On Sunday age old questions over the definition of footballing success resurfaced as Arsène Wenger’s current generation of Arsenal players failed in their bid to win a trophy of their own in the Carling Cup final against Birmingham, who prevailed to win their first silverware in forty eight years, against the side who have been waiting a mere six.
Is winning trophies the definition of a good side? Most football fans would agree that it proves something, but there are always those who judge sides on other merits. Indeed the cult of the glorious loser is one that only increases with age.
The pain of defeat: Carsten Jancker in tears after losing 2-1 to United in the Champions League Final 1999, and Jack Wilshere confiding in Eboue after the latest Arsenal defeat.
Say what you like about the Carling Cup, but it represents something tangible, a measure of mental strength, which Wenger’s current side, led by Cesc Fábregas have been accused of lacking time and again. There are those who claim arrogance on the part of Wenger’s charges in their adherence to a certain style of play, but it has to be said that in terms of basic quality the side does have the potential to win something.
Arsène Wenger has had a tough time in front of the media over the last few years. Arsenal are still playing the high class, crisp passing game everyone loves (or loves to hate), but silverware has not been forthcoming. Recently the economic figures have been released, revealing that Arsenal’s turnover is exceeding Premier League records, and this in itself can be seen as a step forward.
However, the harshest critics are those who completely lack perspective. The easiest way to visualise the project that Arsène Wenger and the back-room staff at Arsenal have been working on is to split it into three stages. The first stage was the moulding of the club in Arsene’s image, and the transformation of Arsenal from a good team into a successful, world class team. This was completed, with many years of silverware, and high achievements.
As the final few games of the season approached in May I attempted to analyse the possible results and predict an outcome to the title race. Now in June, with the season well and truly behind us, it seems a good point to dissect the results and have a look at what actually happened in those last few games.
The original prediction was based on the last eight games Arsenal had to play, and compared the individual records against each team and the final eight games of each season. These methods both provided a result of 15.8 points from eight games, which would have put us on 80 points at the end.
In reality Arsenal achieved 75 points, and so actually fell short of the prediction by 5 points. A massive amount in real terms. Meaning we took 11/18 points or 61%.
Last night was not a great experience for any Arsenal fan. Two early goals and the tie was most definitely over. It was disappointing to see so many fans leaving so early, but I have to say that for the first ten minutes the atmosphere was fantastic.
Nevertheless you have to look at things in perspective. We have been blighted by injuries this season and in November you wouldn’t have thought that we would have made two semi finals and managed to qualify for the Champions League next year. The way we were playing then was awful and the team has improved a lot.
There is still a lot of work to do on this team, but considering this is the hardest season Wenger has had at Arsenal I think we have come out of it well.
Tonight I’m supporting Barca, I would hate to see another Chelsea – Man U final, either winning it would be a disaster. I don’t want Chelsea to win it before Arsenal, and I don’t want Fergie to have back to back CL titles.
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It might sound strange to mention this now but it is high time we considered this. Last weekend we lost to Chelsea again in a big cup match. Of course most of the blame was shared between the curious case of Wenger’s team selection and Fabianski’s moments of utter madness but that is not up for debate this time round.
From next season I believe Arsene should scrap the policy of fielding an entirely youthful side in the Carling Cup. My excitement on discovering the Arsenal youngsters is tinged with disappointment; a realisation that most of these players for many reasons won’t make it at the Emirates. Cesc is the only player in recent years who has made the transition successfully. In that time we have seen the likes of Quincy, Lupoli, Larsson exit the red half of North London.
Does that mean youngsters shouldn’t get the opportunities? Of course not! For me the only youngsters I want to be seeing are those with outstanding talent and/or with the right mental attributes such as determination and composure. Gibbs is a perfect example of the latter specified criteria.
I am looking at it in terms of percentages, and my suggestion would be to field a lower number of youngsters. Perhaps Arsene could involve only 5-7 youngsters in the entire match squad. Or he could filter the numbers as the stakes increase, so start with 7 youngsters in the 4th round, 6 in the next round etc etc.
If you play the best of the best youth it means the rest of the team is fairly experienced. This playing environment fosters a quicker growth for youngsters. This is exactly why Cesc has gone on to become such a pivotal player for the Gunners because he was able to play and learn with the likes of Vieira and Gilberto. Just imagine how much Wilshere and Ramsey can learn if they play with experienced players all the time.
Remember the best players i.e. Gerrard, Scholes, Carrick, etc had a lot of experience surrounding them when they were young. This is a privilege Denilson, Diaby and Song no longer have. It forces them to learn by themselves, slowing their development a great deal and sometimes exposes them in big matches against more experienced players.
I seriously hope Wenger considers this for next season as his current strategy has yet to pay off in terms of competitions won. In Arsene we trust, but we can question his decisions sometimes, can’t we?
We face Liverpool at Anfield tonight, 20 seasons on from the momentous 2-0 win in 1989 and the situation is rather different. Wenger spoke about the game tonight:
“I feel it is always better to win your big games because it makes you stronger for the next one.
“So we will have nothing to do with ‘favourising’ Liverpool or Manchester United because we want to win.
“It’s a big game and we just want to win it.”
After the Chelsea semi I didn’t feel like posting, the result was awful and it felt pretty bad. Luckily we have this game today to get that defeat out of the players minds. Unfortunately it won’t be easy. We still have a rather large injury list – RVP and Ade are both out, and defensively we are missing Almunia, Gallas and Clichy.
Liverpool are just one point behind leaders Man Utd and need to win every game to have a chance of winning the title. We really can decide who finishes where as we play all three contenders in the next few weeks.
As long as we secure 4th place and try our best for any higher then I will be pleased with the league performance. We really must try to win tonight.
“We have not secured fourth place and we can still be third…Wednesday night is Chelsea v Everton and you never know, if Chelsea drop points and we play Chelsea at home we can come back on third.
“We just have to accept what happened on Saturday, to deal with it and not repeat it…We have many big games coming up and we feel we can win them.
“Winning is what we live for. We cannot be happy with only trying to remain fourth.
“We want to get closer to the top and have a good opportunity to come back to six points on Liverpool this evening.
“Third place is important, second place is important and why not first? You never know.
“You do not want to have regrets. We want to win every single game, no matter what competition we play in.
“Of course we are disappointed having lost in the Semi-Finals of the FA Cup, but we want to bounce back quickly.”
That is exactly what we need, a result that will put the team back on the right track. I’m really hoping for a good result, the games at Anfield are always classic so tonight shouldn’t disappoint.
Injuries have defined Arsenal’s season, today’s game at Wembley sees us with a defensive line-up which is scraping the bottom of the barrel. The likely players are Silvestre, Song, Toure, Eboue, with Fabianski in goal. This in itself isn’t awful – all are good defenders – and Silvestre, Toure and Eboue have a combined wealth of experience. Sagna may recover for the game – but at the time of writing he is still ill, while Gibbs hurt his hamstring against Villarreal, in any case the back line will not be full strength.
The problem for me is that this season none of the above are first choice, excepting Toure (and even he has been dropped at times this season). Instability in selection breeds problems and the biggest challenge we face against Chelsea is going to be at the back.
I am quietly confident about the game though, Chelsea have been leaking goals recently – in their last 2 games they have conceded 7 – and we are scoring freely at the moment with Arshavin, Walcott, Van Persie and Adebayor all in form. We can outplay them if we fight like we showed against Villarreal.
If, however, Arsenal don’t impose themselves on the game we may see another performance like the first half at Wigan. We need score and take the game to Chelsea.
Personally this will be my first visit to the new Wembley and it will be exciting to see Arsenal play in a national stadium again. Wenger has his concerns about the quality of the playing surface, it is rumoured that it isn’t up to scratch – but at least we are playing first – Man Utd face Everton on Sunday at Wembley giving the pitch just 24 hrs to recover.
To be a successful club you have to beat the best, I’m desparate to see Arsenal prove themselves this season. So much criticism has been levelled at Arsene Wenger and the players, a trophy is the only way to show that we are still a force, winning this game will take us a step closer to that end.
Under Guus Hiddink Chelsea have transformed and they will be threatening – I’m worried about Lampard’s goals from midfield – we are going to have to be on top form to get the right result.
“We know he can finish but now he is transferring that to the games. His level of confidence has gone up”
The game progressed well and we passed it around nicely. Defensively Toure and Silvestre looked solid in the centre. Gibbs looked alright, although he wasn’t seriously tested, and Eboue did well. In midfield Song was solid, as were the attacking Fabregas, Nasri and Walcott.
The final goal was from a penalty, which at the time I thought looked like a foul on Walcott, but seeing the TV replays it seems there wasn’t contact – Theo tripped on the ball. In any case the goal was deserved, and Van Persie put it away – Adebayor and Eboue got him to do their little dance cameo in celebration.
The atmosphere was very good, and it was nice to hear Robert Pires get a standing ovation several times during the match, and at the end of the game, this was his goodbye to the Arsenal fans.
We now face Man Utd in the Semi’s after their 1-0 win over Porto in Portugal from Ronaldo’s 40 yard strike. Wenger commented:
“I would not like speculate on any weakness of Man United. They will be strong on the day, but it should encourage us to be at our best”
It’s going to be an interesting run in – we now face Chelsea twice and Man Utd at least three times in League and Cup competitions combined. Our form is excellent – but this is a huge challenge for the Arsenal team. Their chance to prove themselves is now.
I’ve got my ticket for the Arsenal Chelsea FA Cup semi final at Wembley and I guess that many of you reading will have too. It is going to be an interesting game – but one of the things that these big stadium occasions can lack is a real atmosphere.
Arsenal aren’t renowned for having the most noisy or active fans in the world, and Ashburton Grove is not the hive of activity that some football stadia are, but with a bit of effort we can out do the Chelsea lot at Wembley.
Let’s see those colours, let’s hear those songs, and really get behind the boys on our day out at Wembley. It’s not Liverpool, it’s not Manchester Utd, it’s not………Swindon Town, so no danger of a colour clash and the need for away kits, so lets turn our end of Wembley RED RED RED on the 18th and show our support.
Wear Red, bring a scarf, bring your AFC flags, shout and scream for the Cannon on our chests, and show our passions in the right way. Get right behind the Red and White, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be back in May for another day out.
So lets do it – flags and banners and noise always create an intimidating atmosphere, how do you think Turkish clubs play so well at home? We need to turn Wembley into a cauldron of noise, and cheer on the team – because this time it is serious – if we want to see a bit of silverware this season we are going to have to work for it.