A Victory Of Sorts, But Little Reason For Cheer

Arsenal scraped through, but the performance simply provided more evidence that this should be his swansong. Nick Miller was at Wembley, and was again unimpressed...

Last Updated: 12/04/14 at 20:02 Post Comment

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To Arsenal fans, Wembley must echo with the ghosts of Obafemi Martins, with the sound of Barry Ferguson ruffling Laurent Koscielny's hair, with failure where it didn't seem possible. Beating Wigan on penalties in the FA Cup semi-final might not have exorcised those spirits, but at least the voices might stop for a little while now.

Arsene Wenger doesn't really prowl. He's too...well, too Arsene Wenger to prowl, but he spent a good portion of the game pacing around in front of the Arsenal bench with the air of a man exceptionally nervous about something, but trying to appear relaxed. Like a man with severe financial problems waiting on the results of a boiler service, knowing that if the thing is kaput then it's going to be a very cold winter.

Despite the eventual win, he frankly had the look of a man whose time is up. Really, in terms of Wenger's future it shouldn't matter if Arsenal win the FA Cup or not - if they do, then it's the perfect way to go after 18 years in which he revolutionised a club and built at least two great sides, but if they don't then it's simply more evidence, if more evidence was required, that he doesn't have 'it' anymore.

To say the least, the Arsenal team news probably didn't make any fans nervous after their recent strife feel any better about themselves. While being nice and letting Lukasz Fabianski have a game at Wembley is smashing, the semi-final of a tournament that Arsenal have to (for their own dignity as much as anything) win perhaps isn't the place to be polite. Likewise starting Yaya Sanogo up front - maybe Olivier Giroud had been up late again.

Sanogo isn't any good yet, which isn't the end of the world - the kid is only 21, and had barely played any top flight football before this season - but we shouldn't know this yet. We shouldn't be quite as aware of his understandable limitations as we are, but we know because Wenger keeps picking him in games of this significance. It speaks to both Wenger's negligence that he picked him for such an occasion, and also his negligence in not having a viable, vaguely experienced and just plain good enough alternative to Giroud. At stages Sanogo looked, in the words of Arsenal blogger 'Arse2Mouse', like a competition winner, which is unfortunate but not really his fault: that he played in the semi-final of the FA Cup is very much Wenger's fault.

In the first half, the odd Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain drive aside, Arsenal simply didn't look threatening, despite Aaron Ramsey spending much of the time in such an advanced role that Arsenal were basically playing a 4-1-4-1 formation, leaving only Mikel Arteta to mop up in midfield. Perhaps predictably, Wigan then looked like the more threatening team, as Josh McEachran and Jordi Gomez's runs from deep met with not a huge amount of resistance.

The second half and extra-time didn't get a whole lot better for Arsenal, for while they displayed a little more purpose, they were still too timid, too nervous. They played, as they have done for a while now, like a team terrified of their own shadow.

Against Wigan. Wigan, who are a perfectly decent Championship side, but who are not only a team Arsenal shouldn't be frightened of, but a team that they should have beaten pretty comfortably. One wonders why Arsenal didn't take their lead from Liverpool who, quite a few times this season, have sensed a vulnerable opposition and blitzed them from the early stages. Wigan seemed to expect such an attack, sitting deep with a narrow backline, but after about half an hour they seemed to cotton on that the blitz wasn't coming. Wenger has always been fairly tactically inflexible and stubborn, but this provided further evidence of how those flaws are hurting Arsenal.

You could say that winning the penalty shoot-out showed Arsenal really do have the character, mental strength and so forth that Wenger talks a lot about, but equally that they had to go to spot kicks might suggest they haven't. They're in the FA Cup final, but only just. This win shouldn't disguise that for Wenger's sake, the final should be his swansong.

Our man at Wembley was Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter

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icky van Wolfswinkel's remarkable record of one goal from one game at least deserves an honourable mention. And I'm willing to bet that at least one of Costa, Ulloa or Enner Valencia will earn a place on the list by the end of the season. Probably not Costa

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