PAUL MERSON is a chirpy type but when he shook and bowed his head in the Sky Sports studio on Saturday, you sensed a Eureka moment in the air.
“Maybe, he’s just stubborn,” he said of Arsene Wenger. “Maybe, that’s the problem here.”
We will return to Chelsea – many times, I suspect, before their season climaxes in some silverware – but there was a demoralising finality to Arsenal’s title challenge at Stamford Bridge yesterday that merits consideration.
We bow to no-one on these pages in our admiration for the Strasbourg man and what he has brought to North London, the Premier League and football in general, but there’s quite the body of evidence to support Merse’s startling discovery of a stubborn streak.
While a lot of the criticism that drifts down from the cheap seats can be facile and glib, legitimate and carefully articulated grievances from Arsenal followers have also been dismissed with a Gallic shrug that has a whiff of arrogance about it.
If the claim that Wenger’s belated transfer window target last Monday was a goalkeeper is true, at least it amounts to a belated admission on Wenger’s part that there’s isn’t a Championship-winning keeper in his collection of Spanish, Polish and Italian eccentrics.
On the basis that it has taken him three seasons to get around to thoughts of an adequate replacement for Jens Lehmann, Arsenal fans should not hold their breath on the club investing in cover for Gallas and Vermaelen, replacements for Emmanuel Adebayor and the injured Robin van Persie, or a water-carrier for Cesc Fabregas in midfield. And with money apparently not an issue, how rich was the irony at Stamford Bridge that the crude difference between the sides amounted to one large Ivorian centre forward who has now netted 12 times in as many games against Arsenal’s delicate delights.
Five seasons have come and gone since an Arsenal side with Vieira, Petit, Henry et al last won a league title, and only a fool, a blind man or a French coach with an incredibly stubborn streak does not see the downside of footballing fine art.
Whereas Arsenal’s soft underbelly was ripped apart by Man United last week, there was something altogether more revealing about the manner Chelsea dealt with incessant Arsenal possession – “pressure” would hardly be appropriate.
Wenger says Arsenal showed up yesterday (unlike last Sunday), that he was proud of their performance and effort. I’m not sure he was. The Chelsea goals? The only thing worse than mistakes is repeating them.
Wenger should know. Until he invests in ready-made quality and admits to blind spots, his aesthetically-pleasing team are going be remain in Premiership Purgatory – too good for the rest, not good enough for the best.
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