Photo by lorenzo23
Another day has passed and another dream title for Arsenal is over. After Saturday’s tepid performance against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup, the only hope of silverware for the Gunners is the Premier League title. And judging by the spineless performance by Arsenal against Manchester United today, the Red Devils will have nothing to fear when the two sides meet in the league on May 1 at Emirates Stadium.
While Arsenal are still suffering injury problems with Cesc Fabregas, Laurent Szczesny, Thomas Vermaelen and Alex Song out, the issue was worsened Saturday by the shoulder injury to Johan Djourou. The defender will now be out for the rest of the season. On the other side, Manchester United welcomed back Antonio Valencia from injury but Sir Alex Ferguson decided to rest several first-team players including Dimitar Berbatov, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand. Giggs and Scholes came on later in the game as substitutes, with Scholes lucky not to be red carded for a harsh tackle near the end of the match.
While this was mostly a walk in the park for Manchester United as they cruised to the semi-finals of the FA Cup after a 2-0 victory, there were a few isolated scares for the Red Devils. In the first half, Robin van Persie had a shot that went past the far post. And right before the half-time whistle was blown, Samir Nasri had a near post shot that was scooped up by Edwin van der Sar. In the second half, after the entry of Marouane Chamakh, the Moroccan footballer created a couple of attempts on goal that were pushed away by van der Sar.
At the other end of the pitch, Manchester United had several chances to widen the scoreline but Manuel Almunia had his second impressive performance in a row to keep the scoreline respectable.
For me, the moment in the match that symbolized Arsenal’s mentality right now was the cross by Bacary Sagna that was fluffed by Tomas Rosicky. The Czech attacking midfielder had a perfect opportunity to score a goal to pull Arsenal back in the match, but he completely miskicked the shot and the ball sailed under his foot. Coupled with Nicklas Bendtner’s poor first touch earlier this week when Arsenal had a perfect scoring chance against Barcelona, and you have to wonder whether the calibre of players that Arsenal has right now are good enough or not.
Yes, they’re suffering from massive under-confidence, but players such as Andrey Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner and Tomas Rosicky are simply not good enough to be playing at the level of what Arsenal needs to be at. At the same time, Arsenal finds itself in dire need of recruits to help fill the two positions that have been lacking in the team for so long, namely a centre back and goalkeeper. While Almunia is impressing with his recent performances, Arsenal has been in a dire need of a world-class goalkeeper for several seasons. The same applies to the centre back position especially now that both Djourou and Vermaelen are out.
Given Arsenal’s performance today against Manchester United, the North London club has given us no confidence that they’ll be able to mount a serious challenge for the Premier League title. Sure, clubs have poor games now and again, but consistently Arsenal under-perform when it matters most about top class opposition. It’s as if the team doesn’t know what to do when their leader Cesc Fabregas is not on the pitch. In previous seasons, Liverpool has suffered similar issues when Steven Gerrard wasn’t there to save the Reds. And the same applies to Fabregas. While Nasri is a decent footballer, he’s not in the class of Fabregas and doesn’t instill the same level of confidence that the Spaniard does.
After today’s performance, you have to wonder whether Arsenal will ever be good enough to contest for a league title in the near future. For several seasons now, Arsene Wenger’s sides have shown that they are almost there. But the Frenchman can never quite commit himself to purchasing the players that need to take Arsenal to the next level. The question is whether he’ll ever get it right. These must be depressing times for those who are Arsenal supporters despite their second place position in the Premier League.