It’s time for the young guns to step up and make history
As Arsenal fans watched their team crash out of the FA Cup on Saturday there was one overriding sentiment; it was an opportunity lost. When Everton eliminated Manchester United today, it further reinforced the feeling that we had missed an very realistic opportunity at silverware this season. We didn’t have to lose on Saturday. Chelsea weren’t miles beyond us. They didn’t outplay us from box to box. They took advantage of some mistakes at the back and some poor play by our stand-in midfielders to grab a game that could easily have gone our way. But for the first time in a few seasons, I’m not willing to accept excuses.
In recent seasons Arsenal have taken on the look of a team in transition. The Invincibles made their mark on Arsenal history and then moved on. Players like Bergkamp, Henry, Pires, Viera, and Ljundberg aren’t easily replaced. As Arsene Wenger set out to rebuild the gunners into a future contender he chose to rely on young and somewhat unproven talent. He believed that he had the young players necessary to build another unbeatable Arsenal side. What he needed was patience from the supporters. It’s hard for fans to think about the future, but Wenger gambled that we would be patient as his players developed. Last season was a blessing and a curse. The young players developed so well that they challenged for the league title. Before last season some pundits suggested that our top four status would be at risk. By the end of last season, some pundits were wondering how many titles this team could win. And as all of this has been taking place, the excuse for every failure has been built into the name of the team; the young guns. Well the time for excuses is at an end.
In the big money world of professional sports, you only get so much patience from supporters. That may not be fair, but it’s reality. If choosing youth over experience was the best long term plan for Arsenal, then Wenger was right to make that choice. Certainly, there’s no denying the talent on this team. But Wenger chose to make his stand with young players and now it’s time for them to play like veterans. They may be youthful, but most of these players now have game experience that belies their collective age. We may not win a trophy this season, but we will learn a lot about the character and big-match ability of the players Wenger has chosen by how they perform in this seasons’ final games.
What I am asking for, as a supporter, is simple: play to win. Forget the excuses. Forget labling our team as “super outsiders.” Just play to win. Play a 4-4-2. Play Arshavin in every domestic game. Play Van Persie or Eduardo and Adebayor together in attack for every big game left on the schedule. Play Cesc, Theo, Nasri/Arshavin and Song in midfield. Let this team play to its strengths. Wenger’s football ethos has always been typified by beautiful and positive football. Now it’s time to let his young players show they have the ability to win that way.
We are in the last four of the Champions League. It is a competition that Arsenal have never won. And despite the quality opposition facing us, there is no reason why we can’t win it. We have already beaten United this season and there’s not a player on our team that doesn’t believe we can do it again. What Wenger needs to do is have belief in the very players he has fought for and defended for the past few seasons. He must have confidence that his approach to football can win the world’s most prestigious club football trophy. We may not be impenetrable at the back, but on our day we can be unstoppable in attack. As heavily criticized as Wenger has been over the past few seasons, wouldn’t it be the ultimate reward and vindication to win the most coveted trophy with this very special group of young players?
As you are reading this, you might be thinking that it’s not realistic, but that’s precisely the problem. We have allowed ourselves to believe that these players are not ready yet. We have bought into the notion that if this team loses then there’s always a magical tomorrow when the young players come good. Well that’s not good enough. This team has beaten Chelsea and United once already this season. We drew Liverpool with ten men. We beat Roma in a penalty shootout when mighty and mature United could not do the same to Everton. We beat Villareal by playing agressively and letting our offense be our best defense. So there’s no excuse for failure. The ability and experience is there and now it’s time to convert that into results.
I used to be an attorney. (please hold your condemnations.) As an attorney you are tought to review all the pertinent evidence and information to build an argument. Admittedly I wasn’t very good at it, but I still get the gist. There is plenty of evidence now to draw some conclusions about our young players. For example, we now know that Alex Song has the ability to play at a high level in midfield. We know that Theo Walcott can terrorize any defense in the world. We know that Adebayor can score wonder goals and that Van Persie can be healthy and consistent. We know that Nasri and Arshavin are a formidable platoon on the left wing. We already knew that Cesc Fabregas can unlock any defense with a single perfect pass.
We also probably know that Denilson and Diaby aren’t good enough yet. Denilson may never be good enough. Diaby has work to do. And while the jury is still out on Vela and Bendtner and Eduardo and Ramsey etc., it’s okay to have some players that haven’t fully arrived yet. It’s true that our back four has problems. There’s not a lot of depth and we’re struggling to find a fit defender beyond Toure. But when we’re healthy we are reasonably solid. Certainly Clichy and Sagna are as good as any left and right-back tandem, while Gallas and Toure are acceptable in the center of defense. Finally, Almunia has shown that he can be more consistent than his big name counterpart at Chelsea and hasn’t made a single game-losing mistake this season that immediately jumps to mind. (Something that could not be said of his predecessor Jens Lehmann.) When you examine the team as it is currently formulated, there’s enough quality to win. It’s simply down to the players to show that they have what it takes when the stakes are at their highest.
We have enough evidence from our best players to suggest that they can beat any team in Europe. And on the basis of that evidence there is no reason to continue to offer them the excuse of youth. They should be expected to win because they are good enough to win. And if they weren’t good enough to win then Wenger failed the supporters by showing such devotion to this group.
We can still finish third in the Premier League. It’s not a stunning achievement, but it would make our life much easier for the next season’s Champions League. We can still have a say on the league title. There’s something exciting about influencing where the title lands when the chance to win it has passed. And most importantly, we can still be champions of Europe. We genuinely can be champions of Europe. Let’s not give in to the temptation to say that it’s a long shot. Let’s simply say that it can be done.
It’s time for Arsenal supporters, Arsenal players, and most importantly Arsenal’s iconic manager to stop proffering excuses and start demanding excellence. Arsenal are an excellent club with excellent supporters and excellent players and we’re ready to show that to the rest of Europe. The FA Cup is done. Let’s leave that in the past along with the negativity of the day. What it should have tought this team is that it’s time to play like champions. It’s time to play without caution or fear or the attitude that we’re some team of children facing adults. We are Arsenal Football Club. Whomever wears the Arsenal shirt is an Arsenal player regardless of age and they have the burden of performing with the quality and character befitting our club.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m ready to see Arsenal win something special. From now on, I’m going to expect this team to win. I’m not going to write about how nice it would be if we could surprise United or somehow get a result at Anfield. We are as good as those teams and we should win those games. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t. After all, we went farther in the FA Cup than Liverpool. We’ve progressed farther in Europe than Liverpool. As I mentioned before, we’ve beaten United and Chelsea. And we own the longest unbeaten run in the Premier League this season despite all our injuries. There’s just no good reason for lowering our expectations anymore.
There are just eight guaranteed games left in this season. Nine when we progress to the Champion’s League final. That’s a mere nine more times to see Arsenal play football this season. It’s amazing that the season is ending. I feel like it was just yesterday that I was anxiously watching the Emirates Cup on a horrible internet stream from my computer. But with just nine games left this season, there’s still a chance that it can be memorable and leave us filled with joy for the long summer ahead. That countdown starts on Tuesday at Anfield. It’s a chance to pick ourselves up from Saturday’s disappointment. But most importantly, it’s a chance to show that this Arsenal team is ready to win now.
Let’s really get behind our team now. Let’s show the kind of support that can lift a team to bigger accomplishments. If we can do that, then I genuinely believe that this team can shed it’s “young” label and finish the season as the “Champion Gunners.”