Deep deep down, buried below all of the hope of a European ‘get out of jail free’ card that was the Europa League, I think we all knew this season was not going to end well. Most of us just wanted to put off that pain of it being one of the worst season’s in living memory. So we all clung to the last ember of hope that this Arsenal side/squad could rise itself up like an ageing boxer and make a few good swings to win the day.
In the cold light of day today we are now seeing the reality in crystal clear, ultra-high, definition: They are not good enough.
And, regrettably, we are also now seeing that neither is the manager.
I feel quite bereft actually. I wanted this Arteta project to work. A young, well-thought of, highly motivated coach who had fresh ideas and could get a tune out of some terrible players. I loved the romance of it all; ex-Arsenal player comes back to usher in a new era and send Arsenal back to where we all want to be. A man who has U-turned the ship and is now sailing away from the choppy waters of football obscurity. Instead what we are all realising now is that we have a man as flawed as every aspect of this football club we support.
And as fans the biggest insult and example of the mismanagement and acute under-performance at Arsenal came in a microcosm with the way those players played last night.
It lacked intensity, it lacked belief, it lacked urgency, it had players in red and white hiding in plain site. And that ultimately falls on the manager. As somebody on my timeline said last night – Unai Emery was sacked from Arsenal for less – and they are right. He was.
But will Arteta be given the boot? Does anyone at Arsenal Football Club have the wherewithal to sit him down and ask him to look at the league table, look at the exit in the FA Cup, look at the League Cup exit, then point to last night’s abject performance and say “failure at almost every turn. That cannot continue. You live and die by your sword and you have just fallen on yours”? Of course not. That is because we have been mismanaged by absent owners who couldn’t give a monkey’s. Their tenure as Arsenal owners shows decline on the pitch, decline in what Arsenal stands for, decline in accountability and decline in proper football custodianship. As long as they continue, with no idea how to run a proper football club, we will lurch from season to season like this.
No other ‘big club’ would stand a season like this and Mikel Arteta should be moved on. And by looking at his press conference last night after the game he looked like a guy who knew his time was up. Words like ‘keep on fighting’ or whatever he said when he was asked if he is still the man to take this club forward are just words. The actions have spoken louder than that and it is time for Arsenal to make a bold decision and move him on.
That first half still has me enraged you know. Played a walking pace, like some sort of testimonial, Arsenal never got our of second gear and in a European Cup Semi Final that is unforgivable. I went for a walk at halftime with the wife and she could sense my despondency and I recalled a story that one of the players told of George Graham at Anfield 89. For George the plan was to get in at 0-0 because although we needed two goals he knew that Liverpool would get jittery and Arsenal could get chances. But George also knew he had a rock-solid defence and he had the players who were in form and capable of scoring goals. This Arsenal team is anything but that. Ten games at The Emirates without scoring this season is beyond abysmal. But defensively we have been poor too. If Villareal really needed that goal you sensed they could have upped it, but because they didn’t have to and they saw just how ineffective Arsenal were, they just held us at arms length and when they saw a lack of intensity from Arsenal, they were happy to just slow the game down.
And we responded in the second half, for the first five minutes, then it all fell back in to the turgid style that we’ve seen throughout this season. Slow, ponderous, players not making runs in to space, misplaced passes, etc. Some of these players are paid much more handsomely than most in both Spanish and English leagues and the reason for that is that they are supposed to be elite. You’re an elite football player you get rewarded accordingly. We, however, have rewarded for mediocrity and not only does it now leave us in a situation in which we have a host of players who have become difficult to shift on because of inflated wages, but it also means we have a team of average players who should be better than they are but deliver significantly less than the sum of their parts.
I saw people putting last night down to an Emery masterclass. No, it really wasn’t, it was an Arsenal disaster-class and that is on Arteta and the buck needs to stop with him. Players need to be binned from this team for sure, but he also should get the can.
So where do we go from here? Well, that’s even more worrying. There isn’t the money at the club for an overall. We aren’t as attractive a proposition without European football. We have owners who won’t pull the trigger on a manager who has shown he cannot get a tune from what he has got because they simply don’t care or don’t know what the next move should be. We are in a mess and there is nothing on the horizon that I can see that will change that.
I don’t even know if this is the lowest we can go. Aston Villa, Everton, Leeds – all clubs with a rich history of winning titles and trophies. But look at where they are now? That feels like a very real situation that could befall us now with the people we have running, managing and playing at our club. There are some bright spots in the shape of some of the young players but when that is what you are looking for as the positives and the ones to lead the team in to glory, then you really do have to be concerned about our short term future. And with KSE at the healm it is the medium and longer term future which also looks bleak.
Catch you all tomorrow.