This type of season-defining game is all too familiar for Arsenal. We saw it last year when they lost in the Carling Cup Final to Birmingham. It was quite plain to see when the side drew 2-2 with Barcelona at the Emirates two seasons ago. And Birmingham again played another significant hand in the crumbling of Arsenal’s season on that horrific day at St. Andrews where Martin Taylor snapped Eduardo’s leg in two. The truth is, Arsene Wenger has seen too many of these days in the time since Arsenal have moved into the Emirates. They are, without doubt, the catalyst for Arsenal’s downfall each season, and worryingly, it is difficult to foresee a positive next few weeks for Arsene Wenger’s side. By the time the side gather themselves, it could be too late.
Last night’s game at the San Siro highlighted everything that is wrong with Arsenal at the moment, and not just from those on the pitch: it brought to light the mistakes made over the past summer, it raised questions about the value of the current backroom and coaching staff, and, most of all, the lack of urgency from the highest point of the club came screaming to the fore. This was a performance devoid of any pride for a football club, and possibly a greater indication of where the club of heading, rather than the hugely lifting 7-1 win over Blackburn a couple of weeks ago.
The fallout from the Carling Cup defeat last season has, predictably, spilt over into this season. Whatever happened that day and subsequently for the remainder of the season has not been laid to rest. There has been no leadership from the club telling the players and fans that there were going to be genuinely positive steps to make sure a desperate situation like that never occurs again. What is most worry, though, is that the club have shaken up the personnel in the dressing room; new players have arrived, albeit not as good as some of the significant departures in the summer, but there has also been a clearout of some of the deadwood, and yet the defeatist mentality and fragility remains. This is not a negative attribute of a few players with an overwhelmingly inability to help the club win and, in turn, drag the better players down, it is an attribute of this football club as a whole. The whole mentality of the club is wrong; from the lack of investment in the transfer window, to the little pressure placed on Arsene Wenger’s shoulders to do better, down to the ridiculous idea for a manager to pick his own boss in Ivan Gazidis.
The Barcelona draw at the Emirates two seasons ago where Zlatan Ibrahimovic put the visitors ahead after a heroic first half defensive performance was a good result on it’s own. It showcased Theo Walcott’s greatest asset and proved that there was some fight in the Gunners. But in all too familiar fashion, the fallout was immense. Arsenal had lost Cesc Fabregas for the rest of the season after the midfielder had to continue the remainder of the game on a badly injured leg so as not to put his side at a numerical disadvantage. Andrey Arshavin was taken off just before the half-hour and went straight down the tunnel for further treatment, and the gamble to re-introduce William Gallas early from injury did not pay off. Of those three, only Arshavin made another appearance in the league through substitutions in the final two games of the season. Arsenal went on a horrible run of games, winning just once at home to Wolves through a 90th minute winner from Nicklas Bendtner, but losing as only this team know how in humiliating fashion away to Wigan and Blackburn. Two wins from seven following the first-leg game to Barcelona all but spelt the end of any title challenge for the Gunners, not including the 4-1 defeat at the Nou Camp.
Too often are players like Johan Djourou, who have no place in a team of Arsenal’s stature, sent to give rousing speeches following a humiliating loss. In these instances it is these players who continue to perform well below par and yet are the ones to talk about players needing to learn from the mistakes and wanting to give something back to the fans. Well it’s simply not good enough. There’s no sense of responsibility, and those who are in a position to give a little clarity on the current situation seem more inclined to palm off that responsibility to someone else.
The game at the San Siro has raised a number of questions, notably how should Arsenal line-up in the second leg at the Emirates. Well for a start why risk Robin van Persie in a game that Wenger has already described as near impossible to win. We’ve seen it before: Andre Santos missing for much of the season for being played in a meaningless Champions League game against Olympiacos. It’s written in Arsenal’s luck to see another unfortunate injury like that, and this time it could be van Persie. Of course, the paying fans should be given a team capable of at least regaining some pride for the club when they face Milan, but sadly this club do not have that luxury, such has been the poor acquisitions in recent summers that the club cannot afford to give the highest paying supporters in the country a strong enough squad for a glamour tie.
The club’s worst night in the Champions League is a sad indictment of where this club are and what can be expected on a year-on-year basis. The team is not good enough for four competitions, and it is the gambles we have seen in the past that has reduced the club to these ground-breaking matches.