Jamie Farquharson finds himself living the same ‘tippy tappy’ day over and over at the Emirates.
Tuesday night was an evening that all but signalled the end of Arsenal’s title challenge bringing about a reoccurring theme of capitulation that seems to materialize as the season approaches its finale.
As a guest during Sky Sports’ coverage of the Manchester derby, Paul Scholes laid into the Arsenal side by summarising the recent results against Chelsea and Swansea as “A typical week for Arsenal.” He then went on to say, “Its Arsenal fans you feel sorry for, they seem to get the same thing every year.” and as a Gooner, I am inclined to agree with him. A few weeks ago I watched the classic film Groundhog Day, my fellow Arsenal fans may currently empathise with Bill Murrays enduring suffering.
The 1993 blockbuster stars Murray as Phil Connors, a weatherman who travels to Punxatawney In Pennsylvania. Connors is sent to report on a local tradition, but despises the town, the people and cannot wait to leave. When he wakes up the following morning and every morning thereafter he is forced to relive the same day.
Let us for a moment consider swapping Punxatawney with the Emirates Stadium, and substituting Phil Connors for the Arsenal faithful.
In terms of both the Champions League and Premiership, it’s a familiar old seasonal story; as we arrive at the business end of the season Arsenal appear to have run out of steam. The lack of depth in the squad has been ruthlessly exposed as the familiar injury curse has struck again. Key figures Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsay and Theo Walcott were the primary victims, Jack Wilshire, Mesut Ozil, Nacho Monreal and Laurent Koscielny would soon follow.
Delve back into the story of the season however and the initial signs were promising. The Arsenal boys (aside from an opening day defeat against Villa) kicked off the season magnificently, casting aside Fenerbahce with ease to secure Champions League qualification. In September a 100% record in the Premiership left them top of the charts and you could almost sense the infectious spread of cautious smiles passing around the stands at the Emirates.
A pair of 2-0 wins In the League and Europe characterized the following months, as a devastatingly epic destruction of Napoli was complimented by a magnificent performance at home against Liverpool. It wasn’t until mid December however that the Gunners would receive their first real lesson, going down 6-3 to a vastly superior Manchester City side. Despite this Arsenal finished 2013 sitting pretty at the summit, on the back of a 1-0 victory on Tyneside.
Thirty-one days later, at the end of January Arsenal found themselves still in the mix in 2nd spot, a point adrift of City. This was coalesced with positive progress In the FA Cup as they dispatched bitter rivals Spurs and followed up by scoring 4 without reply against Coventry. It was also a month however, which seemed to epitomise Wenger’s philosophy. With the transfer window open, he frustratingly failed to add a much-needed striker, electing instead to sign an injured midfielder, the Swedish international, Kim Kallstrom.
Fast-forward a couple of months and it’s the performances against the top teams, which have raised cause for concern. In his damning summary of Arsenals season, Paul Scholes, who won 20 major honours in his time at United, brutally exposed the side for their lack of conviction and determination. As March now begins to dissolve into April that ‘Groundhog Season’ feeling begins to rear its ugly head yet again. (Taking the FA Cup out of the equation) The last 8 weeks have been epitomised by spineless displays in important league games at Anfield and Stamford Bridge whilst additionally suffering an exit from the Champions League.
“They capitulated at Chelsea, it’s a similar theme that seems to happen when they play the top teams. It happened at Liverpool, they conceded 6 against City, and for one reason or another their players seem to go missing.”
Scholes goes on to criticise Arsenal for their lack of discipline, stating that the team has no leaders like the Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira’s of yesteryear. While scanning through the Arsenal team you have to agree, perhaps albeit with the exception of the man wearing the (short sleeved) number 20.
The scissor happy Mathieu Flamini, has been one of my favourite players this season. I admit to groaning slightly as the news of his return filtered through last summer, however Mathieu’s bite and incessant determination has won me over. Mathieu characterised this in an instant during his celebration for Nikolas Bendtners late goal against Cardiff on New Years day. He jumped up from the bench, throwing his blanket in the air whilst scarily replicating the look of a crazed Clubber Lang (Mr T) in Rocky III.
I’m sure I would struggle to find any football fan that wouldn’t agree when I say this is what I want to see, not just the one trick tippy tappy football but the continuous fight and unrelenting determination, especially after our recent performances against the top teams. Scholes is right however, there has been a lack of discipline in the big matches, and it is something that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later as Everton are hot on Arsenals heels for fourth place.
So what lies ahead for the Arsenal boys? Its not all doom and gloom, there is still time to paint a positive picture upon the canvas that is this season. This weekend they host a Manchester City side that are arguably title favourites, Mathieu Flamini is quoted as saying “We have to be ready for this kind of game because at the end of the day, these kind of games are battles. You have to win the duels, win the fight and then play your football.” Can the Gunners prove Scholes wrong? The City game is an opportunity to restore some pride, stand up tall and prove they can perform against the big boys.
Then there is the small matter of a trophy, Arsenal are two Wembley wins away from their first silverware in nine seasons which comes in the form of the FA Cup. Accomplish this and Arsenal will plant the initial seeds of progress, which could provide the red side of North London with the springboard they need to a launch a successful campaign next season.
Lose however and you really have to begin to question how long Mr Wenger’s tenure will continue to endure.