They say that football is a funny old game, and the Leeds game brought that home to all of us in a night of pretty much unparalleled magic which has kept me, at least, grinning all week. Particularly at the Spurs fan who sits across from me at work – some opportunities are just too good to be passed up. No other team has success even close to ours in terms of bringing back old players, and the simple reason for that is the absolute class with which our club and our players conduct themselves, and the massive respect those players have for our manager. We should be rightly proud of that.
What we should not be quite so proud of is the aggression, and in some cases pure hatred, which has followed Arshavin and Chamakh in recent months. While the attacks on them are similar, in my humble opinion, the problems with each are very different.
Let’s start with our pint-sized Russian who permanently looks as though he just found out Santa Claus doesn’t really exist. A well known football cliche is that form is temporary, class is permanent, yet most people think that for a player who is capable of so much, Arshavin is starting to make it look as though form is very definitely permanent.
If he beats one man, a second will cover. If he beats the second, he’ll slip over. If by some miracle he picks himself up before anyone can get to him and reaches the penalty area, the goal suddenly sprouts wings and flies off to the moon, before returning through a time warp just before van Persie smacks the ball goalwards.
Maybe that’s a little exaggerated, but the point is clear – right now, and frankly for a number of months, nothing has come off for our little Russian. No dispute from me. But calls for him to be sold, and insults, are born out of high expectations and for me are wide of the mark.
I think the key point here is that Arshavin is not at Arsenal because of his consistency, although that can obviously improve. He’s here because he is able to do something completely different to all our other players. His game is very high risk, and unless he can put together a string of 3-4 great actions, he will be ineffective, but he plays for those rare moments when it all comes together and he scores a goal to break down a stubborn negative defensive unit. Remember last season’s home game against Everton? Hard to remember that that was less than a year ago.
In recent games, many people seem to have ignored his good moments because it doesn’t fit in with the common perception of Andrey at the moment. Take the Wolves game, when he came on for a 20 minute cameo, and looked lively – after the game, I heard only criticism yet there were the faintest sparks of magic sauntering into view.
One of the criticisms which has been justly levelled at the player in months gone by is his laziness and lack of application, but of late that is something that he has really worked upon in an effort to regain his form – the player himself seems to be his hardest critic, and if he can just get a break or two, then he will surely get his confidence back, and swaggering Arshavin of the 4-4 will be back to his best.
To be clear, I am not denying that he is clearly not performing to his best standard, but the guy is sure as heck trying, and are just a few glimmers of light visible at the end of the tunnel, if only he (and we) could stop looking miserably at his feet. And at the end of the day, I find it very difficult to abuse a player who gave me my happiest moment of 2011.
Chamakh to me is an entirely different proposition – his work rate has never been in question, at least by anyone who watches Arsenal games, but for me, he has never been a player who could play in our side on a regular basis. What he does, he does really well (yes, he does things well – his hold up and lay off play has been excellent) but the problem is the things he doesn’t do. Like score.
Even when he scored a whole heap of goals in his first few months at the club while van Persie was otherwise engaged, I was of the opinion that he does not fit our style of play and nothing has changed in at respect. I read an excellent article recently on Arsenal Report which talked about how Chamakh plays as one of a two man strike force, (which you can read here) but that’s not much good to us if he doesn’t notice he is playing with an invisible partner. His strengths are not our strengths and while that is not usually a bad thing as a plan B, we haven’t learned to adapt to his play when he leads the line. It works both ways though – it’s a real shame that he is away for the period that Henry is with us, because I think Chamakh could gain a lot in learning to adapt to his environment, because, like Carl Jenkinson, he has the application and desire to make a go of it.
Here’s the rub – if you want to criticise the guy’s ability in the pub, be my guest, but I hope people recognise that despite his weaknesses, we have a player who works his socks off for us. The guy is not effective enough, but no player deserves the abuse he gets to his face.
I say we go back to actually supporting our players, in the stadium at least. What happened to the good old days of ‘Us vs. Them’ when if a schoolmate criticised Francis Jeffers, I would take revenge by hacking them down in the playground, despite secretly agreeing? During the game on Monday, I was discussing our players with my neighbour, and he turned to me and said, “Do you find something good to say about ALL of our players?” I wasn’t entirely sure how to answer, to be honest, because what’s life without a little optimism?
Incidentally, courtesy of BBC Sport, Mark Lawrenson is “willing to make a sportsman’s bet that Henry won’t find the net again in any competitive game until he goes back to New York.” I can think of my response to that, and let’s just say, it starts with a four letter expletive, and ends with a tribal shout for him to score a hat trick against Swansea tomorrow. Particularly after my neighbour the Spurs fan asserted we had no chance against the mighty Swansea defence and backed it up by putting 3 of them in his fantasy team… In response, I put 3 Spurs players in my team to jinx them versus Wolves (and Frimpong had an absolute cracker of a game to pop up with crucial tackles every time they threatened. Toddler tantrum aside, he was absolute class.) – revenge is oh so sweet…
For me, the key this afternoon will be utilising the full length and width of the pitch – no doubt they will look to sit back and punish our predictable profligacy on the break, but if we can get the ball wide and draw defenders out of position, the space will be there for Song to play his magic through balls… With Chel$ki and Manure both winning, it is vital that we take the points on offer to claw our way up the table.
(Speaking of Wales, Tony Pulis is criticising Aaron Ramsey over something to do with the national team. I’m not much interested – I think Pulis has more than done enough to have his rights to interact or converse with humans revoked, particularly when it comes to discussing Ramsey, but by no means exclusively.)
Remember, Us vs Them, and by goodness let’s get ‘Us’ the 3 points today. Remind them that the song goes 1-0 to the Arsenal. And 2-0 to the Arsenal. And … you get the picture.
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