Monday, July 31, 2017


Aji Quits As Arema Continue To Fire Blanks

Arema coach Aji Santoso stepped down yesterday after seeing his team held 0-0 by Borneo in Malang in front of a disappointing 5,375. Halfway through the season Arema remain handily placed in seventh place in Liga 1 just six points behind the leaders Madura United but just 15 goals from their 17 games tells you all you need to know about their season so far.

The last time the two teams had met was in the President Cup Final in Cibinong when Arema had brushed aside what was in effect Borneo's second team 5-1 with naturalised striker Cristian Gonzales scoring the lot. That was never going to happen again with Borneo's new coach Ricky Nelson looking to make his mark on the club with a mean defence and even though the visitors ended the game with 10 men after Diego Michels was sent off Arema's powder puff strike force meant the promising M Ridho was rarely troubled.

While Borneo celebrated questions continue to swirl around Arema. The malaise has been coming for a while. Even though they led the Indonesia Soccer Championship for nearly half of last season few believed they would go on and lift that trophy and that lack of belief was shared by the supporters who stayed away from most games.

The low attendances have continued into this campaign despite the brief lift caused by the President Cup success. Aji Santoso has looked to Gonzales for goals and it now, finally, appears the striker's goal touch is ebbing away despite scoring five goals in 15 games. At the start of the season, with Gonzales absent, Aji looked to the little known Dedik Setiawan who responded with three goals in three games but when Gonzales returned Aji was quick to drop Dedik to the bench to make room for the veteran striker despite the old adage of not interrupting strikers when they are in goal scoring form. Dedik has scored just once since he was shunted aside, an injury time winner away to Gresik United in the East Java derby. Arema have now gone 270 minutes without scoring since that late goal and Dedik was left on the bench again yesterday for 64 minutes before being called on.

Aji has not been helped by the form, or lack of it, by so called marquee player Juan Pino who has yet to make much of an impression on the team having appeared in just nine of their 17 games.

It is easy to  blame Aji for not making more of Dedik but all he has been doing is what all Indonesian clubs do. Place their trust in the big name or the foreign striker for the goals at the expense of younger more promising, more hungry players.

Arema have won just three of their last nine games and whoever comes in is going to have their work cut out not just reenergising the Arema forward line but also restoring the supporters's faith in the club that seems to be in a perpetual downward spiral. One name already linked is Dejan Antonic, formerly coach of Arema IPL, Pelita Bandung Raya and Persib. Expect more names to be thrown in the hat for one of the marquee jobs in Indonesian football. 

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