The Arsenal Monday verdict: Arsenal need a lesson in accepting defeat
PUBLISHED: 18:24 14 January 2013 | UPDATED: 18:34 14 January 2013
Manchester City’s triumph at the Emirates was all too comfortable, and not just because of a sending-off
Another day of regret, recrimination and rancour at the Emirates. Sunday was Arsenal’s fourth home defeat of the season, and each one has precipitated an avalanche of criticism.
It has always been this way, at least under Arsene Wenger. As long ago as 2001 the late Sir Bobby Robson commented that ‘they should learn how to lose round here’ after his side had upset the odds to win a stormy encounter 3-1 at Highbury.
That game also featured controversial refereeing decisions and two red cards – Graham Poll having sent off first Arsenal’s Ray Parlour and then Newcastle’s Craig Bellamy before, with the score at 1-1, awarding Newcastle a late penalty. Thierry Henry let Poll have the full vent of his fury at the final whistle and the official ended up with a police escort off the pitch.
Fortunately, Mike Dean did not quite have to endure such behaviour after the Manchester City game on Sunday, but maybe if his decision to send off Laurent Koscielny and award City a penalty had come in the final 10 minutes rather than the first 10, he possibly would have.
On reflection, most people have agreed, it was a penalty. On another day the referee might not have also shown the red card, and the ‘double punishment’ is a rule in football that has long needed review. But that is hardly down to Dean, who was merely applying the letter of the law.
Once Arsenal fans had seen Vincent Kompany dismissed for what looked a legal tackle, they realised they didn’t have so much to complain about.
All this, of course, detracts from the rather more pressing issue the match brought to the surface, which is that the gap between Arsenal and teams like Manchester City is growing.
The numerical disadvantage can only partially be held to account: Arsenal are now 21 points behind Manchester United and 14 behind second-placed City, and that is no coincidence.
City’s vast wealth has helped create this chasm but Arsenal, as Sunday’s ticket-price debate showed, are not exactly paupers either. Most supporters accept that Arsenal cannot – and should not – try to keep pace with the exorbitant transfer fees and wages paid by City, United and Chelsea, but that does not mean they should spend nothing at all.
Yet a week after saying “if we find one or two in the transfer market, why not?” Wenger seemed to be backtracking from what has become painfully obvious to pundits and supporters alike; this squad needs strengthening this month, or Arsenal are in grave danger of finally relinquishing their top-four place.
“I don’t want to give false hope but we are trying” wrote Wenger in his programme notes about players possibly arriving before January 31. “We have a very busy schedule at the moment but I’m lucky to have people around me who do a lot of good work.”
Supporters would beg to differ. Seldom has the decision to sell both Robin van Persie and Alex Song back in August looked more telling than it did on Sunday.
Without Mikel Arteta, absent for the first time in the league this season, Arsenal were shorn of their midfield shield, the kind of job Song used to do so ably before he was sold to Barcelona.
Mewnwhile a couple of hundred miles north at Old Trafford on Sunday, Van Persie was seeing off Liverpool with another clinical strike. Arsenal fans hardly needed another reminder of what they lost in Van Persie, or another look at the league table for him to justify why he left.
Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri know all about that, having swapped these kind of Emirates days for Premier League winner’s medals last season. Few would bet against Van Persie emulating them come May.
Their former team-mates, however, must concentrate on rather more modest targets, such as fourth place. On Sunday’s evidence they have plenty of work to do.
They could perhaps look back to that 2001 defeat to Newcastle for inspiration. Five days later Arsenal went to Anfield and won playing with 10 men for almost an hour after an appalling decision from the referee Paul Durkin to send off Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
Arsenal then went on a 28-game unbeaten domestic run to win the Double, defeating Chelsea in the FA Cup final and then Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford inside five days in May. Clearly that was a team who didn’t want to learn how to lose.