Greetings Gooners. I have returned from Gelsenkirchen a shell of the man that departed London on Monday afternoon. A mere skin and bone casing concealing a river of Weißbier beneath. Damn those affable Germans and their tasty, affordable industrial strength beverages. Ze Germans are a people that get a lot of things right (their beer, for instance), but watching football in Deutschland is always a refreshing experience for an Englishman.
For a start, you’re treated like an adult. Police, stewards and publicans don’t assume that, because you are clutching a beer or signing a song about a football team, you’re on the cusp of a blood thirsty rampage. On our approach to the stadium, police cheerfully waved us towards the away end despite the fact that- gasp! – we held tins of lager in hand.
By comparison, in England you’re herded like cattle unnecessarily. Any attempt to cradle a beverage on approach to a football stadium would see the offending hand meat cleavered off by John and Joan Law. The Germans seem to realise that 99% of folk at 99% of football matches have no desire to rip people’s heads off and treat them accordingly. Away supporters have distinct seating areas so as not to dilute atmosphere, but it’s no problem for a Schalke fan to wander behind enemy lines and use a slightly less busy staircase for his half time bratwurst.
It’s not assumed that he’s pathologically unable to deal with the sight of another person wearing an opponent’s football shirt. Of course there are some idiots that are and they should be dealt with appropriately, but the vast majority of grown-ups can feel partisan about their teams and indulge the tribalism and occasional piss taking that goes with it without feeling the need to smear noses across faces.
This is where the Germans get it so right. (In the Bundesliga, safe standing and drinking inside stadiums is also permitted). Why should everybody be policed according to the minute minority of morons? Of course flexibility is shown as the situation decrees. I spoke with a Schalke fan about the lack of separation between home and away fans. He told me that that practice is only really arrested for the visit of bitter rivals Dortmund. (Naturally, shortly after having a beer with an opposing fan, I threw him out of a window whilst chanting “2 World Wars and 1 World Cup.”)
We see English football (and society at large, in truth) cater for the emotionally incontinent all too often. On Saturday, Robin van Persie indulged this voguish, puke inducing fashion of refusing to celebrate a goal against a former club. As well as being totally insincere, it should be totally unnecessary. Putting aside how vain it looks (other than in very special cases), footballers largely do it so as not to invite the wrath of the emotionally retarded. Those that can’t handle a grown man serving another employer without being apologised to, lest they tear up seats and send death threats to his wife.
As Andre Santos’ wife have discovered this week, English football is in the persistent grip of apology. We now find ourselves in the thrall of the hysterical, catering to their every delicate sensitivity. What next? Will players drop to their knees and apologise to fans of former clubs for a good tackle? A goal line clearance? Frankly, given the fact that Arsenal fans have spent roughly 50% of every away match this season heeeeelariously labeling van Persie a rapist against the strains of Kum-By-Ah we couldn’t have had many complaints had he flipped us the bird.
This is not to tar everybody with the same brush you understand. But there would have been a good few thousand Arsenal fans this weekend happy to tunefully call a man a rapist and a paedophile, but in turn considered the sight of someone swapping a shirt with the focus of their ire as offensive to their tastes. Work that one out. Yet even as I type that straightforward statement, I feel the need to qualify and reassure the oversensitive minority.
No, I’m not saying everyone that took umbrage with Santos indulged the “she said no” chants. I’m not saying it’s totally wrong to feel that, at the very most, Santos’ actions were ill advised. No, I’m not saying Arsenal fans should be smiles and sunshine with van Persie. No, I don’t want to appoint myself as some kind of moral arbiter of what football fans should and shouldn’t sing. It’s just an observation. In this illuminating interview Philippe Auclair laments, “Football is becoming an echo chamber with everybody screaming. If that sounds like hell, it’s because it is.” Amen.
I don’t really know where I’m going with this meandering rant or how I arrived at it. I guess what the German football experience reinforced this week was that, generally speaking, treating people like adults encourages them to behave as such. It shouldn’t be assumed that we’re all skull cracking nutcases, but we also shouldn’t feel offended or precious about analysing ourselves on occasion. Leaving the sweeping epiphanies of the trip to Germany for a moment, it was a mixed result for us I feel. In isolation, a point at Schalke is not a bad result.
Yet given our position in the group and the two goal lead we had assumed, I can’t shake an overall feeling of disappointment. Schalke relaxed after their equaliser because they knew that a draw was good enough to keep Arsenal at arm’s length. The readiness with which Schalke’s superiority over us has been accepted is indicative. The Bundesliga is a very strong league and it was symptomatic of the parochial nature of the British press when Dortmund’s domination over Manchester City was met with surprise.
As if Borussia, Bundesliga champions for consecutive seasons, were some kind of plucky minnow. As such Schalke’s quality should not be dismissed. But if you were to draw up a list of potential winners at the outset of the competition, I doubt they’d feature. More worrying too is that Arsene felt unable to make a substitution until the 89th minute despite the lack of creative inspiration that Anam neatly alluded to earlier this week.
Santi Cazorla looked like a man playing his 19th game of the season already and Jack Wilshere began to run out of steam in a manner one would expect from somebody recovering from long term injury. Teams seem to have worked out that sitting a man on Arteta is the most effective way to stifle Santi. Perhaps with Wilshere’s suspension, we can put Coquelin in front of the back four and move Arteta into the pivot position.
On the positive side, Walcott and Giroud gave us a more direct attacking threat than we’ve carried in recent weeks. I remarked a couple of weeks ago that Arsenal are missing several of their “ball carriers” to vary our play. So to see two of our forward players benefit from a mixture of opportunism and an intelligent, well placed cross was pleasing. It’s not a yearning for a mythical “Plan B” as such. But not feeling able to make a personnel switch until the last minute of a game that we’d lost control of long before suggests a lack of confidence in our squad players.
Arshavin and Chamakh will have enjoyed encouraging, confidence boosting evenings against Reading last week. Chamakh has not been trusted with a single minute from the bench in either of the games since. Arshavin was given nine minutes at Old Trafford with the team already two goals and a man down. That gives you a clear indication of whereabouts they figure in Wenger’s thinking, yet both are a surefire part of our 18 for the foreseeable future. At least until Gervinho and Chamberlain are back.
I think my Vital Arsenal colleague Amos put it best, “We’re not creating enough chances to make conceding just a little less critical nor defensively secure enough to make the few chances we create potentially more meaningful.” Let’s hope Professor Wenger gets the formula right sooner rather than later. LD.
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