Arsenal 1-3 Monaco: On our never-ending naivety

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A despondent Arsene Wenger had finished giving his press conference, when a voice cried out from the back of the room to ask if he would mind answering one question in French.

Wenger stood at the head of the media lounge. He didn’t respond, but nor did he depart, so the voice went on. What, it asked, was the most disappointing aspect of Arsenal’s performance?

You didn’t have to be fluent to understand Wenger’s answer: “notre naïveté”.

Naive is a word that has become synonymous with Arsenal. As a bit of a test, I ran it through the search engine on my own blog. Here are the most recent uses:

“We all know that Arsene Wenger isn’t going anywhere until 2017. With that in mind, we have no choice but to demand more from the players. They can’t hide behind his diminishing reputation. They might not like it, but this is their mess too.  It’s never just one thing, and Wenger’s tactical naivety does not fully excuse theirs.”

Then:

“However, neither of those can match the humiliation of losing 6-0 at Chelsea. The tactical naivety Arsenal showed in that game is what makes me a little concerned about the length of Arsene Wenger’s new deal.”

Then:

“Wenger was comprehensively outmanoeuvered by Roberto Martinez at Goodison Park. In a game in which a point would have been a good result for Arsenal, it’s tempting to call Wenger’s tactics naive. However, considering how long he’s been in the game, one has to revert to an altogether more damning adjective: negligent.”

I gave up at that point. Not even I am so morbid as to dig deeper in to the mire.

However, you might see what I’m getting at. Naivety ought to be a temporary thing. It’s a state of being characterised by a lack of experience or sophistication. That should get better. It should be fixable. And yet here we are, approaching the end of a decade of defensive guilelessness. We’re a team caught in arrested development.

Google “how to stop being naive” and it’ll tell you the process can be accelerated by having your heart broken. Well, that one doesn’t seem to have worked for us. The painful lessons keep on coming, and we keep on ignoring them.

What happened against Monaco approached the absurd. Going 2-0 down was bad enough, but to concede a third having dragged ourselves back in to the game was madness. The craziest part is that I wasn’t even surprised. How many times have we seen Arsenal carelessly chase goals, only to be sucker-punched?

This latest horror show arrives days after we came inches from surrendering a 2-0 lead in the final few minutes at Crystal Palace. The further away it gets, the more that Manchester City win feels like an anomalous result against an out-of-sorts side.

Arsenal will re-qualify for the Champions League, but last night was a reminder of why it’s unlikely to get significantly better than that any time soon. You can look at our annual top four finish as a remarkable piece of consistency. Alternatively, you can see it as a staggering lack of progression — evidence that the teams of the second half of Arsene’s reign have been chronically hampered by an unworldliness the manager seems powerless to fix. We’re good, but unless something changes we’ll never be good enough.

It’s all very well for Arsene to accuse his players of naivety, but he is the man charged with educating this squad. If naivety is the problem, better coaching is surely the cure.

Win a 1955 shirt signed by 4 Arsenal players!

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I get bombarded by a lot of potential giveaways at Gunnerblog, but this one is genuinely cool.

Arsenal partner Citroen are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the launch of their DS brand, and have managed to get some Arsenal players in on the celebration.

Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Flamini, David Ospina and Theo Walcott recently took part in an exclusive photo shoot, posing in an Arsenal shirt from 1955 — the same year the DS was born. 

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Now, Citroen have kindly given Gunnerblog one of those retro shirts to give away, signed by all four players.

Winning couldn’t be easier. All you need to do is tweet me including ‘#DSis60′ and providing the answer to the following question:

In what position did Arsenal finish the 1954/55 league campaign?

I’ll announce a winner at midday UK-time on Friday. Good luck!

A very lucky fan

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There was a moment on Monday night when I found myself stood briefly between Sol Campbell and Jens Lehmann. Someone nudged me and whispered, “big guys”. He wasn’t kidding. The first thing that strikes you about the Invincibles is their size — in every sense, these are sporting giants.

It’s easy to see why their opponents were often beaten in the tunnel, scared in to submission by the sheer athleticism of their adversaries.

I’ll be honest: I was a little intimidated too. However, the principal feeling I had was one of awe.

These men are my heroes. In 2004, when Arsenal achieved the remarkable feat of winning the Premier League title without suffering a single defeat, I was 18. The idols you worship at that age don’t diminish with time — they’re indelibly etched in to your affections.

The occasion was the launch of Arsenal’s new Invincibles documentary. At the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead, a number of ex-players, current staff, celebrity fans and outrageously fortunate bloggers got an early glimpse of the finished film.

You’ll love it. It’s a great reminder of the ups and downs of that incredible season, featuring some superb insight from a cast of former players. Lehmann is in particularly inspired form, tossing out dry one-liners with the same self-assurance employed to drill his defence.

The film airs after our match against Monaco on Sky Sports 1 & 5, with an extended version of the film available on iTunes and DVD from March 30.

The documentary will also be aired in the United States on NBC, with the premiere at 12pm (Eastern Time) on Sunday, March 1 following the Arsenal v Everton match. It will then be repeated the following day at 9pm, as well as on March 14 on 6am and at 4pm on March 22 (all Eastern Time).

I was left feeling very lucky. It goes without saying I was blessed to breath the same air as the saintly Robert Pires, but moreover I am fortunate to have had the privilege of watching that Invincibles team in action. We all are.

So few fans will experience the joy of seeing their team achieve something so unique. And they did it in such style too, sweeping all before them with astonishing flamboyance.

It was Arsene Wenger’s finest hour too. For all his many triumphs, it’s the memories of this team that will surely be his greatest legacy.

Unless, of course, we were to win the Champions League. Bring on Monaco.

ps. For more on our Champions League tie and a review of the Palace game, check out Arsecast Extra.