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Responsibility does not lie solely with the players

Morning all, welcome to a bright and cheery Monday after a fab weeken … oh.

We’ll start this morning with reports of a Steve Bould dressing room rant. In the Mirror this morning they have quotes from the assistant manager who apparently gave the players what for after the Swansea game, shouting:

You’ve let us down and you’ve been letting us down all season. None of you are taking responsibility.

Now, while I don’t have any real objection to that in general terms, and maybe it’s about time there were some home truths aired, doesn’t that apply as much to the management team as it does to the players? Isn’t it their responsibility to have a squad which is strong enough so we don’t need to play the players every week? As much as a poor performance or an individual error lets us down, doesn’t the fact that we have just one striker at the club do the same?

While tiredness may be an issue, I think there’s clearly a lack of confidence in the team which is affecting the way we play football. When you don’t feel confident you look for the easy option most of the time, and that’s not usually the most incisive or threatening. So you go through games with just one shot on target which may or may not come in the final minutes of said game. And it’s then you need the big characters, the big players, to take a game by the scruff of the neck and try and do something about it.

But even that might not be enough because those players are still dependent on those around them. It’s all well and good a midfielder bursting through the middle but if the forwards are invisible, static, hiding (as some were on Saturday against Swansea) then that little bit of responsibility makes little or no difference. Our two most threatening players on Saturday were Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla, midfielders who combined well, got into the box, fashioned a chance or two and if Santi’s shooting had been a little less straight, who knows? Both of those midfielders had more passes in the opposition final third than any of the three ‘forwards’ on the day.

So where was the guy with the 100 caps for Germany? Where was the guy who thinks he deserves £100,000+ a week and whose most noticeable contribution was, when having found space in the second half, was to hoof the ball aimlessly towards a teammate (essentially kicking it away because he didn’t want it) rather than try anything himself? Why was Gervinho?

So I can understand Steve Bould’s frustration at some of the players. There’s little more frustrating than seeing a guy go through the motions and to shy away from the ball. Don’t fancy it? Drift infield a bit, surround yourself with opponents and the ball won’t come anywhere near you. You can stand there, arms waving for the ball safe in the knowledge that it looks like you want it but you’re not fooling anyone.

Sometimes, harsh words need to be said, and while none of us are privy to what goes on in the dressing room or the training ground, you do get the feeling that they are places that have been a bit too ‘nice’ in recent years. That there isn’t enough demanded of players. Arsene’s style of letting guys think for themselves worked perfectly with top quality, experienced, dedicated professionals who, more than anything else, wanted to win. It’s easy to be hands off because their desire to be the best along with the very ‘human’ handling of them was a recipe for success.

Not too long ago that hands-off approach didn’t work so well because so many of the players were young. They needed guidance, not to think for themselves. They needed to be told what to do, when to do it, how to do it, when not to do certain things, and that’s an issue we’ve been over many times. See our constant underestimation of newly promoted teams, for example. Now, with one or two exceptions, we’ve come full circle. This is not a team of kids, it’s not a team reliant on raw potential, it’s got experience and, I still believe, a fair amount of quality to it. The problems persist.

I’m hopeful that Bould’s words, if accurate, will have a positive effect. We know footballers can be a precious bunch, surrounded by agents and yes-men who tell them they’re great all the time, so it’s no harm to remind them of the reality. Earning a lot of money doesn’t mean you’ve achieved anything. Endorsing things or having three autobiographies before the age of 25 means precisely fuck all and frankly nobody cares what you have to say about a game you haven’t even experienced half-enough to think you can spout about it in hardback.

What he said might ring true for some, they might examine their performances and think they can do better. They might demand more of themselves and more of their teammates, especially those who aren’t giving 100%, and it might well translate itself into better results. I certainly hope that’s the case.

But it might backfire too. Those players who have given everything, who are being asked to do it week in, week out, without a rest might take umbrage at being lumped in with those who don’t. It might cause some resentment, especially when players, as much as anyone else, will be aware of the limitations of the squad. You think they wouldn’t like another striker or two? An extra midfielder to share the load? A winger with pace and end product? Just better players in general. Some might think that it’s a bit rich to talk about taking responsibility when we sell our best player each summer.

As I said at the top, I think what Steve Bould said certainly has merit. I’m hopeful that the reaction is a good one and that we see the benefits of it in our performances, but his words must resonate also with the management and the board too. Have we made the most of the resources available to us? As much as we demand more from the players have we given them every chance of success? That’s not to excuse their failings but to highlight the fact it’s not all simply down to them.

The strength of the team is an echo of the strength of the club. If we’ve been found wanting off the pitch, it should be no surprise we’re found wanting on it too. Let’s hope the players pay attention to what Stevie Bould said, but let’s also hope those to whom it also applies don’t ignore it either.

A final point: when 3 papers have the same ‘exclusive’, it’d make you think not simply that papers don’t know what exclusive means, but that this is information that has been made public for a reason.

Till tomorrow.

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Fan of Arsenal, Robert Pires and most everything to do with rum and whiskey. Writer, podcaster, ace flintknapper, sluggish centre-half. Smiter of those that ought to be smote.