When English Premier League teams get bounced out of domestic cups by lower-tier sides, usually you look to the squad and see changes that reflected a manager taking unknown opposition too lightly. Arsenal has no such excuse. True, all of Theo Walcott (right), Jack Wilshire, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Bacary Sagna were on the bench, but the names in the starting XI should have been enough to carry them past a decent but flawed Championship side. Mikel Arteta played. Thomas Vermalen, Wojciech Szczesny, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal were in defense. Olivier Giroud started at forward.
That should be more than enough to see off Blackburn, yet it wasn’t. After Chelsea/Fenerbahce castoff Colin Kazim-Richards scored in the 72nd minute, the embattled Lancashire club had all they needed. Not only did they bounce the Gunners from the fifth round of the FA Cup, they held them scoreless at the Emirates, winning 1-0.
Now all those Friday pieces from English outlets talking about Arsenal’s trophy drought can be recycled and refiled next year. Arsene Wenger is now eight seasons without meaningful silverware. After a find and replace, the staffs at the Guardian, Telegraph, Times and Independent can use next year’s space asking whether nine years is long enough.
Of course, it is. One year is long enough. Who doesn’t like winning trophies as often and as soon as possible? It’s an absurd premise, one that tends to overshadow legitimate concerns with Arsenal’s direction. Arsenal’s lack of trophies is much less significant than their diminished relevancy. While they used to threaten in league, Europe, and cups, now they’re afterthoughts.
Nobody’s wondering whether they’ll beat Bayern Munich mid-week. We’ve come to tactically acknowledge Arsenal’s no longer at that level.
In a strange way, today’s match-winner reminded me of the goal Arsenal conceded to lose the 2010-11 League Cup final. The mistakes the defense made against Birmingham City were more glaring, with a miscommunication between Koscielny and Szczesny gifting Obafemi Martins the Cup-winning goal. Today’s errors were equally emblematic, with Arsenal’s defense beaten in transition before their keeper blocks a rebound to a dangerous spot, allowing Kazim-Richards to redirect home the match’s only goal.
Here’s the goal, one that allowed Blackburn to move into the competition’s quarterfinals: