Archive for May 6th, 2009

The painful truth is that we aren’t good enough

2 comments May 6th, 2009

Arsenal 1 – 3 Man Utd (Park 8, Ronaldo 11, 61, Van Persie 75) (Agg: 1-4)
here; Arsene’s reaction here

For eight minutes, the Emirates had the kind of atmosphere I had never witnessed there before.  After rushing to get to the game on time, I ended up emerging from the stairwell just as the teams entered the pitch, to be greeted by an intimidating roar.  Everywhere you looked, red flags waved and even the quieter sections of the ground were rocking to the voices of the Arsenal faithful.  The noise carried through beyond kick-off into the early sections of the game, where every United touch was greeted with a boo, and every Arsenal touch met with cries of encouragement.

Until eight minutes in.

A long ball was knocked down to Anderson, tearing through the midfield untracked by Cesc Fabregas.


Anderson slipped the ball out wide to Ronaldo, who shimmied and looked to cross in on his left foot.


Ronaldo’s cross went to the far post where Kieran Gibbs was waiting, but the youngster lost his footing and Park Ji Sung capitalised to clip past Almunia and give United a 2-0 aggregate lead.


It wasn’t just the goal itself.  It was the nature of it.  If we were to get through last night, it needed to be an immaculate performance, with a little bit of luck on our side.  For one of the real triers in the team to suffer the ill fortune of slipping in his own penalty area felt hugely symbolic.  It was going to be almost impossible to come back from this.

For three minutes, we reeled.  No-one seemed to be rallying the troops and refocusing the team’s efforts – only Johan Djourou, starting ahead of Mikael Silvestre, was visibly cajoling his team-mates.

For three minutes, we struggled to come to terms with the task that lay ahead of us.  And then our straining became even more futile, and despair enveloped us.  Ronaldo was generously awarded a free kick some forty yards or so out.  Almunia anticipated a cross, and the Portugese attacker instead lashed in a stunning strike that the ‘keeper would still be disappointed to concede at his near post.  2-0.  3-0 on aggregate.  The game was up.

Any remaining hopes were extinguished just fifteen minutes into the second half, when United scored a goal of particular poignancy – a stunning counter-attack with Rooney and Ronaldo at its heart, the latter finishing the move off in considerable style.  It was the sort of goal that was the trademark of The Invincibles – the sort of goal we’re now more liable to be seen conceding than scoring ourselves.

There was some late consolation with the sending off and suspension of Darren Fletcher and the resulting penalty which Robin van Persie blasted into the top corner.  But a consolation was all it proved to be, and fans began to traipse out of the Emirates in their droves.  I must confess I myself left ten minutes before the end – it had been a traumatic evening, and watching any more would only have exacerbated the pain.

It’s another trophyless season – our fourth in a row – and another indicator of the improvements that the team still requires.  Our unbeaten run in the league has papered over some rather substantial cracks, and as a very frank Arsene Wenger puts it:

“We are on a consistent run of 21 games unbeaten but recently in the games that have mattered, like Chelsea and tonight, we couldn’t win. That of course needs thinking.”

The most disappointing aspect of our exit from the Champions semi-finals is that it feels like we were never really in it.  At no point did we pose a serious threat to Man United – they were fairly comfortable throughout.  None of our big players pulled out the performances required, and the better side undoubtedly progressed.

We oughtn’t be too surprised.  It’s not too long ago now that we were losing to the likes of Hull and Stoke.  If you’d offered me fourth place and two semi-finals at Christmas I’d have bitten your hand clean off.  The simple fact is that this side in its current form don’t quite belong at the top table of European football.  Us reaching the final would have been akin to Porto and Monaco ending up there back in 2004.

I don’t think the manager needs to gut the squad and rebuild it from the bottom up.  He needs to do what he started doing in January: adding established players of genuine class.  But the simple fact is, those don’t come cheaply.  Andrey Arshavin came at a discount because of his desperation to leave Zenit, and even then he cost in the region of £15m.  I think we’re going to need to spend that sort of amount again to get the calibre of players we require, most pressingly at centre-back and centre-midfield.

The sad truth is that we don’t deserve to win anything this season, and a trophy would only have encouraged Arsene to proceed with a policy that is inherently flawed.  But it would never have happened.  There are several key ingredients missing from this Arsenal side that will prevent them from triumphing at the highest level.

I’ve run out of steam with this.  I’m all typed out.  Chelsea on Sunday.  A chance to cheer up the legions of Arsenal fans who were perhaps wrong to expect better, but still deserve better.

If, like me, you’re something of a comfort eater, you ought to know about the Domino’s Pizza Football Special – buy one get one free on any medium or large pizza. Don’t blame me if you end up all Paddy Kenny.

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