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Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012
Arsenal's descent becoming farcical
LONDON — It was not just elimination, it was humiliation.
Of the 14 Arsenal players who lost in a penalty shootout to Bradford City in the League Cup quarterfinal at the Coral Windows Stadium on Wednesday, only Francis Coquelin is not a full international though the midfielder has seven France Under-21 caps.
In 120 minutes, Arsenal could score only one goal against a League Two side which cost £7,500 to assemble and boasted two internationals — from Northern Ireland and Bermuda. It was 70 minutes before the Gunners' first attempt at goal.
Gervinho and Maroune Chamakh were so poor, Nicklas Bendtner, on loan at Juventus and never one to have self-doubts, could have been forgiven for asking: "How bad do they think I am that they kept those two and let me go?"
Arsenal lost to a goal from a set piece, which is what Arsenal does. It has become an ignominious trademark in recent years and no matter who plays for the Gunners, the defensive frailty remains.
Arsene Wenger said his team had given everything, a strange statement all managers make in defeat because it pre-supposes that players might give anything less than 100 percent.
The criticism in the media and from many Arsenal fans on phone-ins was predictable, but we've heard it all before.
How many ways can you say the same thing?
Whatever the vitriol, Wenger has a season-and-a-half remaining on his contract and it is as certain as anything can be in football that he will see it through.
The Frenchman won't resign and the board won't sack him. In the wake of the seven-year trophy drought, the frustrations of the growing vocal dissidents are understandable but will have little effect on the Emirates powerbrokers.
When Wenger arrived from Nagoya Grampus Eight 16 years ago, he changed the face of English football with his approach to diet, preparation and his ability to find gems such as Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Patrick Vieira, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires, Cesc Fabregas and many others who became world stars.
Now there is Andre Santos, Gervinho, Chamakh, Andrey Arshavin and Park Ju Young.
Wenger takes the flak on his chin, refusing to point the finger at those above who impose financial restrictions and the scouting system that has all but dried up.
At the same time, he rules Arsenal in the way Alex Ferguson rules Manchester United but without the hairdryer. His relationship with coach Steve Bould is said to be frosty and clearly there are internal problems that need to be solved, but at 63, Wenger is unlikely to change his spots.
Logic dictates Arsenal will not win the Premier League or Champions League, so the F.A. Cup is its only realistic hope of silverware. To Wenger, qualifying for the Champions League represents success, but his assessment is shared by fewer and fewer fans.
* * *
JOHN OBI MIKEL was convinced, via Ramires, that referee Mark Clattenburg called him "a monkey." The Football Association ruled Clattenburg had no case to answer, but never released any details of the evidence.
This is what I understand to have happened. Clattenburg had sent off Chelsea striker Fernando Torres for a second yellow card offense, simulation, which replays showed to be a poor decision. However, at the time Clattenburg was certain in his own mind Torres had dived and when Mikel said to him (something like): "That was a crap decision," the referee showed him a yellow card.
Walking away from Mikel, Clattenburg said to himself: "I don't give a monkey's . . . you're having a crap game, too." It was overheard by Ramires.
It is not racist, just a phrase to indicate someone doesn't care about something. Clattenburg spoke to himself in the way we do when we are 100 meters from home and we realize we've forgotten something — "you silly so and so" — as we turn back.
When Ramires, whose English is poor, joined Chelsea he was made aware of certain words, one of which was monkey. And when he heard Clattenburg say "monkey's," the Brazilian put two and two together and came up with five.
No one said anything to Clattenburg on the pitch, so he was unaware of the storm brewing when he received a message that Mikel wanted to see him "to clarify something."
A referee is under no obligation to see a player after a game, but Clattenburg agreed and was stunned when, upon opening the door to his dressing room, Mikel had to be restrained from attacking him. He had no idea why Mikel was behaving in such a manner until the sorry story unfolded.
It beggars belief Chelsea could make an official complaint without undertaking a full and thorough investigation. The Independent Regulatory Commission which handed Mikel a paltry three-match ban let down all referees by not sending out a message that attempting to manhandle a match official cannot be accepted.
A three-game suspension is akin to saying they don't give a monkey's about a player behaving in such a manner.
UEFA fined the Serbian F.A. £69,000 and ordered one Under-21 game to be played behind closed doors after racist incidents during the game against England in October.
Cue indignation and injustice because Niklas Bendtner was fined £14,000 less for displaying sponsored underpants — the Denmark striker was also banned for one game. The perception was that UEFA takes racism less seriously than underwear.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.