Arsenal Lose On And Off The Pitch
Arsenal 1 – 2 Aston Villa
0 – 1 Bent (12)
0 – 2 Bent (16)
1 – 2 van Persie (89)
Five points out of the last thirty. Five. It’s not good enough.
It’s a simple fact, the form has not been good enough, nowhere near title-winning form. And for a team that until three weeks ago, were genuine title challengers, it is a disappointment that is hard to bear.
And if I feel this badly about it, surely the players do.
With second place firmly placed in their grasp thanks to Newcastle’s late equaliser, a win was imperative. Even if second means nothing, surely professional pride dictated that a win would be sought out.
But it never came.
I cannot remember feeling this numb following the end of the final home match of the season. I am sure I have but I do not remember that instance. Perhaps I hope it to be the case to make this moment feel less painful. I am more sure of that being the case than I am of my failing memory.
Where to begin? There were refereeing errors but that is not the reason for this defeat. If we are honest, that particular avenue of incompetence has become too convenient a peg upon which to hang our hats. Yes, there have been some appalling decisions. Yes, they did cost us points. But Aston Villa did not win because of refereeing ineptitude.
But he did contribute.
Arsenal lost this match because they beat themselves. They did not concentrate in the first twenty minutes and were suitably punished. A train of thought is that Darren Bent showed what happens when you spend money, Monsieur Wenger. It conveniently ignores the fact that Robin van Persie has a better goals per game ratio this season, scoring more having played less in the Premier League.
That mattered for nought yesterday. Bent scored twice, Arsenal did not. Villa took three points, points which mean that a Champions League Qualifier now seems likely. How did it come to this?
Displays such as the one yesterday were the answer.
No, I don’t understand how Chamakh’s goal was disallowed. And if that was the benchmark, where were the penalties for Richard Dunne’s fouls on van Persie and Ramsey?
That reasoning, whilst not specious, distracts from the truth. Arsenal were not good enough and to be brutally honest, not interested. In the absence of Cesc, they lacked a guiding light in midfield. Samir Nasri’s injury has exacerbated the problem.
Squillaci will not look back on his time at Arsenal with much fondness, deemed by many not to be ‘up to it’. He set about proving his critics right in his time on the pitch. Arsène spared him the second half punishment as Alex Song dropped back into his place.
The French international played Bent onside for the first as a lofted pass over the top. It did not really get better for him after that. Thomas Vermaelen returned, slipped and Bent had opened a match-winning margin. Thankfully, the Belgian improved and his performance was a genuine high spot of the afternoon.
Robin van Persie’s strike against the post before the interval might have stopped the boos at the whistle but I doubt it. And no matter how much you do not want to hear them, it is not hard to understand why the players trudged off to the sounds of despair, defeat and disinterest.
The ‘Lap of Appreciation’ by the players at the end took place to a stadium that emptied quicker than Wembley following the Carling Cup Final defeat. Suggestions that around 12-15,000 remained as the players showed their thanks, are not wide of the mark. The efforts of the season to be in a position to lose it all are forgotten as rancour casts its shadow over May.
A large portion of the support stayed away. That’s their choice and is more representative of opinion that 0.5% marching beforehand.
The Emirates has become a joyless place to watch football in recent weeks. The performances on the pitch have contributed to that to a large extent but other agendas are apparent. Supporters are crossing swords, equally vehement that the other point of view is wrong, not caring about the abuse handed out. Immature on and off the pitch.
One more game remains for this season whereupon the summer break begins. A new season brings new optimism. And according to the manager, new faces. Right now, Arsenal need them.