There are comparisons to what happened in the FA Cup semi-final and Arsenal’s win at Tottenham last month. Following the North London Derby, the feeling was generally positive among supporters. It was an attitude that suggested little attention was paid to the performance and rather the outcome and result was the important factor.
In the game at White Hart Lane, Arsenal were wasteful with their chances following Tomas Rosicky’s early opener, and horrendous in possession. The positives were that Arsenal had dug in and held out for the majority of a game when the home side had numerous opportunities to level the score and then take the lead.
Against Wigan in the FA Cup semi-final, much of the same could be said. It was a most un-Arsenal display. The team looked to afraid to commit, fearing that a gamble would result in a Wigan goal. Possession was there, but it was unimpressive and without purpose. Arsene Wenger had accused Barcelona in the past of sterile possession; Arsenal had a similar approach on Saturday, but not to an extent that the opposition were fearful of a sudden break on goal, which speaks more of Arsenal’s lack of quality throughout.
Like the reaction following Arsenal’s win at Tottenham, the general feeling now is positive, obviously because Arsenal will be competing in a cup final with the opportunity to end the trophy drought. What is concerning is that based on the performance, continued frustration from supporters during the game and the lack of confidence from the players, this feels like a stay of execution rather than a building block.
Arsenal have had chances over the past month to build towards a positive end to the season. The league title is long gone, but a strong showing in the cup, which is possible, and a run of wins that is far from out of the question to secure fourth would set up the club for an announcement on Wenger’s stay into next season.
But confidence in the manager still hangs by a thread. Yes the team at present is stretched due to injuries, but if the boldest move Wenger can make in a vital cup semi-final is to include an inexperienced youth at centre-forward who is yet to score a goal in English football, then those concerns about the manager can’t be washed away.
Arsenal have been making do with papering over the cracks. It’s been that way in the league by continually qualifying for the Champions League, and it’s been that way in the market, buying players, but hardly ever individuals who are genuinely good enough to take the club to the next level. In essence, players good enough to get you fourth and keep the equilibrium.
Arsenal were close to reaching a point of no return on the manager. A loss against Wigan, which either could have occurred during the penalty shootout or had Per Mertesacker not equalised, would have left the club’s hierarchy with little to nothing in the way of an argument to defend Wenger and a two-year extension.
This win in the cup doesn’t change that something of that magnitude is still likely to happen, either in failure to qualify for the Champions League or a loss to Hull in the final.
There may be those who wish to hold on to the positives of this past weekend. But it’s a win that has done nothing to change the overall mood at Arsenal.