Arsenal smashed Blackburn Rovers on the weekend. Scoring several goals, dominating the match and appearing genuinely impressive for the first time in a long time Arsenal looked like Arsenal used to look like. In the eyes of Arsenal fans Arsenal played like Arsenal should always be playing. In the eyes of neutrals Arsenal got their old swagger back. According to Theo Walcott the players did it for their manager. According to pundits, however, the victory was a hollow one that masked serious systemic problems at the club.
Arsenal have a good goalkeeper, a world class centre forward and a couple of promising midfielders. Besides that they have plenty of unrealised or inconsistent potential. The likes of Bacary Sagna and Andrey Arshavin might well be world class performers on their day but if that day happens so infrequently, because of injury or lack of form (the cause is irrelevant if it continues for so long), then replacements need to be found. Arsenal fans love to lament their luck with injuries. If, however, the problem keeps recurring and never ceases then the wrong questions are being asked. It isn’t a case of being unlucky with injuries, it is a case of having a squad full of injury prone players. Good management tries to avoid such situations and accounts for the likelihood of injuries. In any sport injuries are unavoidable and so any good squad management involves including players who can perform as worthy replacements. Arsenal ought to be experts in this field. The reality, however, is that the club has never been more lacking. Almost of all the first team players replacements are not good enough for the Arsenal fans. More frighteningly, many of the first team starters are not good enough for Arsenal fans. Put the two problems together and you can understand why Arsenal fans have been so vociferous in their complaints in recent times.
Football fans, however, can be fickle. Win a match by several goals, display some swagger, and throw in some nostalgia for effect (Thierry Henry’s goal) and you have the recipe for enchantment. The fans love the club again and all is well. Analysts, on the other hand, have to keep a more open mind. One result does not make a season and Arsenal’s current standing in the table, outside the Champions League spots, appears about right. Arsenal are unlikely to turn things around and get into the top 4 positions in the league table. Theo Walcott says the players owed that victory against Blackburn to Arsene Wenger but Arsene Wenger owes Arsenal fans something too. What he has been offering has not been good enough and one result will not disguise the table at the end of the season. Anything but a top 4 finish and the vitriol will return.