Our spoilt fans need a reality cheque

FOR most football supporters, “a close but no cigar” season, including two semi-finals and qualification for the Champions League, would be considered a relatively successful campaign.

Yet judging by the recent shameful displays from the not-so-staunch sections of the Arsenal’s audience, I can’t see too many Gooners lingering for the traditional trudge around the pitch at our last home game.

Arsène Wenger set the bar so high that, with all the success that followed his arrival at the club, far too many of our spoilt fans fail to appreciate it is an inevitable fact of life that the vast majority of sides are destined to end virtually every season empty-handed.

Turn the clock back a couple of months and most Gooners would’ve bitten your hand off, just to be guaranteed to finish above Villa in fourth place. The absurd levels of displeasure expressed following last weeks’s abject failure to reach a European final and Sunday’s capitulation, might lead one to conclude le Gaffer has been transformed from one of the most respected managers in world football into a clueless Mr Magoo.

The fact Wenger managed to maintain a veneer of competitiveness, is no less a feat than his former glories. Other clubs have actively pursued a sugar-daddy investor, or mortgaged themselves to the hilt to spunk up millions in attempts to play catch-up with the top four, or merely to avoid the consequences of losing their place at the Premier League trough. Arsène is expected to work miracles on a comparative shoestring. For me the fault lies with the club, for feeding our expectations instead of dampening them down. Instead of spouting all this “ringfenced” rubbish and repeatedly insisting that their parsimonious manager had plenty of money to spend, it would’ve been much better for them to have admitted that the new stadium project was going to put a strain on our resources. We could’ve coped with that, if we knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel. It certainly would’ve been preferable to trying to kid us that we’ve been starting every campaign on a level playing-field with the competition.

Arsène has received plenty of criticism for his refusal to deviate from a policy of producing our own teenage star turns, instead of splashing cash to buy experienced talent off the shelf. But Arsène is must know that a winning team requires a blend of characters. Personally I don’t believe his is some sort of crusade to force the rest of the footballing world to bend to his will, but that he’s merely been making the very most of his rather limited resources. A glance at the two benches last week, comparing the likes of Berbatov, Tevez and Giggs, with Bendtner, Vela and Eboué was all the evidence needed of the Gunners’ struggle to punch above our weight.

Despite Arsène’s best efforts, football is far from being an exact science. You buy the best available ingredients (or attempt to grow your own) and throw them into the melting pot, hoping this will produce the sort of chemistry that results in a tasty team. Setting aside the complaints about individual inadequacies, the most obvious deficiency in our last two outings has been a lack of character (on and off the pitch). This can’t be measured in our manager’s statistics and appears to be a blind-spot of his, ever since he belittled the captaincy by handing it out as a carrot, or merely as a recognition of seniority, rather than using the armband to identify leadership traits.

When this team’s talent takes centre stage, we’re capable of giving anyone a run for their money. But it’s how one reacts in adversity which is the true mark of character. Watching the players drag themselves back into the dressing room at break in our last two defeats, it’s been evident our squad is sorely lacking, when it comes to players with strength of personality to impose their will on team-mates and inspire a comeback.

Perhaps Stan Kroenke’s ambitions will negate the effects of a recession and provide Wenger with a real war-chest this summer. But buying players is a relatively easy task, compared tounearthing the grit and determination to triumph in backs-to-the-wall encounters that mark genuine contenders.

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