I don’t know what Robin van Persie was on tonight, but the rest of Arsenal needs a hit. Our captain was absolutely electric today in our 2-1 victory over Sunderland. Incisive, deadly, creative… an absolute joy to watch. He took the team on his back with pure quality and carried us to three points – including finally scoring on a free-kick, a feat we haven’t seen him accomplish in quite some time.
So all is well and dandy, right? Unfortunately not, as the game asides from RVP’s brilliance was indicative of the problems that are really affecting this club at present.
Other than RVP, Arsenal was not scintillating today. After a frenetic opening 10-15 minutes, Arsenal went right back into their shell and continued to play some generally ineffective football. Sure there were chances, but overall the team only managed glimpses of the kind of form of top-tier teams. Walcott largely disappeared for periods, Gervinho managed some dangerous low-crosses but hardly burned anyone 1-on-1, and Song was incredibly poor in possession throughout the 90 minutes. Jenkinson nearly gifted a goal to Sunderland after being stripped by the opposition winger, were it not for the massive save by Szczesny to rob Lee Cattermole on what looked to be a tap-in header. Now I like the kid (he’s a born and raised Gooner) but frankly Wenger’s assessment that he can “replace Sagna” directly is not only a joke, it’s almost insulting to Bacary’s experience and consistency. Gibbs’ performance did nothing for me today, and Arteta was a little bit sloppy.
One might reckon I’m being too harsh. “Winning has to start somewhere”, and “This will be the boost that the team needs to get winning again” are two likely retorts – and I’m all for them being correct. But let’s look at the notes. Were it not for an absolutely stellar display from a world-class player, we would not have had three points today – we may not even have had one. Even with this incredible showing, we struggled to break down a traditionally mid-table team who’s current form is even poorer than ours – they didn’t even really have a proper striker playing. All of this, while at home, in the shining sun and the comforts of our plush, made-for-Arsenal pitch. Most horrifying is the thought that RVP may not want to waste his bags of quality in the latter half of an injury-plauged career leading the line of a team that isn’t up to the level he is. Continued failings of the team to live up to Robin’s quality will surely send him packing. With his current contract situation, it is a dangerous game to need this kind of performance week-in and week-out.
Today wasn’t much of a test for the team, and with a 1-0 lead after 36 seconds we shouldn’t have ever had the result in doubt. Yet still Arsenal found a way to make it a very nervy ninety minutes and only managed to scrape by with a late-on goal. For me, this is not a positive sign nor an indication of a turn-around. This looks more like a brief win by a team who’s struggles are like to continue for a while longer. I still continue to stick by my belief that Wenger’s expiration date may well be approaching, if not past (though I think the club and board will continue to drink sour milk in order to raise the market’s stock price). And while I’m happy to be proved wrong – eagerly awaiting it, in fact – I anticipate that the Marseille game may remind us that not all is right in the Arsenal refrigerator.