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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Arsenal Can No Longer Hide Under the “Kids”Excuse

The last two weeks have been calamitous for Arsene Wenger and his crop of ‘young players’ who have enormously flopped and lost three trophies in the shortest of time. The questions now are Who, or is it What should be blamed and Who or What should be fixed?

Just two weeks ago, had you approached any English football fan, whether he/she supports Arsenal, Liverpool or the common enemy in Manchester United, and told them Arsenal would finish this season without a silverware, they would probably have laughed you off and recommended that you stop watching football altogether and perhaps concentrate on the ongoing Cricket World Cup.

Photo source: 100goals.com
For here was a team that had a not less than 50/50 chance of clinching four, yes, four trophies before close of season, and even more before next season opens. The first and least prestigious of these trophies was the Football League Cup, also known as the League Cup or from current sponsorship, the Carling Cup. This cup is regarded as unimportant in England, never mind that Man U, Chelsea and Tottenham have won the trophy in the last 6 years, while Liverpool holds the record for having won the 92-team competition the most number of times, 7, since it was inaugurated in 1960.

A certain promoted side called Birmingham City was standing in the way of Arsene Wenger and his ‘young troops.’ Having already met Birmingham twice and swept them aside in both occasions this season, 2-1 at the Emirates and 3-0 at Birmingham’s’ St Andrews stadium, Arsenal went to Wembley on February 27 as crystal clear favourites.

History had it that Arsenal had not won a trophy since they last lifted the FA Cup in 2005. This ‘title drought’ is something that is considered as a disaster for the Gunners with the fans increasingly growing impatient. Birmingham on the other hand have reached the Carling Cup final only twice, but won it once in 1963, the only time they had a taste of a silverware. That has never been considered as a disaster and no one dared or dares to care if or when this would change.

To cut that seemingly long story short, history was against Birmingham in every way and so they went into the match as underdog as it can get. But then again you know how football works. There are only two things involved. You should attack and defend. Attack without defending, you might still end up on the losing side. Defend without attacking and you are surely prone to making that one costly mistake that leads to that one goal and the final whistle is blown.

It’s not like Arsene Wenger and his 14 men who fought this game on the field didn’t know this. They just might have forgotten at the most crucial of times as bully Serbian, Nicola Zigic powered in a header that put the Blues ahead. When Robin Van Persie equalized, the writing was on the wall that the Gunners would pick it from there. Or was it?

The match went for minutes as both teams pushed, but Birmingham looked the more resilient, the hungrier and the more desperate to lift the ‘worthless’ but better-than-none cup. A calamitous mix-up between Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and Lauerent Koscielny (what a mix-up of names) gifted Obafemi Martins the winning goal in the 89th minute. The diminutive Nigerian forward may only be on loan from Russia’s Rubin Kazan but he already has his name firmly inducted in the folklore of Birmingham football club’s 136-year history.

When Mike Dean, the match’s referee, blew the final whistle, Birmingham City had just won only their second major trophy since it was established in 1875 as Small Health Alliance, and the club’s first silverware in 48 years. Arsenal on the other hand were left cursing and humming. They had lost a ‘worthless’ cup.

The boys had failed their father again. But, they knew that unlike their inferior-in-almost-every-aspect opponents, they had another, and another, and another competition to make things right.

Enter the UEFA Champions League. Yes that big league where big teams meet to play in a big way and leave with a big trophy and big money– though my beloved team is still sleeping out in the cold of Europa Cup but I know they will be back soonest. But before this, comes the Sunderland match that Arsenal had to win to move to within a point of Manchester United. There’s always not much to write about a humdrum 0-0 draw so why not leave it at that.

Arsenal had just beat Barcelona 2-1 in the first leg of their Champions league encounter at the Emirates. It wasn’t a vintage performance from Wenger’s boys or one that convinced them they had gotten the antidote for Catalunyan domination, but one that surely gave them enough hope and swayed them into rightly believing that Barcelona are not invisible in the football world.

Arsenal’s style of play has been likened to Barcelona’s. As it turned out in the second leg though, it would almost be an insult to consider the team from London as an understudy to the Blaugrana’s pass and move style of play. The villain was always going to be a Cesc Fabregas – that prodigal son from Barcelona’s Cantera who the father has always wanted to go back to his roots. It was Cesc’s suicidal backheel that gifted Messi his goal, which the Ballon D’or winner took mercurially and opened the floodgates for Barca and drained Arsenal the firepower. The 23-year-old’s schoolboy mistake around his 18-yard box left Peps Guardiola celebrating but only in the short term as he perhaps later started wondering if Cesc might make the same mistake if he succeeds to sign him from Arsenal.

Fabregas’s father later claimed his son “wanted to shoot himself” after the 3-1 loss at Camp Nou and 4-3 aggregate loss that bundled Arsenal out of the competition. I say, you should have been there to hand him the gun Senior Fabregas. How many teams have you ever heard leave the pitch without a shot on or off target? Fabregas simply wanted a shot on target. The target here being Cesc Fabregas. Give the lad the gun. With that game we saw at Camp Nou, Arsene Wenger’s bunch of growing men should continue holding the name of kids even though most of them are fast reaching or leaving 25 years as you can notice below.

It’s quite unfortunate that that is the much I can write about Barca v Arsenal match at Camp Nou. Congratulations to Barcelona. For Wenger and his kids, another trophy has gone ‘pap!’ And two weeks have barely past. But there is always another trophy, and another.

Exit Champions league, comes FA Cup, English football’s oldest cup, one that is more coveted than the League cup and the last one Arsenal marveled at when they last won a cup in 2005. Opponent? Manchester United. Stage? Quarter-finals. What does Arsenal have to do? Borrow a leaf from Liverpool just a week ago. Turn on the style, unlock United’s 7-man defence, score, don’t concede and if you do, score another one. Easy? Wrong. Very hard. Especially if you allow Fabio Da Silva to score in the 28th minute and Wayne Rooney to wrap it up in the 49th minute. Another cup gone for Wenger and his boys who won’t just grow up. Arsenal dumped out of a third competition in only 2 weeks.

But since this is Arsenal football club, they have one more to go. The biggest, the grandest, the eyebrow raising, nerve arousing and appetite satiating Premier League trophy.  But then again, it’s the same Arsenal team. As if we expect the boys to nail this. Just count it out.

It’s easier for El-Hadji Diouf to stay out of trouble at any club in any country, than for Arsenal to win a cup, even if it was literally a tea cup. Arsenal are like a battery torch that works so well in the middle of the night, only to switch off once the thief knocks on the door.

The only problem is that every time Arsenal loses a match, someone, unable to stomach the defeat, loses his life in this part of the world. I’ve heard of domestic violence aimed at the woman but sources have not confirmed this yet so, I quote, don’t quote me.

The bottomline is Arsene Wenger has done a brilliant job poaching young players, or kids whichever way you want to refer to it, from as near as Spain to as far as the Ivory Coast and Cameroon. These boys have surely developed into men who can battle with the other men in football, whether they shed tears on the pitch like Luis Nani or face the likes of Nigel De Jong or Ryan Shawcross.

It is also true that the time has always been nigh for Wenger to rally his troops to challenge for and win major trophies on offer within England and beyond – yes plus the Emirates cup. And if this can’t be done this season, which looks more the likely, then for once, for once, Wenger should dig deepest into his pocket, remove those profits the Gunners have been racking in over the years and invest in a squad ready, willing and able to grind out results when need be.

If not so, and I know I speak for many Arsenal aficionados, the Frenchman should gracefully take a walk from the club and let a Mourinho kind of manager take over. Or if he loves Arsenal way too much, why not take care of the reserves or youth team or the academy. After all, Arsene Wenger knows how to identify, nurture and bring the best out of a young player. But what if this “best” is not good enough to win a trophy?

It is high time Arsenal won a trophy because the team is old enough to do so. And if they are not old in age, then they are old at always trying and falling short of the ultimate price.

Arsenal Squad – Age indicated in ()
Manuel Almunia Rivero (33), Sebastian Squillaci (30), Tomas “little Mozart” Rosicky (30), Andrey ‘Shava’ Arshavin (29), Bacary Sagna (28), Emmanuel Eboue (27), Robin Van Persie (27), Marouane Chamakh (27), Laurent Kosceilny (25), Lucas Fabianski (25), Thomas Vermalen (25), Gael Clichy (25), Vassiriki Abou Diaby (24), Johan Djourou (24), Francesc “Cesk” Fabregas Soler (23), Samir Nasri (23), Alexandre Song Billong (23), Nicklas Bendtner (23), Wojciech Szczesny (21), Kierran Gibs (21), Theo Walcott (21), Aaron Ramsey (20), Jack Wilshere (19)

And That's thesteifmastertake!!