10 April ~ Seven points behind Manchester United with a game in hand and still to host them, on paper Arsenal are still in the title race. But you’ll struggle to find an Arsenal fan, or indeed a neutral, who thinks three points against today Blackpool would be another step towards the title. To paraphrase baseball legend Yogi Berra, Arsenal have déjà vu all over again. Most fans are already in post-mortem mode.
This season, like most post-Invincibles seasons, has been like watching your five-year-old learn to ride a bike. Though you strongly advise stabilisers, he insists on speeding down the hill without them. He fell off at the corner at the end of the street yesterday, and the day before, but he’s so full of belief that this time he can do it without any adjustment to his approach. Again he starts off really well, but that corner’s coming up now... Entirely predictable, but still painful to watch.
Are Arsenal’s failings the same as ever? A defence that regularly features Koscielny, Squillaci and Almunia (stop tittering at the back) has let in fewer goals than one containing Vidic, Ferdinand and Van der Sar. We have the best away record in the Premier League and we haven’t lost since mid December. It’s home form which has cost us and impatient, quick-to-turn fans at the Grove may want to think about how much they’ve played a part in that.
Inevitably fans are split on Arsène Wenger, the key question being did he have transfer funds? Some think the economics graduate has been holding on to £50 million but refusing to spend, stubbornly believing Denilson just needs just one more game to turn into Zinedine Zidane (was Steve McClaren’s rumoured bid for the oddly square-headed Brazilian the last straw at Wolfsburg?). But if Wenger hasn’t had money to spend – and we seemed very stingy in bids for Mark Schwarzer – then he’s done an amazing job. Who else would keep us in the Champions League year on year, with the odd tilt at the title?
That said, yet again key players were injured when it came to the key games. The frustrating thing is the comparative weakness of title contenders this time it really was there for the taking. We need some stabilisers for the bike. But can we afford them? Damian Hall