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Thursday, December 13, 2012

If it were a boxing/mma match - Arsenal would have won a unanimous points decision

Watching Arsenal at a freezing Valley Parade was an excruciating experience for any Arsenal supporter. From 7:45pm to 10:35pm we endured deep frustration as Arsenal monumentally struggled to break a Bradford resistance effort that was reminiscent of an Arsenal team of the late George Graham vintage.

As every minute went by without the deadlock being broken, you could almost sense the Arsenal family of management, players and fans progressively despairng with the inner-thought: What is going on!

It was a negative cycle which ended appropriately with a defeat by the lottery of the penalty shoot-out method. To have won the penalty shoot out would have felt incongruous given the three hours of football torment that all followers of the Arsenal had just just experienced.

Expectedly, the media and assorted vacuous football pundits drew their daggers and went for Arsene following the defeat. This is to be expected, and is not worthy of further comment. The more worrying aspect of the Bradford aftermath for Arsene Wenger supporters, was the growing call from Arsenal fans for Arsene Wenger to depart.

Given Wenger's extraordinary achievements for Arsenal in his time at the club, I don't accept that being knocked out of the League Cup on penalties by Bradford is a compelling reason for him to depart. Any dispassionate observer of the match would clearly mark that Arsenal were overwhelmingly the dominant attacking team, and were there an alternative to the penalty shoot out method for deciding the tie which reflected the balance of play, the team progressing would have been Arsenal.

To draw an analogy, I have watched many boxing or mma matches were the clear favourite has been unable to knock out his unfancied opponent - but has nonetheless had his hand raised in victory after a disappointing but dominant performance. A fairer alternative to the penalty shoot out method woud have seen Arsenal progress, with the opportunity to put on a more clinical finishing performance in the next round. (I would like to reiterate that I hope the penalty shoot out method is abolished - a link to my post from years ago on this in the eft sidebar).

Clearly, Arsene Wenger has not got the formula right in his assembly of players for this season. However, it is also clear that he has recognised this, as he has prior emphasised his willingness to recruit next January. World class players - Cesc, Nasri, Clichy, van Persie and Song - have left (all too prematurely) in the past 16 months - and Wenger recognises they have not been adequately replaced. He has surely earned the right from all Arsenal fans to have the opportunity to rebuild what will be his fourth generation squad: his first three have achieved and competed remarkably in the modern era.

Wenger needs to match his declarative ambition of Arsenal going for titles with heavy investment in his squad. Arsenal must show ambition by persuading Walcott to stay by offering him terms where he can get elsewhere, and recruiting players who will undoubtedly improve the squad like Huntelaar, Baines, Fellaini, Zaha, etc. Instead of lauding that they run a financially good business, Arsenal in 2013 must show they now mean business off and on the pitch. Arsenal must not just talk ambition, they must also palpably demonstrate it.

I trust that Wenger has the proven expertise, intelligence and desire to put things right - but significant investment in the Arsenal squad is now paramount.


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