Thursday, December 7, 2023

60,000 pitchforks climbing Everest

Tim Stillman Column

Another week, another set of worries, pugnaciously poured out of every sweaty orifice of the interweb. The forums are alive with the sound of unamused-niks. On Sunday, some of that discordance made its way pitch side to the ears of the manager. This last weekend of course saw Arsenal tragically, horrifically toss away the Emirates Cup in a result that history will surely mark as the nadir of our 125 years.

I dunno, what would Big Tone and Ray Parlour have done about this, eh? Aside from drink ten pints of lager and have a whizz on someone’s driveway, naturally. I’m being melodramatic of course, but then again, I am an Arsenal fan so what do you expect? The weekend brought us the Emirates Cup and the first thing to say is that both games represented a good challenge for the team. The Boca game exposed us to high quality opponents who play a different style. Whilst New York Red Bulls were only ever intent on parking the bus – a challenge we will face more than once in more competitive home fixtures next season.

Of course neither game really went the way we wanted it to if we’re to view the games competitively. I realise the club and the sponsors try to present the games through a veneer of importance, which might explain why so many saw them through such a prism of intense scrutiny. That’s not to say there weren’t worrying signs of history repeating, with leads tossed away in both games, possession recycled ad infinitum without sufficient penetration etc. However, for their to be boos at the final whistle, of a friendly, that is drawn, is an hysterical reaction in my book – symptomatic of the malcontented mindset that has come to characterise our support of late.

Arsenal Fans Riot
Arsenal fans were unhappy at the final whistle

There are those that argue the boos weren’t about the result or the concession of a meaningless trophy. The boos were apparently about the club’s transfer policy and another summer of inaction. So let me posit you this, if Kyle Bartley had turned that ball over his own crossbar, or else Arsenal had replied immediately with an 89th minute winner, would there still be cat calling at the final whistle? I’d bet my bollocks to a barn dance not one individual would trouble their larynx in that scenario. Not. Fucking. One. Yet neither of those scenarios would have told us anything different about the team or the club.

The rights and wrongs of booing your team have been done to death and I’ve neither the inclination nor the sanity to produce a meditation on that here. Suffice to say it’s not something I tend to do myself. Not because I’m some moral gladiator, but because, to be honest, I think it just sounds kind of childish. The aural qualities of it put me in mind of a toddler who has been presented with a plate of broccoli. I concede that if you pay your money, you’ve got the right. I guess I just don’t see the logic of making your home ground a hostile environment for your own team, different strokes for different folks I suppose.

However, booing a friendly does strike me as kind of pathetic. It’s difficult to replicate the intensity of a real game in a non competitive match; particularly one in which a plethora of substitutions are made prior to the final third of the game. If we twirl the periscope and look around at other pre season friendly results, I ask you, would Manchester United lose 8-2 to Marseilles in a Champions League game? Would Liverpool lose 3-0 to Hull City in the League Cup? There are issues to be analysed for the coaching staff, but let’s not make a chuffing great Everest out of a mole hill.

The flipside of this of course is that, if the club didn’t realise it before, they are now acutely aware that they have some way to go to get the supporters onside. The club have created a good deal of that pressure for themselves. I wrote on these pages back in May that pressing ahead with a price rise at a time when supporters were at the threshold of their disenchantment was a risky PR move. The club handed 60,000 pitchforks to a baying mob.

The upshot is that those being asked to reach a little deeper into their pockets will have demanded tangible gratification in the transfer market. In other words, evidence that those extra funds were contributing to an increase in the quality of the product. The transfer market looks very tough at the moment; there hasn’t been much activity anywhere and it seems Arsenal have been working hard both to bring players in and move some on. But punters are less understanding when asked to part with more of their pound sterling and that’s entirely understandable.

Following the transfer market has been a frustrating experience for Arsenal fans this summer, but there again, the way the media saturates us with misinformation; it’s all become a lot like Pavlov’s Dogs. They ring a bell and we all roll over look good little pups and have our bellies tickled. For instance, on Tuesday, in the space of 7 hours we had heard that; Juan Mata had agreed personal terms with Arsenal, that Juan Mata had committed his future to Valencia, that Arsenal had missed the deadline for his release clause and that Arsenal had had a bid for Mata turned down.

It’s crazy making and it’s foolhardy to get sucked in by it so consistently. The next time some goatee sporting twerp, let’s call him, Guillem LeBlag, outs some nugget of “inside information” please refer to the bullshit-o-meter before going doolalley. Alongside a prospective deal for Mata, Arsenal’s answer to Prince Philip, Mr. Hill-Wood confirmed the club had bid for Phil Jagielka. I have to say I find the link to Jagielka more enthusing than the likes of Samba and Cahill. I know the party line is that we want a caveman of a centre half who feasts on the blood of oxen, but playing at centre half for a club like Arsenal is different to sides in the lower reaches of the league.

The reality is for defenders at Arsenal is the same as it is for goalkeepers. You’re going to be under deployed for large parts of an average game. That sets a different kind of challenge. Let us use the goalkeeping example as a paradigm and take Manuel Almunia. His best performances in an Arsenal shirt were Champions League matches at Old Trafford and the Nou Camp respectively. These were games in which the team were under the cosh and Manuel was deployed consistently. They showed that he has good qualities as a goalkeeper.

His issue arose in games where he was likely to be standing idly by for 85 minutes plus. When he had that one shot to deal with, he came up short. This of course is where Seaman excelled. Take the 2003 F.A. Cup Final. Sod all to do for 89 minutes. Brett Ormerod smashes a shot towards the top corner in injury time and Seaman’s concentration remained at its utmost. It’s similar for defenders and I have my reservations as to whether it’s a challenge the likes of Cahill and Samba would be able to meet. Jagielka I think, has that nous to his game. A cool head. But I guess we’ll wait and see how that deal pans out.

We’ve another big week ahead. Tomorrow sees the club’s annual Members’ Day, which I will have the pleasure of attending in Club Level. In the event that anything vaguely exciting happens, I will be tweeting live in between mouthfuls of salmon and watercress sandwiches. I think it’s fair to say all eyes will be live on the photo call there. Don’t forget that Friday morning at 11am sees the draw for the Play-off Round of the Champions League qualifiers. Inevitably this means I will be wandering around the Great British Beer Festival that afternoon on the blower desperately trying to book flights to Kazan. Until then, Booooooooooooooo! LD.

Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA

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