Lowest ebb in theatre of screams

STUCK in traffic on a depressingly dreary Friday, it was hard to believe it was only the day before that we’d been watching the Champions League draw, plotted up in the Venice sunshine, fantasising about further European glory.

I was thinking I’d have been better off staying in Italy. After Sunday’s shellacking, I really wish I had.

I must admit I was sorely tempted to stop indoors, rather than suffer more ignominy at Old Trafford. But after five fruitless years you feel obliged to keep going, for fear the Gunners might perform when least expected.

Yet in the absence of Vermaelen, it was obvious the game was up, when I had to check if I’d heard correctly, as Coquelin and Traore were announced in the starting line-up.

Sure, our side was severely depleted by injuries and suspensions but our squad was always going to be stretched at some point and perhaps we should be grateful our lack of depth has been so blatantly exposed, while there’s time to address the situation.

It felt to me as if Wenger had already written Sunday’s match off before it started and if we’d come away with a more creditable defeat, our obdurate manager might’ve been able to continue to kid himself that his invisible suit of armour hadn’t lost all of its lustre.

But with that 8-2 humiliation, Arsene left Old Trafford with nowhere to hide his manifest embarrassment.

As the Gunners trudged off 3-1 down at the break, you couldn’t imagine anyone in the dressing room with the force of personality to inspire the Gunners to raise their game.

For my money this has long been le Gaffer’s most grievous blind spot; failure to appreciate the crucial value of those qualities that cannot be measured on a statistical spreadsheet.

A squad simply can’t survive without the leadership capable of inspiring the sort of common bond, which equips them to fight for the greater good. There was little evidence of this on Sunday, when Arshavin, Rosicky and Chamakh turned tail and ran for cover after the final whistle, without acknowledging the loyal suckers for punishment in our corner of the ground.

If Arsenal is the model for how a well run football club should operate, rather than just a going concern, it’s unfathomable we should be left with £70 million in the bank, fighting over the last turkey on the shelf.

I’m not so naïve as to believe these modern day mercenaries will ever share our intensity of feeling for the club, but there has to be some semblance of a unity of purpose.

It doesn’t really matter who Wenger drafts in. Unless he focuses on unearthing that intangible iron-will, strength of character that can bond the disparate individuals, the Gunners will continue on a hiding to nothing.

In offering those of us who travelled the token sop of a free match ticket, the club should be aware that money can’t buy our love. Perhaps it would be better spent on a punt at the vertebrae to provide us with a bit of backbone?

*Bernard Azulay

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