Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Arema's End Of Days
It may seem strange to describe a club sitting eighth in Liga 1 as being in decline but it is difficult to come to any other conclusion when we consider the current fortunes of Arema. The 2009/10 Indonesia Super League champions have bee strangely out of sorts for much of this campaign but it seems the malaise goes further back with much of their once famed support turning their back on the team last season even while the team was challenging for the title.
It's not as if the last few years have been totally barren. Arema have won the Bali Island Cup twice, the Bhayangkara Cup twice and ahead of the 2017 season they lifted the President Cup, thrashing Pusamania 5-1 in the final with the prolific Cristian Gonzales hitting a hat trick to go with the five he had scored when Arema had beaten Semen Padang 5-2 in the semi final.
The Crazy Lions were surely entering the new season full of confidence. The coaching staff was Arema to the core, Gonzales was on fire, Arif Suryono and Ahmed Bustomi had been added to the squad to bring much needed experience while Lebanese international Jed Noureddine had strengthened the defence. And if there were concerns about an over reliance on Gonzales to score the goals Esteban Vizcarra and Dendi Santoso had shown their worth pre season.
The season started well enough with three wins in their four games backed by four clean sheets but already the danger signs were there; Arema lacked a cutting edge up front and although Dedik Setiawan had been thrust into the first team and was doing a good job the inexperienced 23 year old couldn't be expected to be the team's sole attacking threat with Gonzales missing. By July and August the team were struggling for goals with the home support seeing them fire blanks in three successive games.
Then came Bali United away and that 6-1 drubbing. No one expects that kind of score at the best of times in Indonesian football, let along mighty Arema but title chasing Bali ripped the heart out of the Crazy Lions and exposed the shallowness of the squad in some areas. With Kurnia Meiga out Arema, under Joko Susilo who had replaced Aji a few weeks earlier, could only call upon a 32 year old keeper who has played less than 50 top flight games over his career.
Yet Gonzales started as did Colombian midfielder Juan Pino, once of Monaco, Bustomi, Hendro Siswanto and Vizcara. But the Gonzales who scored when he wanted during the President Cup is no more. Where he scored eight goals in the semi final and final back in March, the 41 year old has hit seven all season.
Against this back drop it is going to be interesting to see how many fans turn up for their next home game against PS TNI. Never the biggest draw card in the league, PS TNI have two wins in their last three games and their new coach Rudy Eka has them playing with more confidence than they have shown in recent weeks. Arema on the other hand will be coming off the back of the Bali humiliation and in the knowledge a recent home game, against East Java rivals Persela, attracted just 6,000 fans.
It was only last month the club celebrated its 30th anniversary, a date that seems to go unremarked beyond a few hashtags. The club logo has been rebranded in a bid to do I know not what with the new crest suggesting a limp wristed lion valiantly trying to act tough but failing miserably.
A team low on confidence, one that appears to have lost many of the supporters, the Arema camp can't be a particularly happy place to be at the moment. Coach Joko certainly has his work cut out to have the Crazy Lions performing once more on the pitch but from a distance many of the problems the club face lie beyond.