Just 22 short days ago, things were looking very promising for Arsenal Football Club. Gaining in momentum on a number of fronts, the Gunners were heading into both the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League semifinal rounds with some major confidence.
At the time, the team’s unbeaten league run was building impressively, a number of injured stars were seemingly returning at just the right time, and the opportunity to make something out of a disappointing season looked promising.
Boy, what a difference a few weeks can make!
Yesterday’s 4-1 home league defeat suffered at the hands of Chelsea will probably be remembered not only for the game’s final margin but for symbolically bringing a very frustrating season to a close for Arsene Wenger’s young side.
The loss Sunday has ended Arsenal’s 21-match unbeaten streak in the league, ended the Gunners’ chance to finish third in the Premiership this season, and also ended one of the worst weeks in recent memory for the club — having been eliminated five days earlier in the CL Semis by Manchester United.
After the mid-week loss in European competition, I wasn’t too upset with not being able to see most of the Chelsea match due to other obligations on Sunday. Having to leave before noon for a family gathering, I was only able to view the opening 30 minutes of the encounter.
In the game’s early moments, Arsenal basically dominated things and, if not for some subpar finishing from Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby and Alex Song, could have been a couple goals up on Chelsea. But like we have seen far too many times lately, a goal from the Gunners’ opponents against the run of play turned the match around and in Chelsea’s favor.
On this occasion it was Alex heading home off a free-kick for the Blues in the 28th minute. Disgusted and already running a bit late, I turned the match off and left home, retaining the hope that Arsenal would come back to win and keep alive its slim hopes of finishing third in the league.
But, as the match wore on, that was far from the case. Like Tuesday’s debacle against United, it wasn’t long before the Gunners were two down, thanks to a fine 20-yard effort from Nicolas Anelka.
The second half brought two more Chelsea goals sandwiched around a Nicklas Bendtner header for Arsenal’s lone reply, resulting in the home team’s worst defeat to date at the Emirates.
So, the lost opportunities in some big matches over these past three weeks has meant the Gunners will go trophyless for a fourth straight season. And now there is no chance at overtaking Chelsea for third, with Wenger not too disappointed in that regard.
“We had a small opportunity to come third but three months ago everybody said we would finish tenth so I would have signed at that point to finish fourth,” the manager told reporters after the match. “I don’t feel we have to be too disappointed with that, but what is very disappointing for us is in the games that mattered in the last three or four weeks we couldn’t win. That’s where we have to analyse. But today there were a lot of positives in the game and we have to take a little distance from the defeat because it’s not a 4-1 game today.”
Citing his team’s many chances on goal, Wenger felt Arsenal “should have been 2-0 up before they had a shot on goal. On the first free-kick we made a mistake and they scored. Today we missed seven or eight clear-cut chances and on every single mistake we made we were punished.”
When questioned on his side’s defense and the number of goals let in during recent matches, the French manager did admit that “We have to improve the way we defend. You wouldn’t like to come out when you lose 4-1 and say ‘listen, we are going to buy four defenders.’ I believe we have quality defenders and it’s more a case of balancing the team defensively than the quality of our defenders.”
The two rather heavy home defeats have left many supporters voicing concerns with the current Arsenal squad and clamoring for some major summer signings to improve the team. Yet Wenger has remained calm on the matter, telling arsenal.com’s Richard Clarke that he “does not feel his side needs major surgery. He wants improvements ‘in the right areas’ but has ruled out a raft of signings.”
“I don’t think the squad needs major investment,” said Wenger. “At the moment I don’t know what funds will be available (anyway). But I just believe we need to continue to improve. I’m not as doom-and-gloom as everybody wants to make it after a defeat.”