Sunday, December 10, 2023

Apocalyptic nutcases with megaphones

Tim Stillman Column

The great Arsenal garage sale appears to be gathering apace in the last seven days. Jay Emmanuel Thomas has sashayed out of the exit door without the indignity of it subsequently hitting him on the arse. Emmanuel Eboue is attracting suitors with a thousand strong red and white clad army offering a temporary airport taxi service. Henri Lansbury looks to be next to be ushered towards the exit whilst talks continue over the release of Bendtner and Almunia. Gazidis might even want to throw some of his old INXS and Simple Minds vinyl into the bargain too in this spirit of de-clutter.

Space is being cleared in the Emirates broom cupboard and one can only presume that, with bids for Jagielka and Mata at least currently in tray, that the runway is being cleared for new arrivals. With Carl Jenkinson seemingly very much a part of first team plans in pre season (and already showing some Dixon-esque own goal scoring skills), Eboue’s departure has been inevitable. Eboue seems to be a very accessible and jovial member of the squad, whom I’m sure, is well liked. However, I think his number has been up ever since the Liverpool penalty incident.

His form when he initially replaced the sadly crocked Lauren between 2005-07 demonstrated that he certainly has the ability to play for a club like Arsenal. However, I don’t believe he ever responded to the challenge set him by Bacary Sagna’s arrival. Things eventually came to a head with the supporters and that appeared to focus him again and by the back end of last season he was effectively sharing the right back spot with Sagna, being preferred for home games due to his attacking prowess.

Here to play ball, not pom-poms

Sagna’s response was to quietly work hard and hone his attacking skills; his delivery from wide positions in particular. Eboue’s was to soak up the ha ha, funny ironic cult hero status he’d been afforded by the Arsenal fans (manufactured out of guilt) and to drop his focus again. Eboue seems to need an identifiable challenge to perform. At a club like Arsenal, you need to be able to motivate yourself on an ongoing basis.

Eboue hasn’t been able to do that. Last season his performances were frankly, sub-par and he found himself used less and less, culminating in the costly penalty concession against Liverpool. Effectively, in 2010-11, Eboue was reduced to the status of the most highly numerated cheerleader in the Premier League. The very embryonic signs show Jenkinson to be a young, hungry player who desperately wants to play for the club. I think that’s a tune we can all groove to with regard to our squad players.

Perhaps Wenger’s thinking is a little more blue sky than we have allowed ourselves to believe. Two talented, yet overly comfortable full backs are effectively being replaced younger, hungrier players. I realise the game of football has changed markedly in the last 25 years, but it does put one in mind of Graham shipping out the likes of Samson and Viv Anderson in favour of Dixon and Winterburn. Let’s hope the quality of Jenkinson and Gibbs can be commensurate with those lofty standards.

Gervinho has made his debut since last I wrote and an impressive one too. Whilst 30 minutes of a pre season friendly hardly constitutes a sufficient barometer, I liked what I saw. Arsenal have enough chin stroking artistes. The reason Walcott gets in the team ahead of Arshavin is not because he is a more talented player. He isn’t. But he provides us with better balance due to his ability to explode in behind defenders. Arsenal don’t have another player like that at the top end of the field, but Gervinho showed those qualities on Saturday. He also went off injured after 30 minutes. If that doesn’t show he’s Arsenal material I don’t know what does. Short of enjoying one good season and agitating for a move to Man City or Barcelona of course. Plenty of time for that next summer though.

On that score, I’ve little desire to further discuss either Fabregas or Nasri. I think everyone has spoken quite enough and now we are just to wait and see what happens. I think the bifurcate scenarios have contributed to a point I appear to reach every summer nowadays. It feels extraordinary to say this in a fallow period of three months without Arsenal playing a meaningful game, but I am utterly bored of talking about football at the moment. I was brought up attending Arsenal matches from a very early age and to me, that’s where the game really exists. Inside the stadium on a match day, where the grass is always green and the ball is always clean.

I can talk about the more cerebral matters of the game; the boardroom, the finances, the transfers, the training ground. But I now feel completely saturated on all of those subjects. The navel gazing, the psychoanalysis of every utterance and every half action, the shadow boxing and second guessing. I’m utterly weary of it now. The lack of football also produces a kind of mania in people that makes conversation with them unattractive.

I am absolutely fascinated by theology and could and often do, discuss it for hours. But I don’t ever approach that blithering nutcase with the megaphone who proclaims that the apocalypse is nigh to exchange views with him on the subject – if you catch my drift. Frankly, after two months, I’ve had enough of the incessant bloody talking with no regular match action to refresh the conversation.

Frankly, the only reason I didn’t completely give up even keeping track of events at Arsenal this summer a good six weeks ago was in service of this column. Elvis Costello once said, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” I feel like I’ve been doing the watusi around Westminster Cathedral all summer. Don’t get me wrong, I still hope the club’s resolve is strong and that they make the right calls this summer. But if we can all just stop wittering on about it until something concrete happens, that’d be most grand me lovelies.

Thankfully, we have the sweet release of the Emirates Cup this weekend. I think this is the phase of pre-season when you can just start to make tentative judgements about the shape of the team for the upcoming season. That’s not necessarily to say the prophets of doom can sharpen their knives, nor that successes should be greeted with open top parades through the streets of Islington. But I think we can start to take some indication on team strategy for the upcoming season anyway.

Onto more competitive matters, the first legs of the 3rd Qualifying Rounds for the Champions League are taking place this week, after which we will be able to build a clearer picture of whom we might face in the Play-off Round. The likes of Rubin Kazan, Panathinaikos and Trabzonspor are still likely destinations. The draw will be ‘open’ so there is every chance we could be drawn to play away from home in the second leg. A trip to Kazan just a few days before we play at Old Trafford is a distinct possibility.

At the risk of adopting Thatcherite rhetoric, the money swirling around the Champions League has begun to trickle down and now teams such as Rubin Kazan represent a real obstacle. The group format guarantees a club six games to soak up the television and sponsorship revenues. As a result, perceived smaller European powers can sit tight, qualify for the group stages and happily suffer a few early knockouts whilst the coffers swell. If, horror of horrors, they reinvest that capital into the team (outrageous thinking, I know) then they suddenly become very worthy opponents indeed.

That’ll about do from me this week. I’m off to play a transcript of Arsene Wenger’s most recent press conference backwards in the hope that it might reveal the hidden secrets of Fibonnachi’s Golden ratio theorem. Up the Arse. LD.

Follow Tim on Twitter – @littledutchva

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