If you're reading this blog, you know what happened this weekend. Arsenal went to Old Trafford and were thoroughly embarrassed by a dynamic Manchester United squad 8-2. Arsenal can explain away a lot of this loss. Three out of their starting four fullbacks were out. Eight players total for the squad were unavailable. How could any team, Arsenal or otherwise, be expected to compete with the defending champions with so many players unavailable? And this is very valid. It is absolutely valid to say that this half-strength squad had no chance against Man U and it is no shock that Arsenal came out of the match with no points won. However. There is a limit to what fans will tolerate and what excuses like this can do for a team. A 3-0 loss would be reasonable given the circumstances. Hell, a 4-2 loss or something along those lines would even be acceptable as long as you could point to promising parts of Arsenal's play. But what this match did more than anything else was underline the issue I described in my previous post, that Arsenal is a big boy that does not act like a big boy in the least. A "top four" team should never, ever be beaten 8-2, regardless of circumstance, opponent, location, or anything else that was going on. This was a wake-up call, and I only hope that Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal management got it.
Let's be clear, this would have been a different match if Jack Wilshere, Alex Song, Emmanuel Frimpong, Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna, Gervinho, etc. had been available (notice that I don't mention Kieran Gibbs because the options at left back for Arsenal are utter shit). That is a devastating amount of injuries and unavailables. But Arsenal's inability to shore up the weaknesses in their squad is what doomed them in this match. My friend Jeff said to me last weekend that Manchester United would never be this thin on the field because they would have tons of young talent coming off the bench to make their squad airtight. I initially said that any team would be in trouble with as many missing starters as Arsenal had, but this match has me thinking otherwise. Danny Welbeck was having a fantastic match (and season so far in general) but he pulled up lame in the 35th minute or so. Who came on to replace him? Javier Fucking Hernandez! "Oh shit, what do we do, we just lost our starting striker to injury? I know, let's use a natural fucking scorer who had 13 goals in his first year in the EPL. Maybe he'll be ok." They put in two subs in the 68th minute and the "downgrade" was for Park Ji-Sung and Ryan Giggs, two incredibly experienced international players who have produced for years at Manchester. That is their bench. And they weren't even playing Fabio or Dimitar Berbatov. It's an embarrassment of riches and while Arsenal has some promising young talent, it doesn't come close to matching what Man U has their disposal.
The real worry from all of this is that Arsenal's recruitment strategy is doomed to the cycle that we saw play out this summer. Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas were two players that Arsenal recruited young, developed, and then were forced to let go of when the stars wanted to move on to greener pastures. If this image of Arsenal remains, what's to stop Jack Wilshere from heading to Man U when his contract is up? Why should Theo Walcott or Aaron Ramsey stick around if Arsenal is too busy with their youth movement to make the Champions League or reasonably challenge for a Premier League title? When every big club in Europe is constantly in predator mode, looking to scoop up the best and brightest talent from anywhere in the world, how is Arsenal going to manage to keep a core of winners together for long enough to build their reputation as a big club back up? Now granted, the prior part of this paragraph is all doom and gloom and very little reality. Players still want to play for Arsenal, that much is obvious. Three weeks of turmoil is not going to doom a franchise that is celebrating its 125 year anniversary this season. But Wenger and the Arsenal front office do need to understand the image of their club that is out there now, an image associated with young kids and a lack of spending to make the squad whole. Image isn't everything, but it is something. Chelsea was nothing 10 years ago and now they're a perennial title contender that plays UEFA games on the reg. That kind of turnaround can go both ways, especially when the name and history don't mean quite as much as they used to. Still something, but not everything. There's no guarantee that Arsenal will always be good, just like there is no guarantee that Manchester United will always be good. But Manchester United have done something concrete about that uncertainty while Arsenal is still twiddling their thumbs and waiting for their "real" squad to come back. I'm just worried that by the time that happens, we'll be in the Liverpool zone from last year. As always, Go Gunners.