Peter Bills : Arsenal’s title campaign looks in serious trouble

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By anyone’s judgement, Arsenal’s campaign for the 2008/9 Barclays Premier League title looks in serious trouble.

Writing off a member of the so-called elite top four on the first weekend of November might seem either wishful thinking (should one be a Tottenham supporter, as in this case) or downright churlish. Yet the case for the prosecution demanding Arsenal’s removal from the list of likely champions is both extensive and merited.

Six points – just two wins – behind joint leaders Chelsea and Liverpool might seem little cause for calamity among the Arsenal faithful. But the devil is in the detail here. On 20 points, there is a thoroughly justified claim to be made that the ‘Gooners’, in disrespectful Tottenham dialect, have already thrown away a whopping thirteen points this season. After just 11 matches, that is some profligacy.

But then, can anyone hand-on-heart pretend that they wouldn’t have backed Arsene Wenger’s once strolling aristocrats to banish Fulham, Hull and Stoke City to the far winds, especially Hull at home? Anything short of nine points from those apparently one-sided contests was unimaginable.

Well, one-sided they proved to be, with Arsenal the common catalyst. They weren’t good enough to survive a gentle early season day out beside the Thames at Fulham (lost 1-0), never saw the Hull horror approaching (lost 1-2 at The Emirates) and were simply too vapid to handle Stoke’s earthy, muscular aerial approach last weekend (lost 2-1).

As if that indictment sheet were not sufficiently lengthy, we can then add on the astonishing brace of points thrown away against Tottenham last week after they had led 4-2 in the 89th minute, and the two lost with a dismally uninspired 1-1 draw at lowly Sunderland, whose level was brutally exposed by Chelsea in a 5-0 rout on Saturday.

I know you can’t spend your whole life looking back, but sometimes it is instructive and besides, how do you ever learn if you ignore and forget the past ?

The common denominator here is Arsenal’s defensive fragility, their tendency to go AWOL in a collective defensive sense and their petulance – aka Robin van Persie’s stupid sending off at Stoke through a crude physical assault on the Stoke ‘keeper – when the flow is against them. Strangely, for a man of such erudition and intelligence, it beggars belief how Wenger defends such idiocy among his overpaid, over-pampered young stars. A strong dose of reality, words of public condemnation by their chief, might eventually prove of greater long term value than platitudes to sooth egotistical young minds.

Arsenal have become devotees of the aesthetic but little more. They lack the mental steel to transform so multi skilled a collection of young men into winners. For in hard times, at places like Stoke, Sunderland and Fulham, carving out a victory of any sort defines ultimate champions.

Arsenal continue to remind us that pleasing patterns and pretty tricks when the flow is with you, is only one side of the footballing coin. The surprise is that their astute manager has been equally seduced by the beauty, at the cost of long term pragmatism.

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