Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Tuesday May 4 2010
The last away game of the season is always a rather circumspect occasion. For one reason and another, there are a large cluster of associates I only see and travel with at away games, with the season drawing to a close and one last trip to negotiate, a kind of sense of perverse sense of forlorn celebration and reflection were in order. Taking to the country's motorways every other week and cramming into planes, trains and automobiles for as much as twelve hours at a time gives you a chance to get to know people beyond their football allegiances (Pete`s encyclopaedic knowledge of absolutely bloody everything, Terry`s unabashed Michael Jackson fixation, Derrick`s knowledge of European terrain given the fact that he has missed a grand total of 7 Arsenal and Eire games since the mid 80s, Luigi`s apathy towards permanent employment) all of us complete and utter misfits in our own idiosyncratic ways. And who else would actually bother going to see an Arsenal team who have long since discarded their professional pride to watch them play Blackburn on a rainy Bank Holiday Monday but a band of complete and utter misfits?
So we travelled for one last hurrah in the North West. Fittingly given the opposing manager and the contemptible scheduling of the game, the road that links Bolton and takes you into Blackburn is the A666. Highway to hell indeed. Having arrived a good two hours before kick off, we journeyed to the Fernhurst Arms pub to watch the Ladies Cup Final, the pub was 100% chock a block with Arsenal fans who seemingly had us little sense as we did in travelling to the game. We could only watch until the 80th minute but were undoubtedly sad to hear the Girls missed out on yet another F.A. Cup in heartbreaking circumstances. I`m certain they`ll rectify it when they inevitably get to next year`s final. Once in the ground it became apparent that Song, Bendtner and Clichy had been left at home. It didn`t actually occur to me until about an hour after the final whistle that Rosicky had not featured either, which about sums up his contribution in 2010. Immediately I didn`t like what I perceived to be a laissez-faire attitude to the match from the manager, but consoled myself with the thought that this was probably a good platform for the likes of Vela, Traore and Walcott to prove their worth for next season. How d`ya reckon that went?
Arsenal began the game in a lively enough fashion, much like a child temporarily amused by bubble wrap before growing bored with it ten minutes later. In the 3rd minute, Eboue playing in a central midfield position picked up the ball in space and hit an angled pass to Walcott on the right, his pace saw him retrieve the lost cause and clip the ball back to Vela who inexplicably put the ball wide from 4 yards with the net winking. I deduce that he lacked conviction in the shot because it was on his right foot, this is how horribly limited Vela is on his right, he can`t even approach an open goal on it with anything other than pant filling dread. But Arsenal did move into a deserved lead in the 13th minute. Samir Nasri swung in a left wing corner which led Bacary Sagna to morph into some kind of Steve Bould in a parallel universe (how much better would that comb-over have looked on Bouldy?) to flick the ball onto the back post for Robin van Persie to head home his first goal since registering his second against Spurs in October. Robin, let me count the ways in which we have missed thee. Van Persie threatened with a dipping left foot free kick which Blobinson beat out with his flabby sausage fingers- which were presumably still coated in barbecue sauce. That was really that as far as Arsenal were concerned, they really couldn`t be arsed to muster anything else.
In yawning quite so visibly, Arsenal invited Blackburn to pressurise them with an aerial bombardment. Fabianski was forced into a fine save when he tipped over Pedersen`s free kick. But Rovers drew level from the resulting corner. Pedersen whipped it in from the right, Samba miscued his header as Fabianski appeared to be impeded, Keith Andrews fired the ball back across goal and Roberts touched the ball onto the back post where the wandering Samir Nasri had left David Dunn to chest the ball in from a yard. I believe Fabianski was fouled in the build up, but I know that Blackburn applied four unchallenged touches to that corner prior to the ball dribbling into the net and that we conceded laughably similar goals at Stamford Bridge and the Britannia Stadium to Danny Pugh. Questions abound with the goalkeeper, but you have to ask where were his protection racket? It was telling after both goals how sheepishly the Arsenal players trotted away from their under fire keeper to let him face the music alone.
Van Persie briefly flickered with a couple of snap shots in the second half but he was offered the sort of service you`d expect in a Travel Inn. Walcott ran willingly but lacked quality, Vela, I believe briefly got lost in the fourth dimension somewhere (you`ve all seen the movie Tron, right?), Armand Traore treated the attacking half of the pitch like some kind of outdoor landmine museum and Samir Nasri`s passing was more conservative than David Cameron. Abou Diaby treated us to his now legendary koala chewing eucalyptus impression as the game largely by passed him, whilst Eboue`s positive start where he had found pockets of space and driven at the Rovers back line had evaporated like a fart in the wind. I actually laboured temporarily under the misapprehension that the appalling Wigan capitulation might have hurt this team`s professional pride but clearly not. Pedersen roared through the Arsenal defence to force a one handed stop from Fabianski, Campbell might have fouled Pedersen for the rebound. In truth, I haven`t seen any highlights and the incident was right at the far reach of the pitch, situated as I was in The Darwen End Upper Tier. The Pole once again was last man standing as Hoilett easily rounded Traore but Fabianski thrust out an arm to produce an excellent save. Van Persie was then denied a clear penalty when he turned Salgado in the area only to be taken out by the Rovers defender. But having been so venomously criticised last week for a borderline penalty call at Villa Park, Martin Atkinson was not in the mood to surrender himself to the scrutiny of the hate filled media once more.
Ultimately, Blackburn eventually bullied their way into the lead. Pedersen swung another corner into the six yard area into a throng of bodies crowding the keeper, Fabianski did not deal at all well with the pressure and neither did his defenders as the Pole misjudged the flight of the ball leaving Chris Samba to head home from all of a yard. Fabianski is a young man at the nadir of his confidence and it`s difficult to conclude anything other than the fact that we are witnessing the unravelling of a once promising Arsenal career. Arsenal`s response to the goal was....was.....was.....? Well, there was no response and it`s clear that the fringe players on display weren`t interested in playing for their futures or their pride. In the last month, Arsenal have catastrophically destroyed the respect they spent the previous nine months earning. The feeling of negativity is well and truly permeating the club again, the manager spoke about what an impediment that atmosphere was to his team last season yet they seem to have no qualms in creating it again.
The road sign marked improvement that the manager has been pointing to in the absence of more glittering awards is becoming an increasingly foggy smirch on the horizon. The manager remarked after the game that the team had lost their competitive edge because they were no longer in the title race. That is utterly refutable for a number of reasons. Firstly, it`s clear that Arsenal lost their nerve the second they were actively involved in the title race. The manager himself said that the team would still have been in it with a win at Wigan. Whenever our title chances have been a whisper in the dark, the team have performed. The instant that whisper in the dark gathered momentum and threatened to become a bellow from the rooftops, the team caved in on itself again in an all too familiar geyser of shredded nerve. There`s a real feeling of groundhog day about the club at the moment, the same false starts, the same brief flickers of promise followed by the inevitable capitulation and promises of improvement never quite fulfilled. Something needs to be freshened up and no, I am not talking about changing the manager, but Arsene Wenger has tacitly admitted twice in the last two weeks that he couldn`t motivate his players. Perhaps his most damning indictment was when he closed his post match interview with, "Next week we play at home, not away." Another implied confession that he can`t get his troops up for the more difficult games at the moment. Thanks Arsene, how about asking the players to dip into their pockets and refund those of us that did get up (at unsociable hours I might add) for these far flung away games?
It`s telling that he has pointed so resolutely to the spirit Sol Campbell shows as an example to his younger charges who seem to think they can pick and choose their matches without fear of reprisal. In the end, yes we did have a lot of squad players playing and yes the season is winding down, but this defeat was not about our choices in the transfer market, the players we had injured, Blackburn`s tactics or even which goalkeeper we had playing. This was down to attitude and believe me when I say nobody in the Darwen End was satisfied with it. There are a lot of players who seriously need to ask themselves what they want from their Arsenal careers and the manager will have to ask them the same questions. You learn a lot about people in adversity and the revelations of the last month are not good. The team and the manager must be fools if they think this won`t have ramifications for the beginning of next season either. When we lost the title in 2003, we went out and smashed Southampton 6-1 and Sunderland 4-0, setting down our intentions early. After losing the title in 2005, we came out and gave Everton a 7 goal shoeing. This team`s response? They might yet suffer the ignominy of slipping into 4th place below Spurs. In many ways, it will serve them right if they do and they will face an absolute tidal wave of negativity if they do. Make no mistake Arsene and Arsenal, if the team produce another performance like this next Sunday, don`t bother coming out for the "lap of appreciation" because thousands and thousands of empty seats will stare back at you. Repeat this sort of half arsed performance and mine will be one of them.LD.
21.FABIANSKI, 3.SAGNA, 31.CAMPBELL, 18.SILVESTRE, 30.TRAORE, 2.DIABY, 27.EBOUE (9.Eduardo `78), 8.NASRI, 14.WALCOTT, 12.VELA (23.Arshavin `67), 11.v.PERSIE(c). Unused: 20.Djourou, 24.Mannone, 28.Gibbs, 43.Henderson.
Date:Tuesday May 4 2010
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