Unless you’re living in a faraway cave with no access to the Internet, color TV and civilization, you'll probably know that Arsenal fans are hugely divided into two factions.
In one corner, we have the AKBs (Arsene Knows Best) who feel that Arsenal will head into oblivion without Wenger; all he does is right in their sight. In the other corner, we have the AMGs / WOBs (Arsene Must Go / Wenger Out Brigade) that are tired of their stubborn manager, his huge ego, his undying faith with youth, his inability to keep top players and his blinded principles that have ultimately led to the club’s current barren spell without silverware.
Make no mistake, these AMGs love their club with all their hearts. But they’re frustrated by their manager. I can safely bet that they had a hand in those “You don’t know what you’re doing” chants at Villa Park, after watching Francis Coquelin go in to replace Olivier Giroud.
The manager has defended his decision to make that substitution. He has also stated that Jack Wilshere picked up a minor ankle injury, so he had to rest the Englishman, resulting in a starting berth for Aaron Ramsey. Wenger has been in this business long enough to know how to run his team, but the way the fans get on his case in the wake of any disappointing result is somewhat disturbing.
These are the same fans that chastised Wenger for buying a relatively unknown 18-year-old winger from Southampton for a whopping £12m, but also barraged the manager with insults when he withdrew this same youngster for Andrey Arshavin in January 2012.
With Wilshere suffering a long-term injury last season, Ramsey had a chance to claim a first-team berth. Instead, his inconsistent performances paved the way for a resurgent Tomas Rosicky in the tail end of the campaign. I would have thought that the imminent return of Jack Wilshere would stir Ramsey to up his game.
There are two sides to Ramsey’s performance on Saturday.
Some say that he was Arsenal’s most productive player as fatigue took its toll on the Spanish duo of Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla, with Ramsey’s energy and verve making up for the losses in his midfield partners. Others say that Ramsey was below-par yet again, as he continued to miss chance after chance without really stamping his authority on the game.
In either case, it was pretty shocking to see how toothless Arsenal was against a team that had given up five goals at the Etihad Stadium. Aston Villa’s goalkeeper, Brad Guzan, was barely disturbed in the first half. Arsenal's best chance arrived when Giroud waltzed to the left before drilling a cross to Laurent Koscielny. That sort of ball is bread-and-butter for players like Giroud, Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski. But it was a classic case of the wrong player in the right place, and that chance went begging.
The goalless stalemate in the Midlands ensured that Arsenal is still languishing in sixth place, 10 points behind table-toppers Manchester United. I can vividly remember asking a Manchester United fan why his team’s home kit looked like a tablecloth. His reply was that it was because they were meant to be on top of the table.
Looking at the current league standings, the Red Devils are on top of the table, but Andre Santos had other plans for the jersey he retrieved from van Persie,
With Arsenal further behind the leaders, anything less than a victory against Everton will be a major disappointment. However, Everton are in good form this season and are currently in fifth place.
Wenger has stated that his team had a chance to win the game against Villa, but as always they lacked sharpness in the final third. This sentiment has also been shared by Kieran Gibbs, who believes that the team lacked conviction. As in the games against Manchester United and Norwich, it was painful to watch Arsenal struggle in the attacking department despite having so many talented attacking-minded players in the team.
Robin van Persie’s rightful replacement, Olivier Giroud, hasn’t set the Emirates ablaze with the kind of form that won him the Ligue 1 Golden Boot last season, but is slowly finding his feet in North London. In my honest opinion, he has done really well, as he has started adding the goals to the equation. Against Aston Villa, Giroud linked up brilliantly with his teammates. He would have had an assist to Laurent Koscielny, had the latter worn his shooting boots.
Lukas Podolski is another player that has been immense for the Gunners this season, with a brilliant work ethic so far. However, Podolski tends to become a peripheral figure as games progress, until that moment of inevitability when his number pops up on the fourth official’s board. Podolski didn’t really come into the fray at Villa Park and his replacement, Gervinho, was an aberration.
With Theo Walcott facing another spell on the sidelines, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was handed another chance to strut his stuff and did okay by his standards. At the tender age of 19, he is still learning his trade but should be commended for his hard work and level-headedness so far.
My major concern is with Arsenal’s midfield. The lack of depth in this area of the pitch is pretty alarming, considering that the club supposedly has a considerable chunk of playing personnel focused here.
The unnecessary sale of Alex Song has forced Mikel Arteta to shun his attacking duties to play as a primary holding midfielder. Arteta has performed admirably in this role. However, Wenger clearly lacks faith in Arteta’s deputies for the holding midfield role, as Emmanuel Frimpong has been shipped out on loan while Francis Coquelin remains on the fringes.
Age and fatigue are slowly taking their toll on Arteta’s performances, but Coquelin hasn’t done enough to prove that he’s ready to make that step up. Or maybe there’s something that Wenger sees from his chair that we the fans can’t see from climbing a tall tree.
The box-to-box role was manned by Wilshere in the 2010-11 campaign, but Song’s presence as the midfield enforcer allowed Arteta to take that role last season. With Arteta replacing Song in the holding role, Abou Diaby was given a new lease on life playing midfield enforcer. But as usual, the lanky Frenchman is back on the treatment table, his home away from home.
Ramsey keeps coming up with hot and cold performances and Wilshere is slowly integrating himself into the team, following a long-term layoff. Wilshere has recently stated that he’s getting used to the way Arsenal play and he’ll be back to his best by Christmas.
The disappointing 0-0 draw against Aston Villa hasn’t ended the world as we know it, but all attention must be on getting maximum points at Goodison Park on Wednesday night. Carl Jenkinson is confident that his team will win against Everton, while Wojciech Szczesny has labelled the game as a six-pointer.
Getting a positive result against Everton will give the Gunners the right momentum to head into this weekend’s home tie against Swansea.
Let's hope that the Gunners have their shooting boots in Merseyside, because the last time I checked, games are won by goals.