Written by Gooner in Exile
Easter weekend brought Gooners to Lancashire in their droves. We took the whole end of the ground, upper and lower, the normal allocation is 3,000 but that is, I believe, half lower tier and all the upper. I would estimate the travelling ranks were closer to 5,000 on Sunday.
For a change I waited around the players entrance for the team bus to arrive to give the team the support I think they need. The entrance was lined with Arsenal fans young and old, not one player stopped to sign an autograph for the youngsters eagerly awaiting their heroes, a few, Song, Theo, RvP and Jens, acknowledged the fans with a small hand gesture. The rest were listening to their music of choice in their own little worlds. You could argue this was the look of focussed players, but to me it came across as a tense team, one under the cosh and you would have thought for all the world they don’t like each other, and would have preferred to be anywhere else than playing football.
It also struck me just how young this group of players look as they walked along, carrying the hopes of so many fans on their shoulders is a big burden for these lads.
And so into the ground we went curious as to whether there had been a bust up pre match or whether the players were just in their pre game routine and therefore not in the business of being friendly until the job had been done.
The Easter Bank Holiday brought a fair few more families than you would normally see at away games, despite being dispersed across the whole end the fans managed to make a good deal of noise pre match, and as the PA died down you would have thought Bolton had 3,000 fans in as the Arsenal end was full of noise, belief and arrogance that we would sweep aside all before us. This has to be the default mindset at away games as the fans cheer and sing despite the scoreline.
The game started well with us having a good deal of possession and a few chances, Theo’s penalty appeal was met with groans from the away end, being too far away to judge it, it just appeared that he had been dispossessed with too much ease. Groans from the away end, I am afraid that the negativity had come to the North West with the extra travelling numbers.
I was unfortunate enough to be stood next to two particularly negative fans. One stood right behind me complained that Szczesny should have been wearing a cap as he “fumbled” two crosses, which for me was garbage as I turned to him to point out that the sun was coming from the other side of the ground and that both balls had come along the ground and therefore had nothing to do with the sun.
To my right another fan was having all manner of hissy fit which was amusing a few more seasoned regulars around them, now I know it is often said that some fans don’t know what they have got or how lucky they have been to witness the achievements of this team in recent years, the two lads were probably no more than 22-25. I caught the eye of one guy who was probably in his early 40’s and there with his two lads he just rolled his eyes and smiled at the guy in front who was literally acting like a spoilt brat in front of him.
In terms of the game we failed to capitalise on early pressure and Boltons confidence grew as they realised they weren’t as bad as last weeks Semi Final suggested and they started to play with more conviction, it is true that Owen Coyle has attempted to create a more attractive side but on Sunday they reverted to type of long ball to Davies and win the knock ons. Sturridge gave the centre backs a hard time whilst Davies was running and attacking many aerial balls with great success.
This culminated in the goal at the end of the first half which led to a bit more discontent within the massed ranks.
After the break Djourou was penalised for the tackle on Sturridge and this brought more ranting from behind me, I turned and looked the guy in the eye and in no uncertain terms told him to stop shouting so much rubbish and to perhaps support the team a little bit more. To be fair he looked at me a bit incredulously and then shut up which was a relief. Szczesny saved the weak penalty and almost immediately the side was lifted.
Soon after Van Persie was breaking the Bolton resilience with a great bit of interplay with Cesc which led to a low drive into the bottom corner.
Despite so much pressure in the second half we the fans could not will the ball into the net, and the players could not however much they tried break through for a second time. Bolton conserved energy without possession sitting deep and blocking any shots and runs, whilst Arsenal players wore themselves out by overworking the ball when shooting was the plea of the crowd. However in the players defence when you look at the goal we scored and the amount of bodies in and around the eighteen yard box it is no surprise they don’t shoot, in most instances it would be a total waste. But there were times when you felt the trigger could be pulled, Jack for example ran into the box and if he had the confidence to use his right foot should have shot, another couple of occasions came and went, it seemed like the goal would not come but on the other hand I did not feel like we were going to lose either. Silly me.
Unfortunately my fears have been confirmed, maybe it was the number of fans at the Reebok or worse the away support has also begun to lose faith. On the goal Arsenal fans poured out the exits, some stayed, not many waited to applaud the players off the pitch, but then few players came to the fans at the end, Sagna, Jack, Szczesny, Theo and Eboue were the few that came over to applaud the travelling horde.
I awoke Monday morning to a quote from Arsene Wenger accepting that he is to blame, will this man defend the players to the end, and will it be that loyalty that costs him his jobs, yes he picks the team, but his players in who he places so much trust have failed to do simple things well, and to score goals when so many chances have been created. When the players play we can score for fun, at the moment too many are suffering a mental block in front of goal.
My criticism of Wenger is that he is relying too heavily on a core of 11-13 players, those players are stagnating and tiring together, however it is hard for him to use the squad players as they have rarely done enough to convince him or the support that they can do the job required. Our squad rotation is limited, he needs to understand that occasionally for the benefit of the team an ordinary player must start in order to give the better player a rest or to freshen things up. We started the season with options in every position, we have ended it with an tired first eleven, and a group of squad players bereft of confidence.
Its time for this group of players to start enjoying football again, but its also time for them to start repaying the enormous faith that Wenger has put in them.