With the season nearing its conclusion, worries over fourth place begin to wane
Today’s match between Aston Villa and Everton was almost as significant for Arsenal as it was for the participants. A Villa win would leave our lead at six points with tough games on the horizon. An Everton triumph would see them leap frog Villa into fifth place, just seven points behind fourth. Ultimately, the best result for Arsenal, short of a mutual forfeit, was a draw. And while the match was thrilling to watch, ultimately, Aston Villa and Everton produced precisely the result we needed.
We now hold an eight point lead on Villa and nine points over Everton. It’s not insurmountable, but Villa’s form is atrocious and Everton still could drop points against Chelsea and even on their travels to recent fortress Craven Cottage. Everton also have the distraction of an FA Cup semi-final with Manchester United to consider. Given United’s recent form, Everton will believe they can get a result. It’s a shame that Bolton couldn’t complete their comback against Chelsea on Saturday or we could legitimately start talking up our chances for third place. It’s worth reiterating how important it would be to escape the unprotected draw for next season’s Champions League qualifying round.
There’s no news on the injury front but we probably know where we stand for this week at least. Djourou will probably soon be declared unavailable for the remainder of the season. Clichy and Almunia are out for this week at least. As for the rest, it’s really down to Abou Diaby and Eduardo. I suspect that both will be available for Wednesday but that’s purely a guess. I would actually really like to see Diaby start on Wednesday, but given Song’s current form, he’s probably just as decent a choice. However, if Diaby were available that would give Wenger the option of using Song at center-half.
I want to comment on Arsene Wenger’s latest and most candid interview. If you haven’t yet read the interview, here it is again. The most important part of the interview might be this excerpt:
“And I remained faithful to my policy when everyone told me I was heading straight for a brick wall. People reproach me for not having bought Gareth Barry or Xavi Alonso. But I am a prisoner of my own policy. Buying Barry or Alonso is killing Alexandre Song, Abou Diaby and Denilson.”
I have a lot I’d like to say about the interview, Wenger’s decisions and how the season has shaped up, but I’ll try to curtail my analysis. Most of this is ground we’ve already covered but some of it bears repeating at this point.
First, I really don’t believe that buying Barry or Alonso would have been detrimental to Song, Diaby or Denilson. Ironically, if we had Alonso, we wouldn’t have lost Cesc to injury but that’s just dumb luck. As we’ve seen this season, injuries are a reality of modern football. Song, Diaby and Denilson would have played this season if Wenger had signed another midfielder. Furthermore, Denilson may have actually been hurt more than helped by his playing time this season. It might be a case of too much, too soon. He hasn’t progressed the way Wenger might have hoped no matter what he says publicly. Song and Diaby have shown flashes of real ability, but they’re not at the point in their careers where they can be consistent. It’s consistency that wins league titles.
But there’s more to this story than whether Wenger should have bought Alonso or Barry. First of all, Wenger doesn’t seem to get much credit for Nasri. He’s an up and coming French international and surely would have been a big money signing for some massive club soon enough. He’s been instrumental for us this season and I think he’s more of a threat to score than Hleb ever was. Wenger also believed he was getting Arshavin sooner rather than later. If Andrei had been with the team from the start of the season, we might be competing on three fronts rather than two. (Additionally, he would have been available to play in Europe had he signed in the summer.)
Everyone lamented the signing of Silvestre as a consolation prize for not getting what we wanted in the transfer market. I must admit that I’m not a huge fan of his and didn’t like the signing. But say whatever you want about the decision to go get him, the fact remains that we need him now. If he somehow produces the quality to guide us through this tricky period of the season, then Wenger’s decision to buy him will be vindicated.
Although we produced some terrible performances early in the season, so did Manchester United. We could have come back from those results. The title truly slipped away in February during that run of four scoreless draws against beatable opposition. We had chances in those games and failed to convert. We played those games without Cesc, Theo or Adebayor and their absence was telling. If we had Adebayor instead of Bendtner, or Cesc instead of Denilson, maybe we win those games. You can’t rewrite history, but that would have put us squarely in the middle of the title chase. This might seem like pointless musing, but I do have a point. I simply don’t believe that we lost the title because of our problems replacing Flamini.
A manager can only plan his transfers based on the squad he believes he has. You can’t blame Wenger for failing to forsee one of the worst injury hit seasons in club history. If you’re Arsene Wenger and you think you have a midfield of Nasri, Cesc, Theo, possibly Arshavin, Diaby, Song, Denilson and Eboue, then you might reasonably conclude that you’ll be okay. Especially when you look at attacking players like Adebayor, Van Persie, Eduardo, Vela and Bendtner. All of a sudden it becomes a crowded bench. Remember, these same players that some supporters claim aren’t good enough currently own the league’s longest unbeaten streak, have gone far in two major competitions, and have won their last five consecutive league games by a combined score of 16-3. They haven’t lost since November.
Wenger took a gamble in the summer that we could achieve our goals without buying an extra midfield player. He took the chance that Song, or Denilson or Diaby would be as good, or better than Flamini. And here’s the most important point of all: heading into last season, did anyone think that Matthew Flamini was a spectacular player? NO. No one really knew. He was just another young frenchman at Arsenal. He was fighting for a spot with Gilberto Silva. He was an unproven young talent. Over the course of last season he proved himself worthy. Why was it wrong of Wenger to let other players have the same chance to prove themselves worthy this season? Wasn’t it at least somewhat reasonable for Arsene to believe that one of these young midfielders could turn out to be even better than Flamini? If he were some irreplaceable world-class player, wouldn’t he be playing for AC Milan? (For that matter, wouldn’t Hleb be playing for Barcelona? He can’t buy a place on that starting XI, and when he plays he looks absolutely horrendous.) What Wenger tried to do this season wasn’t so different than what he did when he gave Flamini a chance last year.
Wenger decided to groom another player to replace Flamini from the talent he already had. He believed in that talent pool and right now, it looks as if he might have been right all along. And if it weren’t for a few missed chances in February, or a Clichy mistake against Sp*rs or all those ridiculous injuries, we might be talking about our very own chase for a treble this season. As it stands, I think many Arsenal supporters would be very happy to see Alex Song, or Abou Diaby, or even Denilson mature into Arsenal’s holding midfielders of the future.
There’s no denying that Garreth Barry and Xavi Alonso are quality players. But so are Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero. You can’t just go out and get the players you want. You have to consider the finances and whether the players are well and truly needed. You have to measure that against the development of the players you plan to rely on in the future. If you don’t do that, then you’re Chelsea or Manchester City or the New York Yankees. You’re a team with no soul of it’s own. A team with a wallet where it’s heart should be.
That’s my argument/rant. It’s poorly organized and has some holes, but some of it makes sense to me.
We can argue about it on twitter. Or over a beer some time. Or better yet, while we’re celebrating our first Champions League title.