Is Carling Cup defeat to Birmingham a defining moment for Arsene Wenger?
Will Arsenal's season implode?
OK another ‘who is to blame’ situation, was it Scczesny’s lack of authority in not pushing Koscienly out of the way to claim the ball or was it the defender’s fake clearance that resulted in him effectively dummying his goalkeeper. Who knows and moreover who cares. The fact is that Arsenal lost and in a split moment another bit of silverware slipped through their fingers in frustratingly familiar fashion.
Let’s not get carried away with Arsenal’s so called defensive frailty. Statistically, it is a complete myth stirred up by their incessant detractors. What they do suffer with is a continual turnover of goalkeepers and central defenders who are regularly faced with the thankless task of last ditch defending behind a very offensive (in the attacking sense) mentality. By default, Arsenal play with six players at least in the opposition half. Most of their opponents play with two up front. As for heading practice, I do not picture their training sessions involving too much running down the wings and crossing the ball over while I do perceive an incessant 'let's keep the ball' philosophy from goal line to goal line.
Often exposed to opposing forwards and minimum cover around them, I actually think Arsenal have incredibly good defenders particularly in one-on-one situations. However, they are sometimes burdened with Wenger’s unrelenting determination to have a team of players conditioned with ball retention in all situations and every position. It is this element of their game that regularly leads to defensive errors and Sunday’s b@#lls up was testament to this factor. Hitting Row Z is certainly not something that comes naturally to Arsenal defenders although like it or ‘lump’ it, even Brazil’s best recognised that there are moments when percentage play comes into effect. As a respected ex-pro diplomatically suggested about Koscienly's indecision during Sunday night's match highlights “one thing's for sure, as long as he plays from now on, he will never do that again”.
The question now is where Wenger and his team goes from here. Surely they will be mentally floored by their failure being that it was in touching distance. Yes, there are comparatively bigger fish to fry ahead of them but they will probably feel like mountains to climb at this moment with having to immediately overcome a confident, physically strong and well-drilled Leyton Orient side in a game where they now have everything to lose. As for winning other trophies, there is the difficult task of negotiating Man Utd on their home patch and getting above them in the league. Of course, there is also the now even more daunting task of getting past Barcelona at the Nou Camp. There is real danger ahead for another spectacularly imploding season which initially held so much promise.
What Wenger has missed over the last five years is not good defenders but more the no nonsense, out and out battling individuals like Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn that underpinned his early successes. He further replaced these types with the mountainous Sol Campbell, the hard-as-nails warrior Lauren and the snarling Ashley Cole (alright stop the booing). These were tough, uncompromising defenders who attackers faced with trepidation and once they were galvanised through adversary, you could smell their opponent’s resignation even before they set foot on the pitch. The current young group of sophisticates are certainly no pushovers but as defenders go, they are a particularly inoffensive bunch who hardly sends shivers down the spine. Arguably, Vermaelen might be regarded as something of a throwback to the aforementioned characters and he has been sorely missed. But his sole absence should not be an excuse for lack of defensive tenacity.
Certainly, Arsenal’s season is far from over and with the players that bit older, wiser and having been wounded before, they may indeed show the ‘mental strength’ and ‘resilience’ Wenger proclaims to drive this unit forward. Without doubt Jack Wilshere has added a bit more security alongside Song and between them, after a nervy start, they began to get to grips with the Birmingham midfield. It is also worth noting that the two talismanic figures of Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott were absent on Sunday and they were unable to call on the services of the suspended Abou Diaby. Losing the injury prone Van Persie meant they had four key players off the pitch who would definitely have made a difference on it. If these players alongside Vermaelen and the returning Arron Ramsey find their form and maintain good health during the run-in to the season then all might not yet be over. Nasri after a flying start seems to be playing within himself at the moment but Arshavin seems on the verge of returning to his old self. As for the likes of Bendtner, time is surely overdue for him to pull his head out of his a*#$e and start putting in some consistent team performances. His continual attempts to pull off cameo match winning performances are as tiresome as they are ineffective.
Carling cup victory would have had players and fans alike jumping with the positive vibes of joy and the vision of an unprecedented quadruple. I am not sure that the reality of the games immediately ahead and lack of defensive experience would necessarily have enabled them to fulfil such lofty ambitions just yet. However, there is one thing for sure, Wenger's pot of legitimate excuses is running dry and the heavy schedule of fixtures needing to be negotiated to achieve shining, gleaming trophy success is peppered with the potential potholes of further failure. With criticism for 'The Arsenal' always just a journalists pen stroke and commentators breath away, the defeat against Birmingham has become something of a defining moment for the club and more specifically Arsene Wenger. The unflinching support of the Gunners faithful is a little more tenuous after Sunday's defeat and may become more tethered if the season slides downhill. Could the unthinkable happen where it becomes completely severed by season end?
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