Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Needs must

Tim Stillman Column

Hello Gooners, my good friends. I’ve come to talk with you again. The fusty old cobwebs of the international break have been well and truly blown away with vengeance. Swivelling the old noggin and casting my eye back over the last 7 days, I’ve taken in a Premier League home game, an Arsenal Ladies match, an Arsenal Supporters’ Trust meeting and a trip to Germany for a Champions League encounter. When I say Arsenal is my life dear reader, I ain’t just jossin. In the words of Bristolian wordsmith Tricky, let me take you down the corridors of my life.

The weekend managed to hit the right note with a hard fought 1-0 win over Swansea. Of course the victory was not ultimately as emphatic as the highly suggestible black and white print of the fixture list promised, but there were green shoots and building blocks. Following on from a traumatic summer, culminating in the nadir of the 8-2 shellacking at Old Trafford, confidence was always going to be at a premium. Throw the fact that we were tossing league debuts around like confetti and you’ve got yourself concoction of potential fragility.

I have to say I felt the air was rather clearer in the stadium. Something I noticed for the Swansea game and in Dortmund. At the risk of spinning cosmic psycho babble, the atmosphere has not felt as tense or desperate. At first I thought this may be in deference to the dusting off of the Arsenal chequebook, but even as we laboured against Swansea and were pegged back by Borussia, the acidic undercurrent wasn’t there. Maybe the obsession with the transfer market is hibernating until January, when the pant wetting will begin again. But I do wonder if the defeat at Old Trafford has rather reset our expectations.


Last season 4th place felt like a disaster. Given the position we were in in February, it was a disaster. I rather doubt many would turn 4th place down if offered to them for this season. Old Trafford could turn out to be something of a thunder storm in our season. The grey clouds were still visible against Swansea. In the second half, the team began to “drop physically” as the manager is so keen on reminding us. It was a compliment to the visitors that, despite being one of our most potent attacking threats, Arshavin was withdrawn in favour of the more conscientious Benayoun with plenty of time left, such was the threat Swansea offered on the flanks.

It may sound trite, but if the manager is showing some in-game defensive adaptability, I’m hardly going to complain about that. Even if he’s reduced to demonstrating it in fixtures such as that. Needs must.

If Arsenal are going to use this spell of low confidence to sharpen up some of their defensive skills and battling qualities, then let’s hope it can pay dividends for the whole season. Certainly I think the goalkeeper is a massive boon in this regard. Not only is he one cocksure, vocal motherfucker, but he has a trait that otherwise good goalkeepers lack for a club like Arsenal. Concentration. He can be under deployed for large swathes of a game, but still produce when called upon.

Having not quite slaked my thirst for live football with that match on the Saturday, I took a Sunday afternoon sojourn to Borehamwood to watch the Arsenal Ladies seal a spot in yet another Cup Final, defeating Lincoln City 3-1. I will try my best not to sound like a patronising Guardianista when I say this, but I really do strongly recommend getting across to watch the girls if you can. I often find a brick wall of cynicism when I discuss the women’s game, but I think the standard is far in excess of people’s expectations. Particularly for the Arsenal Ladies, who have been the crème de la crème of the Ladies game since I was in short trousers.

Watching the fluidity of the Ladies midfield was an absolute joy. With the experienced Jayne Ludlow anchoring with firm assurance. The Ladies play with one pivotal striker- like the men’s team do. The difference being that every time Arsenal attack, Kim Little, Ellen White and Jordan Nobbs are all scurrying forward to supplement the attack. Such is the strength of the squad that experienced internationals Julie Fleeting and Emma Byrne were our unused substitutes and Faye White was injured.

Having spent an enjoyable Sunday in Hertfordshire, the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust meeting was next on the agenda on Monday evening. It proved to be another lively engagement, with the club’s summer transfer activity driving most of the discussion. Arsenal’s financial results will be due in the next month or so, there is likely to be mischief making in the press when they are released. The financial year end for the club was May 31st, so the next set of accounts will not show profits made from this summer’s transfer activity.

Therefore we can probably anticipate that the media will misinform all and sundry with their “where has all the money gone?” headlines. I’m certain that the majority of Arsenal fans will respond with all the composure of a plucked pheasant and will not stop to cross reference the stories, so hasty will they be to brandish the brickbats.

A fine example of such media gerrymandering that emanated from the meeting was the misreportage of Arteta’s supposed wage cut. In weekly terms, his salary represents a reduction on what he earned at Everton, but given that we’ve put an extra year on his deal, in real terms, it’s a comfortable rise in salary.

With the meeting and supplementary post meeting drinking session behind me, it was a fly by night trip to Gatwick to catch the Red Eye to Dusseldorf. Flying on the day of a European away game threatens to expose one to a long period without sleep. So at this point I must get down on bended knee and thank the Lord Dennis for the local German wheat beer – Wiesebier. Its crisp, fruity tang proved to be adequate rocket fuel for the trip.

It’s not just the quality and quantity of the hooch that makes Germany such an enjoyable place to watch football. All public transport was free of charge for Arsenal fans, anywhere in the Rheine with presentation of a match ticket. The stadium was the loudest I have heard anywhere in the world, with the 40,000 supporters in the South Kop utterly relentless with both verbal and visual aids. I’ve always liked the adoption of the call and response team announcement at Arsenal, but when I heard the ferocity with which the Dortmund fans respond, I felt a little embarrassed in truth.

As for the match itself, it was a very hard earned point indeed. Particularly in the second half when the hosts really pinned us back. In the first half, Dortmund’s forwards found some joy by exposing the lack of mobility in between Knackersacker and Koscielny. But I was quietly impressed by the way both players rectified and corrected this after a hairy first twenty minutes.

I thought Alex Song really impressed in this regard too; he showed the intelligence to alter his positioning slightly and looked to plug the gap that Dortmund’s forwards had been tearing into. It was perhaps fitting that he finished as captain in one of his more impressive performances for Arsenal over the last twelve months.

Had the game occurred in April, I’m certain Arsenal would’ve crumbled more quickly than a Hobnob in a cup of tea. The value of added experience was laid bare for all to see. Benayoun and Arteta played in the midfield three and both performed duties that neither is particularly renowned for. The creative opportunities were quelled by the Dortmund onslaught. But both are wily enough to know that different games call for different situations. Tippy tappy was off the menu, so both men gritted their teeth, got tackles in and worked their yarbles off for the team.

As with the Swansea game, it was hardly the most effusive of performances, but it was another building block and another wilful examination of our solidarity. Me and mine finished the evening by conducting a wilful examination of Dortmund’s beer casks, returning to our hotel just as the lark was rising. I think this trip might just have Rosickyed my liver for good. If you are travelling to Blackburn on Saturday, I will see you there. Up the Arse. LD.

Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA

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