Honestly, I'm at a loss for how to start this blog post, let alone what I'm going to say to fill however many words I usually end up writing. After the embarrassing loss to Milan, there was an immediate reaction for pretty much all fans I heard from. Some chose anger while others chose the ever popular "woe is us" while still others were simply depressed. But even though this was gutting for any Arsenal fan, there was a response and that by itself shows that Arsenal fans still had something to respond to. I wrote in a post earlier this season that truly heartbreaking losses come because you believe in your team but they let you down. People were talking themselves into believing that the Gunners could get a result in Milan and the wide array of negative responses shows you that those people were expecting something more out of their team, something much more than the embarrassing display they were treated to. The response from the Sunderland match has been notably different. Either there have been nods to the Milan game (since the games were only three days apart, it's easy to lump the two together) as if to say "well, you saw that game so what did you really think would happen," or there's been almost no reaction at all. The latter should be the scary part for the people in charge at Arsenal as that is the mark of a defeated fan base.
Rooting for Arsenal has taken on a fatalistic quality, the idea that things are going to go wrong so you might as well start steeling yourself for it now. This isn't quite as bad as not caring, but it's obviously the wrong attitude for fans to have. Or rather, the wrong attitude for fans to have in the eyes of ownership. At this point, fans are more than justified in feeling that way about their team because they've done this roller coaster ride too many times, both this season and the last couple before. When your team is losing to Manchester United 8-2, going down to Tottenham in what should be a hotly contested derby, or being manhandled in Italy, the angry response is reasonable because it also comes with an unspoken "we know those are good teams, so we kind of understand, but come on!" Getting upset about those games has both a cathartic and supportive feel because it's being made clear that the fan thinks the team is better than how they've played in those notable clashes. But losses like this, being the obviously inferior team against Sunderland, a team that, while enjoying good form now and playing at home, should never be running Arsenal out of a stadium? What do you say to that? What form of support do you offer? It's not something that's even worth getting angry about beyond the throwing up of hands in the air. It's the kind of game that makes you want to give up on the season, and that's the real problem that Arsenal faces now.
So now Arsenal is out of the Carling Cup, out of the FA Cup, all but mathematically out of the Champions League, and barely in the fourth spot in the Premiership. An optimist would point out that now, save the mop-up game against AC Milan, Arsenal will only be playing Premier League matches so they can focus on earning a top four spot. An optimist would also point out that, while Arsenal have been playing so inconsistently all season, that all the teams liable to knock them out of the fourth spot have been equally appalling at times. For the sake of argument, let's take all teams within nine points of Arsenal. Does anyone really look at Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle, or Norwich City and think "oh, they'll definitely take the fourth spot away" at this point? Chelsea is the only squad I would call more talented than Arsenal, and even then it's not by much. None of the other teams put fear into your heart and Chelsea have dropped so many points recently that I'd almost be eager to play them. An optimist would argue that Arsenal could stay in fourth at least due to the quality of their competition.
A pessimist, however, would respond with one very similar counter argument: why? Why do we believe that Arsenal are any better than them? We as observers keep teasing ourselves with the promise of the side, of the fullbacks getting healthy, of Jack Wilshere returning, of the midfield gelling, and everything else in between. It is long past time to accept what is in front of us. Arsenal are a deeply flawed team that are far from one of the elite teams, both in Europe and in England. They may still hold onto the fourth spot above all of the other deeply flawed teams, but so what? It doesn't mean that they somehow earned it. It means only that they were a less damning version of mediocre.
-I have heard all kinds of cries, some for the head of Arsene Wenger, some for a shakeup in management, some for a firesale of all the players save Robin Van Persie. How about starting with the entire medical staff? Look, some teams have bad luck. It happens and you can't do anything about it. But it's temporary and it's manageable. Does anyone realize how many players have missed time with injury this year? Significant time and significant players I mean, either due to their status as starters or because they are needed replacements. I'll save the space and not list them all, but my rough count has fourteen players and they just keep dropping. Then throw in how Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie were oft injured before this season. Then add in that two more players were hurt this past week. Then add in the mismanagement of Jack Wilshere's comeback at multiple points. Does anyone believe that the medical staff is doing their job correctly at this point? It's sad to say that one of the most important offseason moves might be the hiring of some competent doctors.
-I have called for Arsene Wenger to adapt a bit and start using Theo Walcott in the middle to open up the wings for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho, and I finally got my wish against Sunderland when Arsenal was forced to go on the offensive and ended up with a midfield of Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta, Gervino, and Chamberlain while Walcott tried to combine with Robin Van Persie up top. It was... unpleasant to watch. There was no flow, Walcott never ran off of Van Persie particularly well, and all of that attacking power amounted to a fat lot of nothing. So, at least initially, I will admit being wrong. But isn't this the kind of thing that can be improved? Worked on? If these players have no experience in these positions, we can't expect them to move seamlessly into these new spots in the middle of a match. So, first round goes against me, but that doesn't mean that this team should stick with the 4-5-1 in all cases.
-Lastly, I want to briefly address the Arsenal players directly: stop bitching at the officials and just play the game. Numerous times during the Sunderland match, I saw Arsenal players go down (either too easily or due to valid contact) and immediately look to the official while pitching a hissy. Suggestion: play the fucking game. Get back up and run down the ball. Take some responsibility for what's going on rather than looking at the officials to bail you out. Get the ball taken away? Hustle back down the field and win it back. Get knocked over? File it for later and play hard against the man that got you. Don't back down. See an obvious missed call? Say maybe one thing about it and then go back to playing. You can't control the calls so just do what you can to make sure that they don't matter. I have never been so disappointed in this team for its attitude towards officials. The refs aren't losing the games. You're doing a fine job of that on your own. Leadership is needed to tell everyone to suck it up and keep playing. There aren't going to be any wins to celebrate if that attitude isn't ingrained. As Always, Go Gunners.