On monday there were a lot of attempts to spin the 8-2 drubbing we took at Old Trafford in a positive light. I understand the effort. It’s easier to accept that we were beaten so comprehensively if there’s either an excuse, or a benefit that arises from it.
The excuse is obvious. We were missing players. Lots of them. But I think the excuse of missing players has become so overused at Arsenal that most supporters derive little solace from it. So that has created the need to justify Sunday’s embarrassment in another manner.
Apparently the historic defeat was the best thing that ever happened to us. That’s become the new conclusion. This line of reasoning suggests that Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal board might not have realized how threadbare the squad had become. But thanks to Manchester United’s willingness to help our cause, they now know we need players and will start a late transfer-window buying frenzy that will ignite our season.
It’s a perfectly understandable mentality. It hurts watching your team capitulate badly at the ground of a hated rival. Explaining away that experience as the turning of the tide is a better way to process what happened. If that loss is the jump-start to transfer dealings that change our season dramatically, then we will look back on the defeat with cockeyed appreciation. In some ways, it makes sense.
In many ways it’s also totally insane. I find it impossible to believe that it took a lopsided loss for anyone to “finally realize” we lacked depth. Every Arsenal blogger on the interweb (and I understand there are about 60,000 of us) had written something about how thin the squad looked to start the season. And I’m 99% certain that Arsene Wenger understands football about 100 times better than all the Arsenal bloggers combined.
I don’t believe for one second that the loss made anyone realize anything. Rather, the loss made the people who run Arsenal panic. It’s one thing to lose a match. It’s another thing to be embarrassed. Especially at a time when fan sentiment is already teetering on mutinous. Sunday was a public relations nightmare and it required swift action. As a result, fans who attended the match at Old Trafford will be given a complementary ticket to a future match.
It’s a nice gesture to mollify the away fans whose support on Sunday was heroic. But the panic induced by Sunday’s result seems to have left the club no choice but to make a splash in the transfer market. I’m certain Arsene Wenger saw the holes in the squad before we were demolished. What I believe is that he wanted to prove he could replace all our lost quality and missing pieces with the existing players he has been developing and the youngsters he recently brought in. I’m not sure that the result on Sunday was a “wake-up call.” I think it basically left Wenger and the board no choice but to change tactics or risk too many unpalatable potential outcomes.
On the bright side, the panic reaction did not impact Arsene’s continued management at Arsenal. The club were sensible enough to express their commitment to the manager. There are some people who believe his time has come and gone. I’m not among them. Perhaps there is more sympathy for that sentiment at this point, but I still don’t think we have reached a point where Wenger can no longer lead the team forward. However, I do believe it’s possible that this season could be dispositive. A title wouldn’t be required for Arsene to keep his job, but I certainly think more humiliating losses and a fall from the Champions League places could make his position untenable. Particularly if we don’t improve the squad adequately in the next 48 hours.
The rationale and timing may be questionable, but it does seem like our transfer business has now been kicked into high gear. Whether it’s too late to get the deals done remains to be seen. But I can’t help feeling like this has been almost hilariously mismanaged. Either we needed players or we didn’t. One result, four days before the transfer window shuts, shouldn’t be the basis for that decision. Had we beaten United on Sunday, would that mean that we didn’t need to sign anyone? Surely that can’t be the case either. Over 38 games the table doesn’t lie. Combine those 38 games with domestic cups and Champions League fixtures and you need a very deep squad to compete. One match doesn’t tell you anything. If it did, then we would’ve been Champions of Europe last season after defeating Barcelona at the Emirates. (Would’ve been nice though!)
No matter how hard I try to see the bright side of Sunday, logic prevents me. We weren’t good enough to win the title last year and barely held our top four membership. We lost key, experienced players at left-back, in midfield, and on the wing. We lost squad players in attack, midfield and defense. Yet we barely replaced the squad players we lost and did nothing to address the loss of our finest midfielder in years. The notion that we could possibly be better than last term, under those circumstances, especially when considering the business done by our rivals, is laughable. Almost as laughable as the idea that an 8-2 whipping was the only way to arrive at that conclusion.
One of the most dangerous oxymorons this time of year is the phrase “Sky Sports News understands.” Unfortunately, Arsenal fans are now going to be teased relentlessly by that phrase over the next few days. Apparently in addition to Park Chu-Young, we have also acquired Brazilian left-back Andre Santos From Fenerbahce. Not exactly names to strike fear in the hearts of our biggest rivals. But they are important additions to the squad in places where we needed depth. In a way, those signings are the biggest evidence of Arsene Wenger’s change in approach. No matter how good they might be, I don’t think they qualify as the “super quality” signings he claimed were the only ones he’d consider.
With Wenger having addressed depth at striker and left-back, what’s needed now is creativity and dynamism in midfield, and a strong center-back who can either partner Vermaelen, or provide some degree of competence when he’s unavailable. Gary Cahill seems to be the obvious choice to fill the latter requirement, but there’s a ton of uncertainty about candidates for the former position. We’ve heard names from the sublime to the ridiculous, with Goetze being the latest titillating player linked with a move to the Emirates.
Now we have two days to improve the team and two weeks to sit around and ruminate about our historic defeat. My hope is that the arrival of new signings will improve morale among players and supporters alike. And hopefully a fortnight spent with a bitter taste in their mouths will have our players properly motivated to destroy Swansea when the international break ends.
Jenkinson, Gervinho and Song miss one more match, but Frimpong returns after the break. We might also welcome back some of our wounded like Gibbs, Diaby, Vermaelen and hopefully Wilshere. When you add those players back into the mix we still look a formidable side and that’s worth remembering. While we clearly lack depth, we have a strong enough first XI to beat any opponent we face. The manner of our defeat on Sunday was humiliating, but it still only counted as one defeat. Our season has a chance to start anew in September. It’s still early and there’s still every chance that we’ll reflect on this period as an important step on our path to a successful season. But please, spare me the justification that Sunday’s loss was the best thing that ever happened to us. I think we’d all rather be sitting around discussing our 8-2 victory instead.