Struggling Arsenal must rise above the growing tension
The talk from the Arsenal dressingroom took in the need to learn from what went wrong on Tuesday, even if it seemed to be an old chestnut that remained uncracked. The thought also occurred that knowledge alone might not have been, nor will be, enough against the Germans.
There was soul-searching, particularly on the issue of the first-half concessions, and an element of helplessness. Theo Walcott, one of the few players who has consistently shown character this season, made the point that the team had actually looked sharp at the very outset. But Kroos’s seventh-minute opener had stemmed from Arsenal sloppiness, which has been the recurrent, jarring theme.
“It’s hard to get it because it’s happening most weeks,” Walcott said. “We didn’t really have a slow start, it was just sloppy goals . . . goals that could have been avoidable, I felt.”
The message was that it was futile to dwell on the defeat; heads needed to be raised as big games loomed. After Villa it is the derby at Tottenham. “We’ve just got to start believing again,” Walcott said.
Arsenal will surely be no better than a top-four team with no trophies for another season and it is the glass ceiling of the fair-to-middling, of the merely passable, that has drawn supporters’ ire. To some of them Wenger has set the bar high and is now falling below what is expected. The Frenchman’s win percentage in all competitions of 47.5 per cent is his lowest since 1996-97.
Arsenal bemoaned how their hands were tied over the sales of Robin van Persie last summer and those of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas in 2011, in that the players made it plain that they wanted to leave and, in the case of the first two, had entered the final year on their contract.
It is the manner in which funds have been invested, or otherwise, that has been as much of a problem. The summer of 2011 saw Wenger change tack on the transfer market, as he sought more seasoned professionals such as Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta.
Last time out he signed Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla. Each one has been good, sometimes very good; Cazorla has shown flickers of real inspiration. But none of them feels like a player from the top echelon or, to put it another way, a player who would make the Bayern team.
Wilshere, meanwhile, has targets that are loftier than a top-four finish – and the ability to fulfil them. He will not tread water at Arsenal indefinitely.