It’s been a weird couple of weeks for the Arsenal. A comeback win at Sunderland, followed by two abject displays in Milan and Sunderland, then another comeback win against the team that shall not be mentioned. It’s all been a bit topsy-turvy, one week we’re playing like we’ve been kicked up the arse, the next week it looks like we’ve been kicked in the family jewels. Couple that with the loaning out of Andrei Arshavin and the amazing profits that the club posted today, and we’re left with a lot to ponder over. But what does it all mean for the club going forward? Well, to be honest, not a lot.
One of the most curious effects that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter has had on the way we watch football is that every event involving the club, no matter how big or small, is given equal importance and is broken down to the most minute detail. Take the Arshavin deal for example. As soon as it was announced, there was outrage amongst some fans as to how he was being let go after the British transfer window closed. This was taken as another sign that the club were putting business interests ahead of competing on the field. The fact that he was virtually the fifth choice winger at the club (It can’t be a coincidence that after Benayoun outshone Andrei in that reserve game in Norwich during midweek, we decided to let him go.) was cast aside as unimportant.
Yes, his best position is just behind the striker, but Arsenal don’t play like that. He’s one of those players that needs to be accommodated in a side, he needs to be let roam around the pitch and influence the play whenever he can. The downside of this is that because he’s been the main attacking focus of teams throughout his whole career, he’s never had to focus too much on the defensive side of his game, as his lack of work-rate was always forgiven due to his mercurial talent. So when he was signed by Arsenal, it soon became clear that playing him in the middle was a liability, as it meant we conceded too much possession in midfield. For all of Cesc’s greatness on the ball, his work off the ball was just as important. Even Dennis wasn’t afraid to put in a shift. The Premier League is unique like that, all players are expected to contribute defensively, and any passengers are immediately targeted. And as Arshavin’s form dipped, that lack of work-rate only became more pronounced as opposing teams kept taking advantage of that.
So is it disappointing to see him leave? Absolutely. He was clearly a fantastically talented player who has helped us win many games. (See Barcelona.) But was he of any use to us now? No. Our three best wingers are Gervinho, Theo and the Ox. Those three need as many minutes as possible and we have plenty of cover if one of them gets injured. Keeping Andrei until the end of the season was pointless really. And with our finances the way they are at the minute (Profit this year: £50million. Sales of Cesc and Nasri: £54million. Not that hard to see where the profit comes from, is it.) then the extra couple of million quid that this deal brings in might go towards RvP’s new contract. It’s a deal that suits both parties, and I wish him well in all his future endeavours.
That leaves our inconsistent displays of late. For me, it’s quite simple as to why we play well one week and then not so well the next. As some of you know already, I’m a huge US sports fan, and in sports like American Football and Basketball, equality of teams is built into the game. The leagues are actually rigged towards giving the worst teams the best available talent so that they can become competitive again. What this means is that most teams are equally skilled, and that it’s the character of the players that becomes most important.
It doesn’t matter how good your team is, if you’ve got a bunch of players that are comfortable in just drawing huge wages, then you won’t be successful. It’s no coincidence that the biggest names in US sport, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady, are all maniacal in their desire to win. They HATE losing. They DESPISE losing. Not only will they do anything to win, but once they’re winning, they won’t take their foot off your throat until they’ve destroyed you. To succeed in any sport, you have to have that desire to win at anything and everything, and to be perfectly honest, this Arsenal team doesn’t have enough of those characters in the team.
Every time I watch highlights of our Invincible team, I’m always taken aback by how they almost took offense at the opposition scoring against them. Instead of becoming disheartened by going behind, the players would try even harder to show that they were deserving of their place in the team, they’d make sure that they contributed something towards making a comeback instead of just passing the ball, and the responsibility, away from them at the first opportunity. That’s what you need a side to do when they concede, for them to respond immediately and with conviction. Does the current team do that? Only on some occasions. And that’s the problem.
It doesn’t matter what the tactics are, it doesn’t matter what state the pitch are in, it doesn’t even matter what the manager says to them before or during a game, if they don’t take losing badly then they won’t do everything in their power not to lose. It was clear that during the league game at Sunderland that they desperately wanted to win, and that during the cup game in Sunderland that they weren’t as bothered. It can’t be a coincidence that they were more determined to win when Thierry Henry was on the pitch. And that’s my point. We need more players like Henry to impose that sense of urgency throughout the team, to show others that losing is just plain unacceptable. All teams lose, but to lose without giving your all, like what happened at Milan, is precisely what leads fans to conclude that change is needed.
That, more than anything, was what encouraged me about the Sp*rs result on Sunday. It wasn’t the fact that we scored five, but it was the manner of the victory. A deflected shot and a undeserved penalty is usually enough to knock us out of sync and leave us in a befuddled puddle of our own urine. But on Sunday we fought back. We kept chipping away and nobody went into their shell. Even Theo, who has been the focus of much criticism himself lately, kept attacking the full back all game, kept making runs behind the back line and was rewarded for that hardwork with two goals. It’s always easy to forget that he’s playing out of position out wide, as his pace makes him an ideal candidate for that role. But he’s still only 22, he’s bound to have the odd stinker now and again. I do hope that this performance reminds people of what he can bring to the team when he gets it right.
But more importantly, I hope the team as a whole learns from this. I hope it learns that playing at a high tempo for 90 minutes is what’s required to succeed, that there’s no room for passengers on a team. If they can take that on board, then it’ll have been worth going through the disappointment of the cup exits. And if they don’t, then we need to take the same approach with them as we have with Arshavin.------------
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