Big sticks and Arsene’s fight

Good morning from a sunny, warm and extremely *boilky* Dublin.

The media lockdown was well and truly ended yesterday and the manager came out fighting. Having watched his press conference and then read the transcript of his post-press conference chat with the newspaper boys the word that sticks out for me is ‘fight’.

I suppose it’s difficult to paraphrase what he said so you’re best off reading and watching but if you were to put it in layman’s terms, Arsene had the hump. He spoke about how proud he was off his team, how they don’t get the credit for what they’ve done considering the age they are, saying:

This team is 23. When we played against Barcelona, they were 27 and a half. It is important we realise this team is absolutely amazing for what they do at their age. One day people will understand that, but at the moment, I am not sure many people do.

See, here’s the thing. I think nearly everyone understands and appreciates the fact that this team, given its average age etc, has done remarkably well to stay in the top four every season, to be still in with a chance in the league and so on. I don’t think any supporter should underestimate what an achievement that is, with financial restrictions in previous years, and the policy which has been to grow a team together. You have to stand back a bit and realise it is impressive. To stay competitive with a team as young as that is no mean feat.

The issue, as far as I see it anyway, is that people are now asking: Why should our average age be 23? Would it really hurt to bring in a couple of experienced players to augment the squad? There is absolutely no guarantee that when this team reaches an average age of 27 that they’re going to suddenly start winning things. There’s the real danger that they will grow up perennial bridesmaids because that’s what they’ve become used to.

I absolutely understand where Arsene is coming from, I can understand why he’s upset and defensive, I understand what he has been doing for the last few years, I understand the policy, his methods and everything else, but you cannot continue to sell the future the way he does without addressing some of the issues that exist in the present. A few years experience is not going to make us any better at defending set-pieces, for example, better personnel will do that.

Our defensive record is one that does stand up to scrutiny when you compare it with the teams around us but it doesn’t alter the perception that we’re weak in that area. And ultimately the imbalance that exists within the squad will remain unless we sort it out in the transfer market, in my opinion.

However, as we head into these final games of the season, the manager is right to get fired up. I don’t get annoyed with comments about us finishing second because they’re too easily spun. Is Arsene happy finishing second? Of course not. Does he set a team out which is happy to finish second? No he does not. Anyone who thinks that and wants to use it as a stick to beat him with is guilty of the laziest kind of thinking. All he’s saying is that finishing second, or in the top four, is no disaster, and he’s absolutely right.

Anyone who thinks otherwise should think about what finishing outside the Champions League places would mean for the club. Go talk to your nearest Liverpool fan what they consider a disaster and it is not what Arsenal have done in recent years. That doesn’t mean our expecations shouldn’t be higher, it’s very obvious that they are, but perspective is welcome. In a clear dig at Sp*rs he says:

Do you judge this season or the last four seasons? Some of the clubs behind us have done nothing for 20 years, yet suddenly they get a lot of praise

Can you argue with that? They get one season in the Champions League, Harry is the greatest manager of all time and they’re media darlings. Yet it’s up there with Blackpool getting promoted as an achievement. People take Arsenal being in there for granted. And that’s because expectation levels are raised. If you set high standards, which Arsene has done, then you have to expect to held to them. His famous comment about eating sausage after becoming used to caviar seems appropriate.

Still, if it sounds like I’m jumping on some kind Arsene Knows wagon then that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you’ve read this blog over the last week you will know I have issues and complaints, concerns and worries, but I can also appreciate the fact that the position we’re in is one that 18 other clubs in the league would happily trade places with us for. If you think anyone is happy that we haven’t won anything, you’re mad frankly, but you have to look at our budget, our team, and realise that what we have isn’t that bad in the grand scheme of things.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to be better, to improve and to address the issues that exist within the team, but we’re not that bad when it comes down to it. I’m struck as well as the polarising effect of this season, that so much bile and viciousness exists within an element of our fanbase. If you think Arsene should go and you can back that up with a reasonable, solid argument, then I respect that completely.

I struggle to to take anyone seriously whose main point is wrapped in hatred and anger. Yes, we would like more, but that doesn’t take away from the job that Arsene has done. In the same way those who support him to the hilt ought to be open to constructive criticism of the situation we find ourselves in. If you want to go at it like rutting stags then be my guest but I’m going to back away and out of the room.

There’s no doubt the manager has stirred things up. There are things he said that I find myself fundamentally disagreeing with – you cannot sell second place as success, for example, regardless of the circumstances. Other things I can take on board, and that is the very nature of football. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. What appears to be a problem at this juncture is that you can’t please some of the people any of the time.

Yet we go back to the start of this blog and the word fight. Arsene says:

We have eight games to go and are in a position to fight for the championship so let’s give the maximum. I don’t see why we should be negative when we’re going for the Championship. If I cannot defend the fact that we’re second in the league and fighting for the Championship then I should stay at home, but I’m in a fighting job.

And if he feels injustice, if he feels under appreciated for the work he has done and the work he does on a daily basis, if he feels angry, then lets hope that is transmitted to the players. If we get fighting talk in press conferences let’s hope there’s more of the same at the training ground and in the dressing room.

If his faith and belief in these players is misplaced then ultimately he’ll be held accountable for it but some of them need to pay him back. He’s the man in the firing line, he’s backed them, and they need to step it up and at the very least give it a massive go between now and the end of the season.

There’s a lot to be said for an ‘us and them’ attitude and I suspect that’s what Arsene is trying to build for these final games of the season. It’s worth remembering, whatever side of the fence you’re on right now, that us means all of us, and them is the rest of those cunts out there. Us and them should not be made up entirely of Arsenal fans, which is how it feels sometimes.

I’ve said before that the only people who can put things right are the players and the manager. It might be a long shot, it might well be beyond us, but as long as we’re in it we’re in it together. It’s down to them to perform, to fight and scrap for every point that’s left, and it’s blindingly obvious they need every bit of help they can get at the moment. It’s not cheerleading. It is what it is.

Let’s hope we see some of this fight tomorrow, let’s hope the team is as fired up as the manager, because if they are I think three points will be ours.

Until then.

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