Friday 24 January 2020

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Like the British Labour Party, Arsenal face a long hard climb back to the heights of yore'

Football's equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn face long, hard climb back to high office

Political football: Arsenal’s Lucas Torreira and Matteo
Guendouzi (No 29) can’t hide their dismay as Manchester City players celebrate their second goal at the Emirates yesterday. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters
Political football: Arsenal’s Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi (No 29) can’t hide their dismay as Manchester City players celebrate their second goal at the Emirates yesterday. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Arsenal are the football equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn - self-indulgent, tactically inept, confused, inflexible and pining for the past. Like their local MP, they're easily humiliated by ruthless opponents.

The Gunners' Monday night victory over West Ham was as misleading as those late opinion polls suggesting Corbyn might not get such a terrible beating after all. Yesterday's trouncing by Manchester City showed things really are as bad as they've seemed lately.

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There's no no-show like an Arsenal no-show, no other team with the same ability to impersonate Roberto Duran dropping his hands and declaring 'No mas' as he surrendered to Sugar Ray Leonard. They are the Premier League's kings of capitulation.

Mesut Ozil epitomises this facet of the team's personality. Before being withdrawn after 58 wretched minutes against City, he'd contributed little enough to make you wonder if he'd secretly sneaked ashore at some stage.

When summoned to the sideline, the midfielder put the tin hat on things by dawdling like a man unsure he had the energy to complete the journey. You'd imagine Ozil would be bursting to prove a point after the departure of Unai Emery, who'd lost patience with and marginalised him. Instead the lassitude continues.

Two years ago Ozil blamed domestic criticism of his poor performances in the World Cup finals on anti-Turkish racism in Germany. His team-mates scoffed at this yet, it got a bit of a hearing elsewhere. But what excuse is left now for the apparently inexorable decline of someone who was once among the finest creative players in Europe and is still just 31?

Arsenal’s interim boss Freddie Ljungberg shows his frustration at the Emirates. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters
Arsenal’s interim boss Freddie Ljungberg shows his frustration at the Emirates. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters

There was more passion in the entirely laudable tweet which Ozil sent on Friday decrying Chinese oppression of the Uighur people in the province of Xinjiang than he's shown on the field all season. The Chinese authorities retaliated by banning the broadcast of yesterday's match in that country. Chinese Arsenal fans were the luckiest Arsenal fans in the world.

On the City bench sat Mikel Arteta, favourite to take over at Arsenal. But being appointed to the job would surely have a 'congrats, we've made you commander of one of our divisions on the Russian Front' feel to it. Freddie Ljungberg's reputation is hardly being enhanced by his stint as caretaker.

The departure of an unpopular manager is usually followed by a bit of a bounce. None has been forthcoming at Arsenal and you wonder if the players can't move up a gear because this is as good as they get. Their back four, which has conceded more goals than any defence outside the bottom six, would be greatly improved by adding the likes of Irish internationals Matt Doherty, John Egan or Enda Stevens. Those players might not seem glamorous enough for the Emirates but going by performances this year they're much better defenders than Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Calum Chambers and Sead Kolasinac.

Should a new boss institute a clear-out, how many Arsenal players would be coveted by the continent's top clubs? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Matteo Guendouzi and, presumably, Nicolas Pepe, on the grounds of potential rather than anything he's done since becoming the fifth most expensive player in Premier League history.

Gunners supporter and local MP for the area Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Gunners supporter and local MP for the area Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Pepe has shown flashes of promise but also an infuriating tendency to drift out of the game which was apparent again as he allowed Fernandinho to surge past him in the build-up to Arsenal's first goal by Kevin De Bruyne. Kolasinac exhibited a similar laissez-faire attitude when leaving Raheem Sterling free to tap in the second at the far post. De Bruyne was similarly unimpeded as he lined up the glorious shot which made it 3-0 after 39 minutes.

City were allowed quantities of time and space they've found at few venues of late. Only some fine stops from Bernd Leno and casual finishing prevented them rifling in half a dozen goals. Arsenal have become ideal opposition for a team seeking a morale boost. They are a team not just without pride but without shame.

Sometimes the entire project seems infected by decadence. The crowd wait for evidence which confirms their suspicions with the result that the Highbury Library has become the Emirates Morgue. For long stretches of the second half the ghostly silence was reminiscent of some pre-season friendly City might play against lowly foreign opposition to boost jersey sales. It didn't seem like a Premier League match.

Invincible

How far Arsenal have fallen since the days of Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman took over in September 1996, a few months before Tony Blair steered Labour to a first general election victory in 23 years. Both men bestrode their era like colossi and brought their respective teams to new levels of success. At times they seemed invincible.

Yet the reputation of both declined to such an extent their once adoring fans couldn't wait to get rid of them. Now those supporters are finding that the replacement of giants is no easy task.

Like the British Labour Party, Arsenal face a long hard climb back to the heights of yore. It will be a long time before they are champions again.

Today they sit in limbo, seven points behind the top four and seven points ahead of the bottom three. Yesterday they seemed to belong more with the latter than the former.

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