Those hoping for a rousing send off by the team for our last home game found themselves sorely disappointed by half time.
Typically, by then, Arsenal had three shots on target and zero goals, while Villa had two shots on target and two goals. Now if that doesn’t sum up our defensive frailties and our lack of striking efficiency in one 45 minutes segment of play nothing will.
A crazy first twenty minutes of defensive tomfoolery let a chipped pass to an unmarked Darren Bent tap in for a goal preceding another where a Vermaelen slip let a pass across the box arrive at his feet again and he duly converted and repeated his rather muted goal celebration, perhaps (and I have this on good authority, an acquaintance of his mother’s) because he is a gooner.
Wind backwards to a couple of hours before kick-off and your humble scribe wandered to the starting point of the “You are my Arsenal” procession in Blackstock road where a handful of police and a film crew were stationed.
The mood of the assembled crowd there was just like that of any other pre match crowd in the vicinity of the Grove however the occasional chant of “We want our Arsenal back” was proof of simmering discontent as well as a smattering of supporters in their colours of yellow and black.
According to the press release from the organisers the march was due to leave at 3pm however they left ten minutes early, for reasons unclear.
At that point I was at my regular pre match watering hole a few hundred yards up the road and to my dismay I saw the march stream off early and, as far as I could tell, in relative quiet. There were certainly no chants of “Wenger out” from the crowd, which I estimated from my vantage point to be around two or three hundred at least.
As I took my seat in the North Bank lower tier ten minutes before kick off the atmosphere was one of nervousness and as Elvis struck up a red headed girl in front of me held her black scarf above her head to show her allegiance to the demonstrators I’d seen earlier.
Our team started as they normally do with the usual suspects looking good (Jack and Robin) but our defence barely communicating each other even with Vermealen back, who is one of our more vocal defenders.
Even after the second goal went in our back four hardly spoke, normally when a goal is conceded the back four would at least ask questions amongst themselves as to who was at fault and how to rectify the error, here the space afforded to Darren Bent.
The north bank lower tier could see what Bent was asking for “Float the diagonal ball over to me” – a tactic which our back line couldn’t counteract.
Once we went two behind a dose of urgency did enter our play and even from my distant view point the barge on Ramsey in the Villa area was as blatant a penalty as ever yet the referee was happy with the challenge and another recurring feature of Arsenal home games – ”The anti-Homer” referee – showed itself, namely the one who makes a conscious effort to favour the away side.
Sadly on the half time whistle a chorus of boos rang out, although it could be said the crowd were angry at the referee for his decision rather than the lackadaisical performance by our defence and attack, or even a mixture of the two.
One of the weaknesses many have seen in Wenger’s match day tactics is the reluctance to make early, decisive changes when things aren’t working and the half time substitution of Squillaci (who was being jeered by the home support for his granting of space for Bent) for Chamakh was a sign that Wenger thought the efforts made by the team in the first half were wanting.
The second half did see the crowd encouraged by Arsenal’s attacking play having a bit more bite and our forwards being more likely to shoot with the introduction of Bendtner for Arshavin (who tried hard but was having no luck), of course greeted by more jeers. To my eyes Bendtner did seem to drive forward more than our team had been earlier and we all thought Chamakh had pulled a goal back, until the anti-homer effect from the referee of a fair challenge by our number 29 being deemed a foul worthy enough to rule out the goal.
Prior to that Robin hit the post, as he seems contractually bound to in every match. Just to compound the injustice Bendtner was booked for showing frustration at the disallowed goal.
To further rub salt into the wound Petrov should have been given a second yellow a few minutes before he was subbed and received only a talking to after another foul, on Theo if my memory/sight is correct.
From the moment the first goal went in the Villa fans were bouncing all the time, celebrating their lead and when Robin finally got his 20th of the season for a few minutes at least they were motionless.
Luckily for them all it took was a bit more time wasting from their defenders (in feigning injury to use up the time) and Brad Friedel (taking slow motion goal kicks) and the four minutes of injury time soon went and their joy at gaining three points at our expense segued into jeers and cat calls from the home crowd. Numerous calls of “Six per cent, you’re having a laugh” were shouted at the director’s boxes as the Arsenal bench sat motionless and stoney faced.
There was still booing when the players came out for the lap of appreciation and they first came over to where I was; luckily the “We love you Arsenal, we do” singing drowned out the booing and the lap went ahead without any of the ugliness I thought may have happened after a home defeat.
Both Cesc and Wenger had faces that showed their disappointment however I take it as a good sign that Cesc did NOT wave (as in goodbye) to the crowd but Bendtner threw his shirt into the crowd, perhaps good news for his detractors if they read that as a sign of his imminent departure.
At the moment the dissenting voices, while in the minority, are vociferous and if the significant changes which virtually every other supporter you talk to says are needed don’t happen, then these dissenters will become more numerous and, it may be argued, they have good reason to gather other supporters into their fold.
A chilling thought as I hurried into the underground station on Gillespie Road a few hours after the final whistle and felt a similarly chilling wind whip up.