Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 26 – Arsenal

Manchester City’s season is over and a glorious era is coming to a close. The timid defeat at the Bernabeu still stings in the hearts and minds of many fans but for several City legends and Manuel Pellegrini, the last home game of the season will be their final goodbye.

City, like Arsenal, had hoped to be deep in a title race by this time in the season but instead face a nervy battle to secure their place in the Champions League. Manchester United sit only a point behind us and their relatively easy run of fixtures means they will be ready to pounce on any slip-ups. Manuel Pellegrini will know full well that a failure to secure that fourth spot could leave his legacy in tatters.

To get the low-down on the Gunners, we invited Arseblog columnist Michael Keshani onto the site.

Hi Michael, thanks for coming on. You’re a renowned Wenger fan boy. Have you thrown in the towel yet?

Furious at ‘fan boy’. But still.

You could say that. I never thought I’d get to a level of wanting anyone but him in charge, but at this point there’s little from the last two seasons to suggest he’s still the right guy to manage the club. Even the FA Cup win last year. The squad building has been poor to the point where there doesn’t actually seem to be any kind of plan, and even though he’s left himself with a good, if quite unbalanced squad, he’s done painfully little to get the best from most of the players. That being said, from there we’re stuck as to who comes in; he may not be the guy to win us the league anymore but no one firmly ‘better’ is available for us and as much as we’ve struggled, Ronald Koeman hasn’t suddenly become a better manager than Arsène Wenger. So I think for now, despite everything, it’s probably best to just wait out the next year until his contract is set to end, then reevaluate. The club aren’t sacking him now either way. A lot can change both within and outside of the club, but I’m not holding my breath.

What went wrong this season? You were top of the league on New Years Day and I genuinely thought that if we weren’t gonna do it then your lot would.

Same, in all honesty. We had a tough run through January – Liverpool away, Stoke away, Chelsea at home – and managed just 1 point from 9, but that was the early cracking up rather than the proper disintegration. The Southampton 0-0 just after that set sticks in the mind; we made the chances to win but still struggled to generate play from deep, yet Wenger persisted with Flamini, later replacing him with Coquelin, rather than anything more bold. After beating Leicester we were only 2 points off them, but followed that by losing to United’s U21s because for some reason he thought it was a good idea to play Gabriel (among other things), Swansea at home despite being a goal up, then drawing with Spurs when Coquelin got himself sent off, by which point it would basically only have been possible by winning every single game. Which wasn’t ridiculous given the opposition, but was given, you know, Arsenal.

The cold truth of it is that we were undone by our own poor management. People point to losing Coquelin and Cazorla in November but we were fourth after drawing at Norwich, then won 6 from the next 7 and, as you said, were a couple of points clear on top in the New Year. We hadn’t even been much good until November in the main anyway. The fact that Flamini was essentially our second choice defensive midfielder, even while our first choice was flawed at best, the neglect in terms of the balance of wide players, the non-adaptation to opposition, playing Gabriel… This is of course the massively shortened form of it (for more I wrote this) but those points that were dropped after beating Leicester were the culmination of every flaw in squad building and management of the squad with which he had left himself by Arsène. As sad as that is to admit.

How do you feel about Pep rocking up in Manchester this summer?

Somewhere between nervous, terrified and mildly excited. I quite like City as a club and I’m really interested to see what he does with this side, given it needs a tonne of overhaul, but the platform very much is there for it. It’s like a blank pallet for him, but also more of a regeneration job than his previous clubs, even 2008 Barça. I don’t expect anyone but him to win the league for the next few years, unless the rebuilding goes slower than expected this summer, but hopefully you won’t take too many of our players this time around. Hopefully. And it should at least be entertaining.

What did you make of our Champions League run?

To be honest, I found it quite frustrating. Partly out of envy that we haven’t been to the semi finals for 6 years now, or even to the quarters in 5, admittedly. It was annoying to see this particular City team get so far when better sides, even better City sides, didn’t have their luck with draws, and the opposition having their midfields disintegrate. Then following that by not being able to make anything against this Real Madrid. But the game is the game, and I expect they’ll make far bigger waves in the Champions League once Guardiola gets things in line. Irritation with it emanated more from a ‘why do we keep getting played/playing ourselves in the Champions League?’ or ‘why can’t UEFA just fix the draws and to better games happens?’ perspective than anything particularly to do with City.

One City player you’d take at Arsenal for next season?

Agüero, for obvious reasons. Wouldn’t mind Nasri back if you’re offering, though.

Score prediction?

Going to fence sit and say 1-1, but both these sides are capable of being comically bad for no real reason and at this point of the season it’s tough to care.

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