After every round of matches in the Premier League, there is always one set of fans which is just that tiny bit more furious, more unrepentant and more vocal than any other.
On Wednesday, that honour belonged to the loyal denizens of north London who wear the red and white scarves of Arsenal FC – and for once you had to feel a shred of sympathy for them.
They shell out nearly £1,000 ($1,580) for the cheapest type of season ticket at the Emirates. It’s an impressive, modern stadium and the club has a rich heritage, but there’s been nothing new to polish in the trophy cabinet since 2005.
On the field, some very gifted players all too rarely give the sort of performances their inflated salaries and exalted reputations merit. On a cold night at relegation-threatened Bolton on Wednesday they were very lucky not to lose. Wojciech Szczesny, on all visible evidence, appeared to foul Mark Davies in the late stages, but no penalty went to the home side.
Theo Walcott was famously picked for England’s 2006 World Cup squad aged 17. At 22, he is supposed to be coming into his prime, but despite some flickers of brilliance the frustration merely builds.
Here is a player who, when running at full tilt with the ball at his feet, is a joy to behold and almost impossible to tackle. But he doesn’t score nearly enough goals, and he doesn’t cross the ball into dangerous areas when required to do so.
Last weekend, in an FA Cup win for Arsenal, he celebrated exuberantly when scoring a goal that came about through pure good fortune. After a mazy run, he had failed to produce an end product - but the ball ricocheted off his chest into the goal.
Against Bolton, there was more of the off-key Walcott for Gunners fans to endure, and he is becoming a scapegoat for many of the fans who want to blame a single individual rather than the team as a whole.
Of course, there are others who have failed to ignite. Mikel Arteta, signed last summer to orchestrate play from the centre of midfield and help snuff out opposition attacks in their early stages, plays consistently well without delivering compelling, man-of-the-match performances. One criticism would be that he doesn’t time his passes right, often waiting too long to find the killer ball.
Aaron Ramsey, who recently turned 20, is clearly a very promising player. But he is simply not ready to take on the role vacated by Cesc Fabregas. One day he will be the marauding midfielder Arsenal need, but not yet.
Wednesday’s point was not enough to keep Arsenal in fifth place. Overtaken by Newcastle and Liverpool, they languish in seventh position. Manager Arsene Wenger came to the club in the summer of 1996. In 15 seasons he has always managed to guide the Gunners into the top four. That proud record could end this season
Meanwhile, Manchester City have hit a flat spot and are back level on points with Manchester United at the top of the tree. City went to Everton on Tuesday and were beaten 1-0 on a night when more attention was being paid to last-minute transfer deals. At Old Trafford, United eased past Stoke.
It’s interesting that City remain reasonably comfortable favourites with the bookmakers to win the title, but the last thing the players should do is believe it.
They need to go out and work hard in all areas, particularly in their away matches when they are tending to concentrate a little bit too much on defence. The fearless approach from the first half of the season, when they tended to concede a goal or two but were scoring three or four themselves, is what suits them best.
Suspensions – first for Vincent Kompany and then Mario Balotelli – have not helped, while Yaya Toure’s Africa Cup of Nations stint has also disrupted the team.
But City should beat Fulham on Saturday, after which they can see how United get on at Chelsea. By the time the weekend is out City could be a couple of points in front of their cross-City rivals once again.
Monday night’s match – the in-form Liverpool against third-placed Tottenham – is another mouthwatering contest in the offing, but Arsenal’s match against Blackburn will be another very interesting game, I feel.
Arsenal are 11 places above Blackburn, and will have home advantage, but Rovers have played better against sides they’re not expected to beat this season – and always carve out a few decent chances.
If Blackburn can actually convert one or two opportunities this time, Arsenal will feel some serious pressure. They have just one point from their last four matches in the league, and it’s tough to find the confidence to win a match when times are tough.
Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.
Updated Date: Feb 02, 2012 10:01:26 IST