Monday 29 August 2011

Arsenal's 8-2 defeat - how different is it to losing 6-1 in 2001?

No one expected Arsenal to win at Old Trafford this time, so why should we be surprised by an 8-2 defeat? My dad backed the Gunners to win at 6-1. I told him he didn't have an earthly! I expected us to lose 4-0, as better Arsenal teams have lost by that margin or more in the past.

Who can forget the 6-1 mauling at the hands of United in February 2001, when Igor Stepanovs had a nightmare of nightmares? I don't think he ever recovered from that performance, as he got found out for what many of suspected of him already: lacking the ability to play for Arsenal.

Yesterday was less shocking than 2001 as it was a dot on the cards. The team we fielded included the much-maligned Armand Traore, whom I must admit thought would come good at Arsenal this season. Well, I was wrong and he's now been shipped off to QPR, which surely indicates we'll sign Leighton Baines from Everton (I say hopefully).

We also fielded Carl Jenkinson, who's still finding his feet at this level. I'm not sure he'll find them at all at Arsenal, to be honest, but I hope he can prove me wrong. And you're asking for trouble, when another defender, Johan Djourou, is out of sorts. That left Laurent Koscielny as the only defender with a reasonable amount of confidence going into the game.

Then in front of him, protecting the 'back one' was a debutante, Francis Coquelin. Imagine making your debut at Old Trafford, talk about getting chucked in the deep end. In the circumstances, I think Coquelin did okay. I really think he'll make it at Arsenal, but the current predicament the club finds itself in could mean it's going to be extra tough for youngsters to thrive.

The rest of the team more or less picked itself, but these first-team regulars didn't exactly cover themselves in glory, with skipper Robin van Persie missing a penalty. Had he scored it would have been 8-3, of course, and only a 5-goal deficit would have meant it was exactly like February 2001.

Ten years and six months later, we can compare the two Arsenal starting line-ups of 2001 and 2011:
Seaman (Szczeny) - 'Spunky' was past his best at 37, whereas 'Chesney Hawks' hasn't reached his enormous potential yet and was only at fault partially for the first goal. Old Arsenal 0-0 New Arsenal.
Luzhny (Jenkinson) - the Ukrainian was head and shoulders above poor old Carl. 1-0 to the Oldies.
Cole - (Traore) - I'm afraid Cashley would win the day against Traore ten times out of ten, as much as I hate to admit it. 2-0 to the Oldies.
Grimandi (Djourou) - I prefer Djourou, but he's out of form at the moment, so I'd say Grimandi, as he was quite reliable. 3-0 to the Oldies.
Stepanovs (Koscielny) - Our Kos lettuce is a much tastier player than Steps ever was! 3-1 to the Oldies.
Pires (Walcott) - I'd take Walcott for his pace, but Pires for his guile. 3-1 still.
Vieira (Coquelin) - Poor old Coq Au Vin is not in Vieira's league yet. 4-1 to the Oldies.
Parlour (Ramsey) - Rambo's got more skill but old Parls was more consistent. 5-1 to the Oldies.
Silvinho (Arshavin) - Arshavin's an ill-used genius being played out of position just like the talented Silvinho was. Still 5-1.
Wiltord (Rosicky) - Wiltord was our record signing and allowed to leave on a free. He was a winner, whereas Rosicky seems more a jinx than anything. 6-1 to the Oldies.
Henry (van Persie) - It has to be 7-1 to the Oldies. Henry's a legend and van Persie could be too, if Arsene Wenger can bring in some equally talented players. It's a big 'if' right now, with just 2 days left to do business in this transfer window. Yossi Benayoun doesn't seem to be the answer despite our alleged interest. Alex of Chelsea could be a good bet though.

So now let's move to the bench: that day we used Ljungberg and Vivas, but yesterday we used Lansbury, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Chamakh. I'd take the old two over the young three any day, but it's harsh to judge Oxlade-Chamberlain in these kind of circumstances.

Back in 2001, we didn't even throw Bergkamp, Manninger and Kanu into the fray. This time, instead of the excellent Manninger, we had the bag of nerves that is also known as Fabianski on the bench alongside the inexperienced Ozyakup, Sunu and Miquel. The latter player: Ignasi 'San' Miquel could have done a decent job if called upon, I feel sure of that.

To continue on a beer theme, our coach appears unable to organise a pee-up in a brewery from a defensive point of view, so having weak personnel on the pitch is only going to compound the problem. All this Arsene surely knows, so it makes you wonder why he doesn't put it right. He must know the 2001 team would pee all over his most recent line up.

Young men against kindergarten? Yes, despite Manchester United fielding a younger side than Arsenal in the recent debacle at Old Trafford it did seem like there was considerable gap in quality. It was more than 'men against boys'. More like 'professionals against apprentices'. United played with a sense of purpose. Arsenal can only feel desperation.

It must have been obvious to most pundits that an Arsenal player would get sent off. Jenkinson went and Arshavin was lucky to stay on after two X-rated challenges, but I can understand his desperation. The great club he joined has now been shorn of some of its greatness. No club could survive by selling three first-team regulars, (Clichy, Nasri and Fabregas) and not replacing them.

But Wenger has been a miracle worker in the past so what's to stop him doing it again? Well, I for one think his grand experiment has gone too far. There's no balance in the side now. So many players have to play out of position because the manager has failed miserably on the transfer front recently.

Arshavin, in particular, suffers on the left wing with mostly sub-Arsenal standard players to pass to. They don't make the right runs so it's difficult to find the right pass. They're too inexperienced to find space. The Russian will be ready to defect, at this rate, but he's not defective!

I don't think Wenger's time has run out yet, but if he doesn't considerably strengthen the team now we could end up dropping points in September too. We need 9 points from the next three games with Swansea (h), Blackburn (a) and Bolton (h) coming up just to keep in the running for fourth place. But let's not forget, despite a 6-1 defeat at Manchester United and a 4-0 drubbing at Anfield, we still finished second in 2001. Who says we can't finish runners-up again? Erm, me! Even third looks a bridge too far now, although before a ball was kicked I predicted this:
1) Man Utd
2) Man City
3) Arsenal
4) Chelsea

Will we finish above Chelsea? I think it's still possible, but it's looking increasingly unlikely. I stuck a tenner on it too, so please Arsene, I know you love saving money, so please please buy some players with Premier League experience. Just do that! Then I'll have a fighting chance of winning my bet.

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