An Arsenal title challenge has been long off the table but only the most pessimistic fan won’t have been buoyed by their emphatic thrashing of hopeless Blackburn. I’m not sure I’d say it’s “been on the cards” but, at their best, Arsenal are the most fluid of the chasing pack. Sadly they are rarely at their best this season and seeing Arsenal battle for fourth (and not looking like favourites) is a bit like watching Marlon Brando mumble his way disinterestedly through “The Island of Dr Moreau”.
Arsene Wenger has had a resigned air to him, his lack of touchline histrionics a sign perhaps that he’s weary of trying to make things work. While Arsenal’s board are clearly motivated by profit, Wenger can’t be absolved of all blame. He’s the one who signed Emmanuel Eboué, Nicklas Bendtner, Manuel Almunia, Carlos Vela, and Denilson – players who failed to make an impact at the club. And there’s many more still in the first team squad who are not performing, some of whom were only signed last summer.
Why sign a carthorse like Per Mertesacker when you could have had Gary Cahill from Bolton? Scott Parker – one of the buys of the season – would have cost £5m but Wenger thought that Emmanuel Frimpong – a 20 year old rookie – could step in to the breach. Frimpong was sent off in his third game and is now on loan at Wolves.
Whoever it was – Wenger, the board, or a combination of them – backed the club in to a corner. When it became apparent that Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri were definitely not sticking around, Wenger had to throw away his blueprint and principles and make the most uncharacteristic signings he’s ever made in Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun. His other acquisitions were no better. Everyone said that Mertesacker was slow and plodding (and so he is) and anyone familiar with Brazilian football offered the opinion that left-back Andre Santos was, well, not a great defender (which he isn’t).
He is suffering the absence of Thomas Vermaelen and the next great English footballer (if he fixes his ankles) in Jack Wilshere. And on the plus side he has discovered the player that Theo Walcott wishes he was in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. So with an injury-free squad Wenger has the semblance of a good side.
But for now he’s only ever one defeat away from mumblings of discontent and I suggest that defeat is coming at The Stadium of Light next weekend.