Such is the trepidation that third place is being regarded with by ourselves, Spurs, Newcastle and Chelsea, one wonders if hasn’t been contaminated with some kind of lurgy. Perhaps it has been seen accompanying Joey Barton and his entourage at a fast food outlet at 3am? Or maybe it’s been subject to a takeover bid from the Venkys? Who knows, but the chasing pack appear to hold it in the same regard as a teenage relative’s sperm encrusted sports sock.
Grotesque imagery aside, it makes Sunday’s trip to the Hawthorns a nerve jangler alright. The Norwich game showed that, though the personnel of the playing squad has slowly tilted towards experience and maturity, the self destructive tendencies still remain. When Mikel Arteta hobbled off against Wigan, it was like the bath plug had been pulled out of the team, revealing an unsightly straggle of stray pubes in the plughole.
It’s fine for the likes of Song and Vermaelen or the full backs to bomb forward, so long as someone in the team takes the responsibility to fill the void. Since Arteta and his Ken doll hairdo limped down the tunnel, nobody has been able to replicate that intelligence and team ethic. Of course, it also helps if those that have plundered forward like randy teenagers groping in the dark make an effort to get back when the attack breaks down. This may involve some running.
A fortnight ago I wrote about my disgust that Yossi Benayoun managed to outpace all of his teammates in an attempt to track back and prevent Wigan’s first goal. Norwich’s second goal on Saturday gave me even greater cause to flabber my gast. From my seat I was ideally positioned to see Kieran Gibbs directly beneath me yelling himself hoarse at Alex Song to plug the gap left by Vermaelen’s wander up field. Right in front of my face, I looked on with disbelief as Song turned, acknowledged his junior team mate’s instruction, then just ignored him.
Needless to say, when Norwich broke successfully, Song, Ramsey and Vermaelen were all barely above jogging pace as Grant Holt exposed Gibbs – by now covering three positions all by himself – to score. Song may have felt he found redemption by providing another through ball for van Persie for the equaliser. But I made that his 5th attempted through ball of the afternoon, the previous four having often been wayward with better, simpler options available. It’s fair to say he didn’t cover himself in glory for Norwich’s third goal either.
I don’t want to make this seem like a personal vendetta against Song. I think he’s a tremendously talented player and potentially one of the better rounded midfielders in the league. But he looks like a young man that’s forgetting himself at the moment. His through balls have been a valuable weapon this season and, as I’ve said many times before, there needn’t be an identity crisis about his position in the team because he doesn’t fit a stereotypical mould.
Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I have long begun to feel a touch of “The Big I am’s” from Song. Perhaps I’m prejudiced by his ongoing friendship with Adebayor, but with his contract up for renegotiation, I am left feeling wary. If his on pitch persona of late is a portent for when he steps into the CEO’s office, I fear we could be in for a difficult time. An entirely unfounded suspicion, I grant, but the feeling that we have groomed another diva is a hunch that prevails.
I think a quiet word in his shell like could be in order. But it’s difficult for the manager. Wenger’s players trust him implicitly because his success is reliant on granting them an environment in which they are free to express themselves. Like all managerial styles, it has its pitfalls. Some, such as Adebayor, Anelka, Cole and Hleb, have abused that trust and allowed it to inflate their opinions of their own worth. But it’s been responsible for liberating others who have become great players as a result of that freedom – Henry, van Persie, Fabregas and Pires for instance.
It ultimately comes down to a player’s intelligence and self motivation. But for Arsene to start issuing the hairdryer on a regular basis shatters that cocoon of trust and creates a climate of fear, which would be detrimental. In the words of Renton from Trainspotting, “eht’s a tightroap Spud, eht’s a fookin’ tightroap.” Last week I revisited the Arsenal museum and was struck by a quote from Wenger which had been embossed onto the walls. “The intelligent player realises that the team is the real star.”
It’s not necessarily that the likes of Song and Vermaelen require a back to basics approach; they just need to be more intelligent about when they try the Hollywood pass or the 80 yard dash forward. Even if he is the youngest member of the team, if Kieran Gibbs is telling you that there is a gap in the defence that needs filling, then you turn yourself into human polyfilla for the cause. If the scores are level and you’re still in the first half against a team finding great joy on the counter attack, ask yourself, “Am I of better use to the team in the opponent’s area, or at the edge of my own?” Failure to consider these choices at the Hawthorns on Sunday may very well see us into the Europa League next season.
On a more minor note, the club released images of next season’s home kit (which the club say they will be keeping for two years this time). I’m not much of an aesthete myself, so I won’t comment on design too much. I suppose it’s a symptom of the increased scrutiny in the internet age that kit releases generate so much debate. The manufacturers are aware of this, which is why so many “accidentally” leaked photos of these kits appear months before they’re released. It both generates discussion and allows people to fully circuit the “I hate it / actually I don’t mind it / hot diggity dog I’ve just bought it” circle of virtuousness.
But the disgust over the prominence of blue in the kit as some kind of violation of our traditions and heritage is a tad overblown and historically inaccurate. This link shows you that blue has featured heavily in home kits since knickerbockers were a feature of the strip in our Woolwich days. Similarly there’s always a lot of indignation if our away kits aren’t yellow and blue, but this graphic likewise shows you that we were using blue and white away kits long before our first yellow change strip rocked up in the late 60s.
In pure design terms, it’s all a matter of personal taste. But to sight history or tradition as a precursor to that distaste is short sighted in my view. The paradox of the traditionalist is that all traditions begin somewhere. Presumably, at their inception, they are argued against fervently by contemporary traditionalists! One wonders of the ire Chapman would have faced for changing the sleeves to white were the internet around in the 1930s.
In any case, we probably all have to accept that kit releases are an arm of merchandising and leisure wear. The increase of commercial activities has become a much articulated concern of the modern fan. We don’t have to buy the shirts if we don’t like them. I’d rather the club earned the extra corn through regular shirt releases as opposed to, ooh, I don’t know, raising silver membership prices by 73% over 2 years …
Personally, I stopped buying new shirts yonks ago. Not because of the sort of high minded reasons I should have stopped buying them. For instance, philosophical objection to being a walking billboard for an airline that doesn’t recompense me for my advertising services. But because I began collecting retro and vintage Arsenal shirts instead. Hmmm, on second thoughts, maybe that makes me less impervious to the charms of tradition and aesthetics than I’d previously tried to suggest? Ah well, till next week. LD.
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