Arsenal: Shattered Promises…
Unbelievable. Another season, but the same shit happens. Arsenal’s promising season collapsed towards the end, yet again, & in a manner of weeks, yet again.
I was 1 of the few fans who always trusted Wenger, no matter what drastic decisions he makes. He has made many in recent seasons. It started with Viera. & when Henry, who will always remain a Highbury (& a brief Emirates) legend, left for Barcelona, I knew it was not the big disaster many made it out to be. Don’t get me wrong, nobody could do what Henry did in Arsenal, but from what I saw last season, the team was so over-reliant on him that players around him suffered when he played poorly, & he was not exactly the most encouraging team-mate on field. I saw his departure as the door finally being opened for Van Persie & the rest of the Gunners to finally breathe.
It was indeed the right decision. Arsenal’s youthful team played superb football, while Henry is far from his best at Barcelona. It started off in the most promising of ways. Yet again, Wenger chose to not sign any big stars, we all know he has an eye for purchasing unknown gems & turning them into stunning players (Anelka & Henry, among many many other examples). Fabregas is without doubt the most visionary & irreplaceable midfielder in the Premier League, & my personal favourite, Van Persie should be 1st choice in front. Flamini had an outstanding season, & his inclusion in the first-team over Gilberto was justified, while Hleb finally showed spectacular skills we all knew he was capable of; he had a fantastic season. Gallas & Toure formed a formidable understanding at the heart of defence for 3 quarters of the season, Sagna was maturing fast, & the most under-rated player in the team, Clichy, was bombing forward like a hurricane with boundless energy for the entire season. United, Chelsea & Liverpool fans will not agree, but Arsenal played the most impressive football of the season. Look at the way we played against AC Milan at San Siro in the Champions League.
So what in Wenger’s underpants went wrong for the Gunners?
The League Cup was never a priority in Wenger’s eyes. Then came the 4-0 drubbing in the FA Cup. Wenger proclaimed it was not their priority for this season as well. But it was the turning point for Arsenal’s flying momentum, as they went through a winless streak in the league since then. Then we drew twice with Liverpool, only to be downed heartbreakingly 4-2 in the 2nd leg of the Champions League quarter-final. Adebayor’s equalizer in the 84th minute was barely celebrated when the penalty from Gerrard arrived. United hammered the final nail in when they undeservingly became 2-1 victors in the Premier League, effectively ending Arsenal’s gallant, promising but shattered season. In the Liverpool 2nd leg match, Arsenal played football worthy of champions in the 1st half, only to collapse in the 2nd half & the final 5 minutes of the match. This was again the case in the Manchester United match. The 1st half was filled with a fantastic display of attacking football from Arsenal, only to be let down by finishing & Song, who was erratic in central defence. We just couldn’t bloody score, & we were punished in the 2nd half. We can complain about the penalty that was never given in the Liverpool 1st leg, but the fact is, we were at fault for our defeats.
The trouble signs were always there from the beginning. Henry leaving was not 1 of them, it was the perfect opportunity for Van Persie. But this extremely talented forward spent most of the season injured, which was the biggest blow for me. Though I admit Adebayor has scored the more important goals for Arsenal for this season, I’ve never liked his style of play, & he was certainly nowhere near being the Henry-replacement Wenger said he was. Van Persie proved a point when he finally returned from the long injury, when he played like he never left the field at all, only to get another knock. By the time he returned again, it was already too late for Arsenal. Walcott showed glimpses of his true potential in that outstanding run during the Liverpool match & the 2 goals against Birmingham, but he was still taking too long to develop into a true 1st team player. The Gallas & Toure partnership faltered towards the end of the season, & worst, Gallas’s (whose appointment as Captain I never quite agreed) public outbursts was an embarrassment to the club & us fans. Sanderos should have played a bigger role, but he was only allowed limited playing time. The goalkeeper position remained a thorn; both Almunia & cry-baby Lehmann were erratic let-downs. Then came that bizarre bust-up on field between Adebayor & Bendtner. & with the most accurate master of finishers, Eduardo, suffering that horrific injury, it was a crucial & painful blow to the entire club. I still do not know what the eff is happening to Rosicky. Arsenal showed much mental strength, something they never had in the past seasons, in many instances during this season, but yet, lacked the sustaining energy for the most crucial period of all.
I’m not an expert pundit, nor do I, like Shelby Singh, pretend to be one. Dennis Bergkamp, the greatest Arsenal player of all-time & the scorer of that magical goal against Argentina in the World Cup 98 quarter-final, was the driving reason I became a Gunners fan back then, & for many more years to come, through the ups & downs. But as a fan, I also have to accept the painful frustrations of the past 2 seasons, where Arsenal started with so much promise but faltered towards the end. The side is young & inexperienced, but this excuse has been used too many times. When I titled this “Shattered Promises”, I was not referring to any promises made by Wenger before the season started, I’m talking about how a team so promising ended up in such a heart-braking way. The future looks as bright as always, with Van Persie, Fabregas, Hleb, Walcott, & Clichy, with Diaby & Bendtner waiting for their turns. But the question remains, for this season at least, how a team which played the best, most outstanding & scintillating football of the season actually ended it without any silverware.
Maybe the players got distracted by fans like this…
Let’s hope Holland & Spain, the most talented countries never to win anything, will fare better in Euro 2008, just to lift my spirits a little.