There are certain things Arsene Wenger never does.
These include never inviting pube-scratching meat-head managers of opposition teams to sample his fine claret after a game; never responding to chants of “Arsene Arsene give us a wave” with anything other than the sort of brief, embarrassed arm-flick normally only used by teenagers horrified to have bumped into their dad while out with their mates; and never subbing off a player at half time when they’re playing crap.
On Saturday he broke the last of those taboos.
Denilson was having an absolute stinker in the first half against West Brom. Manuel Almunia may have stolen the accolades for Dick of the Day with the sort of suicidal sprint normally found only in the world of lemmingkind, but Denilson was having his own private meltdown.
Opinion is divided on Denilson. Some men like a neat and tidy Brazilian. Others prefer something a bit more luxuriant.
Myself, I have always felt there’s a role for him in certain games, where we expect to have a lot of the ball and where we have other, more creative, players who can make something happen. In those circumstances Den can play a role in midfield, moving the ball quickly from player to player, switching the direction of play: never incisive, but usually accurate.
On Saturday even this part of his game went missing. Even those simple, sideways passes went too often to a man in a striped shirt. He played like a cross between Ray Wilkins and Ray Charles.
But, despite his woeful performance, I was stunned to see that he had been substituted at half time. The TV commentator assured us that this was tactical, not due to an injury. Unbelievable.
We have all sat through games where it was obvious that a change of personnel was needed, but Arsene has stubbornly refused to put on a sub before the 60th minute. More often it’s the 70th minute before he’ll make a change, even when we’re losing or struggling to break down a park-the-bus defence.
So for him to remove Denilson at half time feels to me like a significant statement. On one level it shows how desperate Arsene was to win the game (and remember, we were only one nil down at half time); on another level it could well indicate the moment when Arsene has finally given up on the young Brazilian.
Denilson came to us from Sao Paulo in 2006 as the captain of Brazil under 17s. In his early outings for Arsenal he looked like he could become another Cesc Fabregas, but that promise has never been fulfilled. He just doesn’t seem to have progressed. He has never made the step up into the full Brazil team and it’s not hard to see why.
This season, with the emergence of Wilshere and now Ramsey, he has probably become a sixth or seventh choice midfielder, playing only when others are injured or suspended.
Admittedly, the holding role in which he was cast on Saturday is not his natural position, but that does not excuse his poor performance.
Sadly, it looked to me as if his confidence is shot. This may be a result of being pushed down the pecking order; it may be because of the moans and groans of the crowd at The Grove whenever he does something wrong; it may just be because deep down he knows he’s not good enough.
Whatever it is, Arsene had seen enough by half time at the weekend and hauled him off. With key players returning from injury I suspect it’s quite likely we’ll never see Denilson in an Arsenal shirt again.
It’s probably for the best. With Almunia showing the mental fortitude of a dormouse, Diaby displaying the focus of a goldfish and Squillaci looking as safe as a knitted condom, the last thing we need for the title run-in is another nut job in the starting line-up.
The most likely move for Denilson would be to Spain or Portugal in the summer, but I could see him heading home to a team in Brazil.
He has played some good games for us (most recently away at Man Utd in the Cup, when he was one of our better performers in a disappointing display). I would much rather that he had fulfilled his promise and become a must-have member of the squad. But that’s not the case. It probably is time for him to go and Arsene may well agree.
If he does ship out in the summer, I will wish him boa sorte but I won’t have any regrets.