to Gervinho, who could only direct his shot wide of goal, having been put clean through by Rosicky’s excellent pass.
Oliver Giroud, who performed so well against Sunderland, particularly in linking the play, was extremely poor on Saturday. Time and time again, as the Frenchman received the ball he would immediately attempt to flick it on to a teammate. Yet with so many Blackburn players in and around the penalty area, Giroud’s flicked passes were blocked every time and the attack fizzled out. The former Montpellier man clearly did not have the astuteness to either recognise his approach was not working or initiate an alternative tactic such as holding onto possession before playing a more measured pass. In fact Giroud spent much of the game with his back to goal, never attempting to turn and face the opposition and as a result was largely ineffective.
In the post-match press conference, Wenger pointed to the number of shots on target his side had registered but this only served to highlight the old saying “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Yes Arsenal did have 26 shots on goal and 12 on target but apart from Diaby’s header in the first half and Rosicky’s effort which came back off the crossbar in the second period, Blackburn goalkeeper Jack Kean was rarely troubled, as most of the Gunners attempts either flashed wide or were simple saves he would have been expected to make.
Wenger finally decided to introduce the cavalry in the 71st minute, making a triple substitution with the introduction of Cazorla, Wilshere and Walcott. The intent was clearly for Arsenal to raise their game and push on, but minutes later, Colin Kazim-Richards completely deflated the Emirates stadium by scoring the winner. Martin Olsson’s shot should have been pushed away from goal by Szczesny, but the Arsenal goalkeeper could only parry the ball straight to Kazim-Richards who saw his mishit effort bounce off the ground and into the corner of the goal.
Vociferous boos rained down from the stands at the final whistle for a performance which in the manager’s words wasn’t good enough. While the players selected should be held accountable for producing such a woeful and insipid display, Wenger must ultimately assume responsibility. The Frenchman has decided to sign every single one of them and if they do not possess the talent, hunger and desire required to play for Arsenal Football Club then he only has himself to blame. It would appear that selling star player after star player and buying mediocre replacements, year on year, has finally caught up with the manager. The man, who in his early days with the Gunners was obsessed with winning, has allowed his decision making to become clouded by his desire to increase the club’s revenue.
Why would you rest star players for a competition you have a chance of winning, only to play them in one in which you have no hope? Not even the most optimistic Arsenal fans believe their side can win the Champions League this season and yet Wenger decided to prioritise it ahead of the FA cup. When viewed from a purely football perspective this decision is most perplexing, yet Wenger’s logic is easily ascertained when you consider that the money received for progressing to the next stage of the Champions League would be far greater than the financial reward for winning the FA Cup.
Thanks to the manager’s fixation with generating impressive balance sheets, Arsenal can now look forward to an eight straight season without a trophy. In previous years the fans could at least console themselves with the fact their side played some of the most attractive football in Europe, but not anymore. Mediocrity has now engulfed this once great club and performances this season have often been dire. The calls for Wenger to be given his marching orders have never been louder, but the board will probably stick by the manager and he will see out his current contract which runs to 2014. Yet this in itself leaves the club in an interesting predicament.
Since Saturday’s defeat, the newspapers have proclaimed that Arsenal will this summer revitalise their squad and spend the £70 million they have available. If the club were to do this however, they would also then need to offer Wenger a new contract. Surely it would be foolish to allow the manager to spend a large percentage of the cash available from the new sponsorship deal with the Emirates airline, only to then have to replace him a year later with another manager who would need more money to implement his own ideas. Yet on the other hand, many believe that Wenger’s powers have diminished and only a change in manager will relieve Arsenal from their current state of perpetual stagnation.
Does this once great manager deserve one last chance to spend big in an attempt to revitalise the club?