By Avenell Dave
I met Arsene Wenger last season in April when the season was limbering to an end and we were struggling to find any sort of form. He talked about the team being broken by the Carling Cup final and it was sad to see how much it hurt him.
Fast forward just under a year and we’re in dire risk of our season taking a similarly ignominious turn if something doesn’t happen soon.
Patrick Vieira was right when he said that there was no leadership in Milan. Where Rosicky, Vermaelen, Arteta and even RvP should have roused the players, taken the game by the scruff of the neck and led by example, they went missing.
When players such as Theo Walcott brush aside team mates who are trying to get them going, you know that something is seriously wrong.
The difference of course between Wednesday’s defeat and that against M*nure earlier in the season was that we can’t complain that we were a shadow of a team this time around. The sad fact is that it told me a lot about who can and who can’t make it in this team.
Walcott and Alex Song have flattered to deceive for too long and I’d rather have Coquelin and Frimpong (when fit) any day of the week, protecting the defence as they are supposed to do.
Theo’s stock is still high and may be higher if he has a good game or two in EURO 2012, but I think he’s used up all nine lives and then some.
You can argue that the defence just had an off day, that Thomas Vermaelen will rarely play that badly again and that Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna will get better, after long lay-offs, the more they play.
But that doesn't disguise the fact that we’re going to need something special to get the result at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
Gervinho will be back and while he is still adjusting to the rigours of domestic football, he takes players on and will be a welcome boost to the team.
If Theo is dropped – and let’s be honest, he needs a kick up the backside to make him realise what playing for Arsenal means – the Ox can come back in on the right and hopefully will be fresh enough to make an impact.
We have no choice but to play RvP as often as possible and hope he copes – and in defence Djourou is our only choice with Kozza and Mertesacker out.
I don’t know how often Wenger lays into the players but I suspect it isn’t very often and while he is the scapegoat for much that goes on, it’s time for the players to realise that they’re playing for their futures, their reputations and what level of football they are going to be at next season.
Wenger’s biggest challenge now is to lift the team, to restore their confidence and their shape and get them performing to the best of their ability – and hope that even that is enough to produce something positive from this challenging season.
Sagna Djourou Vermaelen Gibbs
Coquelin Ramsey Arteta
Oxlade-Chamberlain RvP Gervinho