Arsene Wenger owes Arsenal fans an apology after the 0-0 draw at Sunderland, while the return of Jack Wilshere and Alex Iwobi’s performance are also analysed.
Wenger must apologise for season of missed chances for Arsenal
When Arsene Wenger used a pre-match interview to insist criticism of his side this season was ‘unfair’, I couldn’t help but feel riled by the Frenchman’s explanations for his side’s failures this term.
Yes, his Arsenal side have suffered probably more key injuries than most this season, but the 2015-16 campaign will still go down as a huge opportunity missed for Wenger. Costly defeats at Manchester United and at home to Swansea during late February and early March means that, after the draw on Wearside on Sunday, the Gunners remain a long way adrift of table-topping Leicester.
Had maximum points been taken then – in what were two (on paper at least) very winnable games – Arsenal wouldn’t just be in the title mix, they’d probably be favourites to win it right now.
Yes, all sides can look rue the points that they let slip away, but Arsenal, more than most, will look back with regret.
When it came to the crunch and the need to deliver, they fell short. Many will have theories as to why that happened – and I suggested it was down to the ‘weak-spirit’ of Wenger in a previous article.
Whatever the truth, or whatever factor Wenger believes contributed the most to his side’s failures this season, one thing the Frenchman really ought to have done was to have used the interview as an opportunity to apologise, rather than defend his side.
Yes, the Champions League looks a safe bet to return to the club next season, but this season could have been so much better for Arsenal.
Psychological gains for Sunderland?
Sunderland’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal will probably not live long in the memory, but the significance of the point will not be lost on Sam Allardyce after it elevated the club out of the bottom three, albeit on goal difference only, at the expense of Norwich.
Allardyce, while often throwing his arms up in frustration from the Black Cats bench, will be pretty happy at the solidity shown by his side against the Gunners, and will be satisfied that their hard work in winning at Carrow Road last weekend was not undone against Arsenal.
Yes it was scrappy at times, but coming out of the bottom three for the first time in seven weeks will mean Allardyce won’t care one jot. It’ll also strike a psychological blow for their relegation rivals in East Anglia, as well as giving a gentle reminder – not that they’d have needed it – to neighbours Newcastle that this three-way fight for safety will go to the wire.
Alex Iwobi emergence means Arsenal won’t miss Theo Walcott
A jack of many trades, but a master of none. Theo Walcott has spent 10 years at Arsenal, but it’s fair to say his career hasn’t quite progressed as many felt it could have, and most probably, should have.
Now, with Arsene Wenger admitting he is uncertain if the pacy forward will still be an Arsenal player next season, I think the time has come for the Gunners to part with the star. Now, 27, Walcott has not started a Premier League game since the 3-2 defeat at Manchester United on February 28 – and it’s safe to say the player’s absence has hardly been felt.
He’s also at that age now where if Arsenal don’t sell him now, his value will only decline as the years progress.
His absence has coincided with the emergence of Alex Iwobi in the Gunners side, and the Nigerian again showed against Sunderland why he’s the preferred pick to Walcott.
Iwobi – growing with confidence and maturity with each passing game – was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet during the first half. He’s also clearly developed a good understanding with the likes of Alexis Sanchez, playing in that attacking triumvirate behind the main striker.
Iwobi looks hungrier, fitter, stronger than Walcott. And Walcott himself looks like he knows it, offering very little when stepping off the bench for the final quarter as a replacement for the man keeping him out of the side.
Walcott’s problem – if you want to call it that – is that he’s never truly mastered his best position: too lightweight to play as the focal point up front, and not capable of producing enough end product to play in the three behind.
A decade ago, when Arsenal signed the then-17-year-old from Southampton, Walcott looked set to become one of the best players of his generation. But with only 55 Premier League goals over his 10, often injury-hit, years at Arsenal, it’s now come to the point where Arsenal might be best served to sell off their once-prized asset.
Handball laws needs clarifying
We’ll be reviewing Sunderland’s penalty appeals in our weekly Ref Review feature on Monday, but one thing we can say with certainty right now is that the FA needs to clarify their laws surrounding handballs in the area.
Gary Lineker has regularly called for the law book to be changed so that if a ball hits an opponent’s hand in the area, a penalty is awarded, whether intentional or otherwise. So when Jermain Defoe’s fiercely-struck volley hit Per Mertesacker’s hand in the box, the Sunderland penalty appeals were instant and extremely vocal. Mike Dean was quick to turn down those appeals, but what we don’t know is whether:
a) the ref thought it didn’t hit his hand
b) the ref thought it hit his hand but ruled it unintentional
c) the ref simply took the easier option not to award the penalty, because the rules are so muddy….
Whatever the reason behind the decision not to give the spot-kick, this was merely one of numerous handball shouts in the Premier League this season. And it’s the lack of consistency between officials that is causing all the confusion. Clearly the time has come for the FA – or from even higher – to re-educate the officials and give their officials more guidance about what constitutes a spot-kick and what doesn’t.
Wilshere return too late for England?
Jack Wilshere put 330 days of injury frustration behind him when he finally made his first appearance of the season when stepping off the bench as a 84th-minute substitute at the Stadium of Light.
His return will no doubt raise hopes that he could make England’s 23-man squad for Euro 2016. But with just three games remaining for Arsenal and Wilshere to play in, has the player timed his return just that bit too late to force his way into the England reckoning?
Certainly a 100% fit Jack Wilshere would be a certainty to go, but after 11 months of frustration, would his place in the squad not be better suited to someone who wouldn’t be considered a gamble or an injury liability?