Tuesday 24 October 2017

Misfiring Gunners fall as flat as half-baked protest

Arsenal 1-0 Norwich City

Arsene Wenger was unfazed by a protest from a minority of supporters at the Emirates Stadium demanding ‘change’ Photo: Tony O’Brien
Arsene Wenger was unfazed by a protest from a minority of supporters at the Emirates Stadium demanding ‘change’ Photo: Tony O’Brien
Arsenal fans hold up banners calling for "Wenger Out". Photo: Getty
Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck celebrates scoring the winning goal. Photo: Getty
Olivier Giroud of Arsenal heads a shot towards goal. Photo: Getty

Miguel Delaney

It's hard to know what was worse: the game at the Emirates yesterday, the 'protest' or just Arsenal's underwhelming season and what it says about their overall project.

It does sum up so much of the uncertainty and sense of stasis around the club right now, though, that even a win that strengthens their hold on the Champions League places also ended up strengthening the arguments behind an otherwise pitiful show of dissent.

Arsene Wenger's team were here just like the minority of supporters calling for him to go: lacking in conviction. Everything about the club is so limp right now.

Just take the thread of this otherwise unconvincing 1-0 over Norwich City. In the 12th minute - a number chosen because that is the amount of years since Arsenal won the league - about five per cent of the crowd, if even that, held up A4 banners proclaiming 'Time for Change'.

The words were a problem from the start. What exactly were they calling for? Change what? The manager? If so, make it clearer. Instead, it was the vague message of a middle-of-the-road politician, who doesn't really know what he wants, other than wanting to be in power. That's not exactly the type of message you want to give off if you're protesting. There was nothing powerful about this.

It also had the reverse effect of actually provoking songs in support of Wenger from far more of the crowd. A few of the fans were ejected by stewards for arguing with each other.

As all of this was happening, there was almost nothing happening on the pitch. There wasn't much emotion of any kind on show here. It was hard to think that this was a game, just two weeks from the end of the season, involving one club clinging on to a Champions League place and another club clinging on to their Premier League place.

Norwich did have the better of the first half, and looked the likelier to score, even if that was a relative term in the circumstances. Nathan Redmond twice threatened, and Jonny Howson curled well over when a cooler head would have threatened Petr Cech.

Arsenal were doing very little in response, and Olivier Giroud was doing very little in general. You could tell this was a player that hadn't scored in 14 games. At one point, a poor touch just gave way to falling over.

The striker's performance still gave way to one of the day's great ironies, that only further emphasised the confusion around the place. On 56 minutes, Wenger had seen enough of his team ineffectively attacking, so decided to finally bring on Danny Welbeck.

That brought cheers. The choice of player he was taking off, though, only brought boos. Alex Iwobi was summoned when the entire crowd seemed to want Giroud to go. Yet, within just three minutes, the French striker had supremely headed down for the excellent Welbeck - one of the few players to show some life - to rattle the ball past John Ruddy through a deflection.

It was about the only thing Giroud did right all day, but it was enough.

Then again, "enough" is precisely the problem. The goal and win keep Arsenal on track for the top four, but we've seen all this before. We were supposed to see some progress, or even a title challenge this season, but they couldn't even manage that.

And, if Wenger can't have managed it in this season, when is he going to? Everyone around him - most painfully, Tottenham Hotspur - is changing manager or showing signs of change, except Arsenal.

That is the real argument behind wanting him gone. It does feel like, with Wenger there, nothing will ever change. They'll never make the leap a club of their resources should be making.

This was put to Wenger himself, who reflected on a "strange atmosphere" and, ultimately, a strange - and stagnant - season.

"We were in a position for a long time where our fans thought we could win the league, and didn't. I think it's disappointed love."

That, at least, was a better line than the protesters managed. By the 78th minute, there were even fewer fans holding up those banners. It had gone flatter than the match.

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