What a disastrous month March was for Arsenal fans!
Consecutive draws with Birmingham, Aston Villa, Wigan, Middlesbrough and a defeat to Chelsea has seen them drop a massive 11 points, resulting in a lowly third place (six points behind Manchester United).
With a triple clash with Liverpool this week, it is going to be tough for Arsenal as that will take a lot out of their already exhausted squad. Especially when Wenger has to focus on both the Champions League and EPL while Benitez will solely focus on the Champions League. Lets not forget Rafa’s prowess in the Champions League.
With a tough Champions League tie and equally hard domestic matches to come, Arsenal’s season is effectively all but over.
On the other hand, Man Utd have emerged as favorites in both competitions. The EPL is United’s to lose while the Champions League clash with Roma looks certain to see United progress.
It is interesting to note that both United and Arsenal have several key players injured. United have Carrick, Silvestre, Giggs, Fletcher, Saha, Neville and Van Der Sar injured while Arsenal have Sagna, Van Persie, Eduardo, Rosicky, Diaby and Denilson.
Yet United can easily come up with replacements (Brown for Neville, Nani for Giggs, Hargreaves for Carrick etc.) and remain consistent while Arsenal struggle whenever injuries kick in.
The reason — United’s squad possess depth while Arsenal’s small squad is too vulnerable to injuries. It seems that Wenger has forgotten the basics to winning the League — winning when you are not on top form (or when you have key players injured), NOT winning when you are in top form.
Which is why Arsenal has dropped 11 points in five games. The mistake here is clear — Wenger paid the price for not buying players in the summer and January transfer window.
If Arsenal is serious about being champions next season, they better learn from how United beat Derby (1-0) and Bolton (2-0) with lacklustre performances.
While youthful Arsenal looks unlikely to win the EPL, they surprised soccer fans by doing so well in the EPL. Lets not forget that they were tipped to finish 5th behind Tottenham at the start of the season.
But that’s not the point. Arsenal could have consolidated their chance to win the League. But they failed to do so, simply because their young squad do not have the experience and mental strength needed for the title run-in during the period Sir Alex Ferguson calls “squeaky bum time.”
Arsenal’s lack of mental strength meant that they are unable to put up with the immense pressure. We saw that from how their inept captain, William Gallas lost the plot after the 2-2 draw with Birmingham (the match Eduardo suffered a horror tackle from Taylor).
What “great” leadership it was from Gallas for the young Gunners to look up to. We all knew what happened after that – four consecutive draws and a defeat.
Could the same have happened to United? Unlikely. Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes would never have committed such “great” acts.
We have to ask ourselves this question: Why didn’t Arsene Wenger do the necessary? The answer is simple: Wenger is not capable of doing so. His Arsenal team is always fragile.
The poor run during the 02-03 title run-in, after the Battle of Old Trafford and after the 2006 Champions League Final proves that. Would Sir Alex had allowed United to fumble during this “squeaky bum time” if the same had happened to United? A definite No.
I am not trying to say that Arsene Wenger is a poor manager. He has done remarkably well in nurturing young players and deploying fluid attacking football. He is even the best in the world in that aspect.
But attacking football doesn’t mean perfect football. Yes, attacking football is entertaining and unpredictable but Wenger’s insistence on attacking football at all times makes them predictable. Mediocre teams like Middlesbrough and Birmingham seemed to have come up with a remedy to stop Arsenal.
Credit has to be given to Ferguson for combining attacking football with pragmatism. He has repeatedly dropped Carlos Tevez in key matches in order to have 5 in the midfield to control the game. Which explains United’s outstanding record against Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool this season.
Attacking football doesn’t necessarily mean a poor defence. Consider Manchester United: Their deadly attack comes with an impregnable defence.
While attack is the best form of defence, defence is also the best form of attack. A strong defence is imperative to how United won when they are not on form. This is what I mentioned earlier as a prerequisite for winning a title.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Arsenal. Arsenal would still be the most entertaining side in the English Premier League, but that could be at the cost of silverware.