I saw the end of Arsenal’s season today, and I don’t feel as bad about it as I thought I would.
In fact, I feel shockingly okay about what I saw today.
When this season began no one gave Arsenal a chance to even finish in the top four, expecting the Gunners to lose their spot to Tottenham Hotspur. But a top four finish is very nearly unassailable.
When this season began, everyone but Arsene Wenger and Sir Fergie thought the loss of Henry was a massive mistake, but his absence liberated an Arsenal squad who needed to play for each other rather than their superstar.
So put in context the 2007/2008 season is a triumph no matter what happens in the end, and it provides the groundwork for a serious run at trophies next season
But today I saw the end of Arsenal's season, and it wasn't pretty.
I saw four things today that make me believe the Gunners won’t finish first and they won’t win a trophy. Here they are:
1. Eduardo’s injury was ugly.
It came from a sloppy an unintentionally dangerous tackle. The red card was the right call, but Wenger’s call for Martin Taylor’s career to end with his sloppy tackle was more than a little over-the-top (although it is important to note that Wenger has withdrawn his comment after seeing the replays). All that aside, it was a massive blow to Arsenal’s title hopes.
Eduardo da Silva has become an intregal part of the Arsenal attack.
It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t scored as many goals as Adebayor in recent weeks. His presence makes space for Adebayor, he helps link the midfield to the goal, he is a constant worry for defenses, and most importantly, he has settled into the rhythm that Arsenal have developed over the season.
When he is replaced by Bendtner the rhythm breaks down, and when Robin van Persie comes back it is unlikely he will be able to step seamlessly into Eduardo’s role.
That’s not to say that van Persie couldn’t single handedly save Arsenal’s season -- he could -- but he could also struggle to get comfortable and throw Arsenal’s attack into disarray.
Eduardo will be missed, and I think missing him will be decisive.
2. Almunia’s hands are a little questionable.
McFadden’s free kick was a dinger (so was his penalty kick. Great game, McFadden). But Almunia got a hand to it, and I’ve always been taught by my coaches that if I get my hand on the ball there is no excuse for it hitting the twine.
I know that’s not always possible, and I’ve touched more than a few that I couldn’t save, but then I play for crappy teams with other overweight middle aged beer guzzlers -- and I pay for the right to be bad. I don’t make a ton of cash in North London playing for Arsenal like Almunia does. His standards have to be higher than mine.
I am not saying that Lehmann is the answer, nor am I saying that Almunia is terrible.
Lehmann was great once, but his prime has passed.
But there has to be a better keeper out there than Almunia. I love him as a back-up. But I want a keeper who can steal us games. Almunia is not that guy but for now Arsenal is stuck with him. That will cost us dear.
3. Adebayor’s ego is out of control.
I don’t know if Adebayor saw that Nicklas Bendtner was wide open when he decided to take that low shot in the second half or not. I don’t know if it was linked to their row of a couple weeks back. I don’t care.
Adebayor played it selfish. Adebayor made the wrong choice. Adebayor lost the points. Simple as that.
Sure we can point to Clichy giving away the penalty in extra time (which was a dodgy penalty at best. Clichy got the ball, then the man. That’s no penalty). But if Bendtner had scored, as he should have and would have, Arsenal would have won 3-2.
Adebayor’s ego got in the way. And it gets in the way too often.
4. Gallas gave up.
I felt for William Gallas today. But he was also the man who told me that the season was over.
His tears at the end of the game wrenched me.
I’ve been impressed with him all season, and he did better as captain than I ever expected. But today, when Arsenal lost, Gallas was devastated.
I will not be surprised to see him give up from now on. And I’ll be only slightly surprised to see him leave in the off season. Gallas body language said it all.
The season ended against Birmingham.
What a shame that Senderos third successive excellent performance and Theo Walcott’s best game in Arsenal red should have ended the way it did. But that’s football.
I hope my gut is wrong and that there is a trophy out there for Arsenal. If I’ve misread the things I saw today, and we do win a trophy...well, that will make an excellent season a complete success. If not there is always next season.
And in the end, I am proud of the Gunners no matter what happens.