By Josh Clarke at the Emirates
Unprecedented levels of discontent were reached at Arsenal before kick-off yesterday with supporters’ group the Black Scarf Movement staging a marching protest on the Emirates – the largest of its kind in the Arsene Wengerera.
Yet, with the BSM keen to assert that the protest was to attract attention to dissatisfaction with the running of the club at boardroom level, an utterly abject showing on the pitch against Swansea would only have served to pour petrol on the flames.
Spirited shouts of ‘where’s the money gone?’ took a new potency when baring in mind that it was Swansea's £2 million summer recuit Michu – who has outscored every Arsenal player this season – that put them to the sword.
Grumbles and booing have, whether you believe it to be unfair or not, been common currency at the Emirates in the past few seasons, though on Saturday it was truly warranted. The 90 minutes of football served up by the home side must surely up there with the most dour in recent memory.
Any side can be sucker-punched by late goals – especially when pushing forward for a winner themselves – though it is the manner of the 2-0 defeat to the Swans that will further swell the ranks of Gunners fans questioning Wenger’s stewardship.
On the front foot for the majority of the game the Gunners were utterly listless and bereft of incision up top, despite fielding the full quota of attacking options at their disposal in a positional merry-go-round that was unable to seriously test Swans goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel all afternoon.
Theo Walcott was wholly ineffectual in a game littered with terrible first touches. Lukas Podolski, for a footballer who has amassed over 100 international caps, looked clueless for large chunks of the match. Gervinho is not, and never will be, the forward Wenger thinks he is.
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The midfield three of Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla – in theory one of, if not, the most technically and creatively capable in the Premier League – were rendered inadequate by a Swansea midfield who hardly put in vintage performances themselves.
Not to detract from Swansea, who produced a diligent and effective away display that, along with the supporters’ increasingly palpable exasperation, frustrated Arsenal to a point where they were unable to function. Yet, the afternoon was clearly all about Arsenal’s deficiencies, leaving them with just one goal and two points from three dreary Premier League fixtures, stranded in 10th place in the table.
It was a performance that made Arsene Wenger's recent assertions that the Gunners are capable of challenging for the title this season even more laughable than they were before yesterday’s defeat. Though progression beyond the group stages of the Champions League is nailed down this term, a top four spot at the end of this season is looking more and more beyond Arsenal’s capabilities.
How the Gunners move on from this defeat is crucial and in a season that has already been defined by mini peaks and troughs, the Gunners could hardly ask for a better run of games in what is a congested month of football. However, it is fair to state that the trump card Wenger thought he held before yesterday’s defeat – four home Premier League games in the month of December – could turn out to be quite the opposite.
On the evidence of yesterday, the Emirates has turned into a cauldron and there is nobody at the club with the character, or ability, to grab a side comprised of average-to-good Premier League players by the scruff of the neck and demand better.