Sunday, 2 March 2014

Stoke 1-0 Arsenal: Proof that the title is lost

A loss at the Britannia wasn't far from inconceivable. We, along with many top teams were always susceptible to defeat, even though one wouldn't be completely wrong to suggest that it was one of those games that could go either way. However, it was the manner of the defeat that shocked me.

Facts: We registered 2 shots on target against a team fighting against relegation. We were outclassed in possession and tactics by Mark Hughes. A team with Walters and Crouch defeated a team with Cazorla, Podolski, Ozil and Rosicky. And it wasn't a one-off; anyone watching the game knows that. The loss was deserved.

Just let that sink in.

I refuse to believe that we lost because the players weren't and aren't committed to the club. Apart from Arteta (arguably), every other player has earned their corn in the first half of the season by giving their heart and soul for the club. They've somehow got a fairly decent side to the top of the table, and I applaud them for that. So why the lifeless performance?

They ran out of steam, it's as simple as that. What we're set to witness in the coming league fixtures won't be a collapse, let me tell you. A collapse was when the club chickened out after Eduardo's injury, or our W3 D6 L5 record after losing the Carling Cup Final. This isn't a collapse - it's the result of tired legs who are demoralized after not getting the resources that they wanted in January.

I wrote the following back in December, and I think that it still holds true:

"While I do agree that we have the strongest Arsenal side in years, I'm still not certain that it is strong enough to be there with the best. Yes, we have many players who are performing above their expectations, but I genuinely doubt whether they'll be able to match that form throughout the course of the campaign. I think that I've mentioned earlier that while we do have a bunch of currently overperforming players, the bitter truth is that they won't be able to maintain the same world class form that they're in so far."

I know that you'd call me an "I told you so" kind of guy, and you'd probably be right. However, my point of bringing this extract about wasn't to prove that I was accurate all along, it was to point out that the flaws were apparent in the squad back in DECEMBER, before the transfer window. A vast majority of supporters already knew that we needed reinforcements in January; a striker and a center back for good measure. We didn't get one, despite Wenger having £35m REMAINING from his £80m summer warchest.

It's apparent that I'm not blaming the players. I am blaming Arsene Wenger.

For heavens sake, he bought a Ligue 2 striker on a free when the world knew that we needed world-class talent. Giroud is tired, he clearly does not fit into Arsenal's attack and he's drying up Ozil's assists as well. Once it was obvious that Stoke had caught up with our one-dimensional tactics, players like Cazorla, Rosicky and Podolski could only do so much to counter it.

Wenger did nothing to rectify it. He had no other tactical plan, no other method to unlock their defence. He only threw on Yaya Sanogo (who does not deserve blame) and a center back into the attack in the vacant hope of forcing an equalizer. Talk about beautiful football, right?

It's bordering on madness now, seeing Wenger try the same thing over and over expecting different results. There are so many flaws in the person that I'm astounded people haven't noticed it. After the match, in context to our title race Wenger said:

"It is not slightly worrying, it's a big worry for us to lose a game like that."

And on lifting his side after the defeat:

"In a game like that we didn't produce the performance that we wanted, but I am not worried."

He contradicts himself within five minutes of the post-match conference, and a majority of fans lap it up. It's insanity, that's what it is. Wenger has completely lost all touch with reality and is inept in man management, tactics, transfer dealings and clearly does not have the motivation to win anymore.

Ivan Gazidis has given £100m+ for Wenger to spend in the coming summer, around the same amount that Manchester City spent last summer. Yet I'm confident that he won't spend it until the last days of the window, that's just how complacent and cheap Wenger has become. He's destroying the careers of Ozil, Podolski and Giroud by heaping pressure on them and overplaying them, just like he did to Vermaelen and Arshavin. The club is in a downward spiral, and Wenger is almost completely responsible for it, the facts support that.

But I still have faith. Not in Arsene Wenger of course; I lost total faith in him last year and him winning the FA Cup won't change that. However, I still believe that the players we have in this team can somehow achieve something this season. We still have the FA Cup to fight for - the next match is the FA Cup quarterfinals itself. The day I saw an Arsenal substitute team defeat Liverpool was the day I realized that the players do want Arsenal to win, and that they see the FA Cup as a realistic chance for a trophy.

Wenger has lost the plot, but the players clearly haven't. They're eager to give the fans something to cheer about at the end of the season, and I'm sure that they'll try to do just that against Everton. In my opinion, the potential FA Cup ties carry a lot more significance than the Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham matches.

Our Premier League season was over on February 1st when our only signing was Kim Kallstrom. Beating Bayern Munich was a long shot even if we had Luis Suarez in our team, that's how good they are. However, winning the FA Cup is realistic, and is something that we're capable of pulling off. It's time to face facts, play for pride in every league game and treat every cup game like a... er... cup final.

I have long since known that Arsene Wenger will not be leaving Arsenal until he decides to, which will probably be 10 more years down the line. I also know that under him, we will always struggle for trophies, irrespective of whether we win them or not. I have made my peace with this fact, yet I support this club purely because I can't let it go. Arsenal is my life, and even though I know that stopping to watch football and Arsenal entirely would save me torrents of pain, I love Arsenal too much to make that rash a decision.

Arsenal under Wenger will always be a 'top four' club, unless something fundamentally changes in the man (unlikely). If I know already that Wenger is certain to stay at the club for at least a decade more, is it wrong to hope that the club can win a trophy despite him? God knows that everyone connected to Arsenal (except Wenger and partly Gazidis) want the players to win a trophy, even more so this season.

Let's continue that belief with a win against Everton, where the stakes are so high it's reaching breaking point.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )