League 2 side, Bradford City, stunned the footballing world with a Capital One Cup upset at home to Premier League club Arsenal.
With 64 places between one another in the English football league, whatever side Arsene Wenger put out for the visitors, they would be favorites. But after naming virtually his first team, including 10 internationals, no one was expected this.
Bradford took the lead after 16 minutes after Gary Thompson volleyed in after being left unmarked at the back post.
Arsenal then went on a barrage of 24 shots before captain Thomas Vermaelen equalized, from a Santi Carzola cross, to send the game to extra time, and then penalties.
But despite decent penalties from Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain it was ironically, Vermaelen who missed the vital penalty to send the north London side out of the competition. It is Bradford’s 9th straight penalty shoot-out win.
It leaves Arsenal waiting yet again for a trophy after 8 years with out silverware.
Cup shocks aren’t so much a surprise in the Capital One Cup (League Cup) due to the trend of bigger sides playing weaker line-ups. But for Arsenal this signals an all time low in Arsene Wenger’s reign.
His 11 was picked with intent, but Arsenal fans will now have had enough of the like of Ivorian, Gervinho, who missed an open goal and Morrocan, Marouane Chamakh who failed to impress yet again.
But the feeling of a crisis and uproar is beginning to seep in. Calls for Wenger’s position to be re-evaluated have been widely suggested by Arsenal fans. And the lack of transparency from their board is frustrating them, with the black scarf movement quickly gaining numbers.
For Arsenal, January can’t come quick enough. With the African Cup of Nations, Arsenal will lose those players that have been so frustrating; which although may sound ludicrous, is probably a positive. Wenger will then have the opportunity to call upon new faces, and possibly old in Theirry Henry.
But recent transfers have proved poor. With the already mentioned African forwards alongside a group of recent disappointing acquisitions.
Arsenal’s board has told their supporters that there is now new money to spend, with a new sponsorship deal. But will it actually be spent?
The club do spend and run the business, as a business should be. But for a football club it’s becoming a growing frustration to have such financial security without silverware. The modern football world dynamics in terms of spending and investment has been harsh on Arsenal, but it now appears it is much much more than the board and the spending that is letting the club down.
Is it the players? A lack of responsibility has been shown by the majority of the now, experienced team. The days of an inexperienced Arsenal are gone. No longer is it crying out for a player over 24, but now it is crying out for some one with the mental strength and desire; something Wenger has frequently put the results blame to along with a busy schedule.
But this squad is better than 7th in the Premier League isn’t it? Far and beyond capable enough to beat League 2 Bradford. Yet it looks a mess. Jack Wilshere appears to be the only player who is really up for it. The only player who appears to where his “heart on his sleeve” and work visibly hard to get the club out of this state.
What now? It’s a succession of selling the best and bringing in something not so good. It seems Walcott is now set to leave too, which if not replaced with someone better, is yet another set back.
There is sparkles of magic in that side though, with the likes of Carzola, Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain. But, the rest need some stern words. Lucas Poldolski seems to show no heart, despite having the obvious talent and the average midfield looks unbalanced and weak, without Abou Diaby.
The calls for “Wenger out” maybe a little pre-empt. The man has developed the club since arriving in 1996 single handedly. The club are still in with a chance of another top 4 finish, still in with a chance of winning the FA Cup, and still in the Champions League last 16. But then again, it’s so easy to see why these calls are coming about.
Arsenal fans don’t want to be watching their side qualify for Europe consistently only to be knocked out and for the blame of League failing to be placed on the European fixture themselves.
One can only hope for Arsenal that Wenger will be able to spend in January and that he has something in the pipeline that can change their fortunes. But which big name really wants to join this team when they can go to the likes of Man City or Chelsea for double the wages?
In that scenario it’s almost unfair on Arsenal, and the UEFA financial fair play rules that would benefit them can’t come soon enough. But again, the current squad is still better than what it is currently achieving, and that is down to Wenger and his coaching staff to change.
Someone needs to tell the players to buck up their ideas, to show some heart, but most importantly to get playing. Arsenal don’t even play pretty football anymore without winning. They’re sloppy, they’re slow, they lack directness and that clinical edge to them that their squads of nearly 10 years ago had.
“I don’t think there’s any psychological problem with the players when it comes to knockout ties. I don’t think it’s a lack of quality. We will get over this – it is part of our job – and focus on the next game.” – Wenger
Well what is it then?
A period of selling to other clubs has now left them in this state, which although due to the crazy finances of the modern game may not be their fault cannot be the blame on recent failings.
If Wenger and his assistant, Steve Bould fail to manage to change this current squads mentality, if they are unable to restore the confidence, and are unable to spend in January, whether it is right or wrong, it could be time for a change at Arsenal.
Wenger loves the club, it is clear, he breathes Arsenal. Their early 2000s success and the Emirates Stadium was pretty much down to him. But no matter how much managerial talent he has, no matter how much passion he has for the club if things fail to turn around, then the fans are likely to get on his back and then things might get ugly.
Arsenal’s hope now rests in his hands, and any work that can be done in January. A bright future has been frequently promised by their board and in particular, Ivan Gazidis. The financial fair play will be a massive boost (if it ever arrives), but for now there is worries that need to be dealt with in the more immediate future.
By Stowe Gregory @stowegregory