Arsenal’s Season Takes It Toll
Bolton Wanderers 2 – 1 Arsenal
1 – 0 Sturridge (38)
1 – 1 van Persie (90)
2 – 1 Cohen (48)
Arsenal’s already faded title hopes were extinguished yesterday barring the most spectacular of footballing collapses. A pall hangs in the air this morning, a season which most knew was over in terms of silverware was confirmed in a game which encapsulated Arsenal’s recent form.
A game which should have been won, returned nothing as Arsenal could not find the inspirational moment or player to bring the necessary positive result to bear.
Early chances in a brisk Spring afternoon were falling to the visitors. Walcott was pivotal, Jaaskelainen saving in the fourth minute from the England international whilst Nasri and Cesc might have done better with their opportunities.
Both sides traded jabs for fifteen minutes until just past halfway through the first period, Lee was sent clear by Sturridge. Instead of taking his chance, he sought the perfect goal and Arsenal cleared. The same player would bring saves from Szczesny as the hosts enjoyed a dominant spell.
With half time looming, Arsenal conceded the opening goal. The often criticised defensive provided more evidence of the attention needed, failing to mark Cahill, his header blocked by Nasri before Sturridge threw himself at the rebound and found the net.
It sparked Arsenal briefly into life, Fàbregas’ speculative shot striking the woodwork but a swift equaliser before the break did not materialise. Instead it took three minutes of the second half to arrive but not before the deficit could have been doubled.
Having ignored a stonewall penalty when Taylor bundled Walcott over, Mike Jones judged that Sturridge’s theatrical fall merited a spot kick. Evidence of refereeing inconsistency, a swift viewing of a replay in both instances by the fourth official would have produced alternative outcomes. Szczesny though, was not giving up without a fight and his trailing boot prevented Davies adding to the scoreline.
A crucial miss became more costly when Fàbregas and van Persie combined to allow the Dutchman to score from the edge of the area. It was the incisive break we have come to expect as the norm.
van Persie in the process became the first Premier League player to score in seven consecutive away games. The clamour for a strike partner for the Dutchman needs to consider his record and whether how much it would be adversely affected before shouting too loudly.
Two inspirational moments could not bring the necessary change in fortunes. Arsenal were lacklustre but lacked verve. A winner was going to come from a piece of luck or a moment of brilliance. The latter nearly came from Samir Nasri, his effort blocked by Jaaskelainen.
The winner came from the same area as the opening goal. Arsenal failed to mark at a corner and Tamir Cohen headed home. What followed highlighted the mess that football’s regulators have created. No-one could have been failed to appreciate Cohen’s feelings for his late father, the referee followed the letter of the law and booked him.
Why? Referees are allowed to provide subjective interpretations on foul play, their discretion apparent in handing out yellow and red cards for transgressions yet in commonsense decisions, their hands are tied.
The match was all too symptomatic of Arsenal’s season and within minutes it was over.
A visibly shattered Arsène shouldered the blame, diverting attention from the players. Post-match the manager observed,
If anybody is to blame it is me. I pick the team, I choose the players. I feel the players have had an outstanding attitude for the whole season but they are not to blame.
Yes, it is very unsatisfactory not to win anything. It was one of the easiest run-ins we have had for a long, long time. We still lack maturity, experience and calm in important situations.
Football is a microcosm of society, this morning’s tabloids when they are not bathing in false nationalism over this week’s Royal Wedding, are bemoaning soft parenting and lack of discipline.
Arsène certainly might be considered guilty of the former by protecting the players.His strongest XI with one possible exception, was on show yesterday and could not muster the win required. It is impossible to judge a squad on one match but this is too symptomatic of 2o11.
Mentally they did not recover from losing the Carling Cup Final or dropping a four goal lead at St James Park. Both were self-inflicted wounds, the subsequent results suggesting that any confidence was gradually ebbing away.
That this was the subject of Arsène’s comments this week suggest it was a bigger issue than anyone appreciated, for a longer period of time.
There is a sadness at the manner in which the season is petering out, so quickly after so much promise.