Monday, May 16, 2022


Tim Stillman Column

“The bitterest pill is mine to take, if I took it for a hundred years I couldn’t feel any more hate,” so Paul Weller once crooned. As far as shit sandwiches go, chowing down on defeat to the doyens of delusion at the other end of the Seven Sisters Road takes the shitty biscuit. That said, having already absorbed defeats to Liverpool and Manchester United already this season, our hides will have been tanned well enough already by our contemporaries in our workplaces, schools and colleges etc.

By now, we all should have developed an extra layer of skin. So all the finger jabbing from Spurs fans will ideally have been absorbed into a leathery, rhinoceros like coating. “What’s that? You beat the scum 2-1 you say? Add it to the tab dick features. Cos right now I’m at about half past give a shit.” If, like me, you have evidence of the Spurs gene in your families and workplaces, weeks such as these can be trying. Local derbies are like penalty shoot outs. They are rollicking good fun indeed. Unless you’re involved in one. Then they’re bloody torturous.

In the days since the game much of the focus has been on the bile emanating from the mouths of the supporters. There’s no point in dressing it up. The song about Adebayor and Angola went up loud, clear and on a plethora of occasions in the Arsenal end. Whilst the lyrics of football chants are always hyperbolised for wind up value (I doubt Manchester United fans genuinely believe Liverpool fans eat rats), there are lines and standards that need to be observed. That chant went some way past that mark.

Whilst I would share the anger of many that a blind eye has been turned to chants faced by our own manager over the last 15 years, there’s little mitigation in the argument, “Your chant is worse than our chant and you started it anyway.”

However, the fact that the clubs have decided to issue a joint statement in condemnation sticks in the craw. It’s one of the more transparent applications of PR gloss in living memory. Had the press not reported it, neither club would have commented. Largely, because neither club could give a chimpanzee’s ballbag about unless it generates negative publicity for them.

For instance, Arsenal’s statement ends with the mealy mouthed caveat, “Neither club tolerates foul language, racist chanting, homophobic chanting.” However abhorrent the Adebayor chant was, it didn’t include any of those clauses. It’s just another piece of barely thought out PR piffle, cut and pasted into a sentiment less dirge of a sentence. I’ve been to White Hart Lane a fair few times now. On every single one of those occasions, I have seen an act of random violence carried out in full view of police. From bottles and coins being chucked, to groups of men repeatedly kicking a man on the floor.

Why don’t both clubs pledge to tackling that ongoing issue? Because of course, the media don’t report it. So in the Orwellian sense, it doesn’t exist. No public images were harmed in the beating of this individual. Don’t get me wrong, chants about machine gunning someone to death are in bad taste, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say fists, bottles and coins with serrated edges are quite a bit worse.

Anyway, that’s quite enough fire breathing. Onto the game itself and it would appear the same worries persist. Though Coquelin’s performance would be a positive you’d take from the game, one just can’t look at Arsenal at the moment without being struck by the lack of pressing of opponents in the front three and the midfield. Our defensive negligence is not solely a preserve of the back four, but the defensive attitude of the entire team still isn’t approaching correction. One would hope that as the familiarity builds up between what is quite a new team, that this will be ironed out. For instance, see Arteta’s instruction to pick up Sandro – ignored by Ramsey – in the build up to the second goal.

However, this is hardly a new problem. The failure to work hard enough off the ball invites an uncomfortable question. Is the manager not telling them to do it? Or is he telling them and they’re simply not listening? None of us know the answer to that, but we do know that neither makes particularly good reading. At half time at the Lane, my friends and I joked about “playing with the handbrake on.” To which one pithily suggested, “If you keep driving with the handbrake on, eventually your engine blows up and your wheels fall off.”

Lo and behold, those were the exact words the manager used in his post match interview. I know I’ve said this before, but if we’re at a stage where we can play “Arsene bingo” with every press junket he does, does that mean the players can too? Do they know what he’s going to say in the dressing room before he says it? Do his words carry any weight as a result? Again, we can but idly speculate. But the manager hasn’t varied his lexicon in his media sound bites long enough to invite this question.

As if defeat weren’t a soggy enough biscuit, we have the news that Bacary Sagna will be out for at least three months with a fractured fibula. On a human level, I’m devastated for Banger. I find it irksome in the extreme that he does not garner the credit he deserves from outside of the club. He’s certainly one of Arsenal’s most consistent, reliable performers and therefore, one of our best players. He gives the appearance of a consummate professional and a jolly nice geezer too. Let’s hope he recovers well.

On a “footballistic” (bingo!) level, Sagna is going to be a big miss. Not just because he is a gentle breeze of stability in a tempest of brainfarters, but also because Carl Jenkinson does not look to be ready for any undertaking above Underhill at the moment. I’m sure he has potential, but with every game we play I fear we’re slowly suffocating that potential amidst the wreckage of our early season form. The level to which the manager trusts him for the next three months will be revealing. Truly a make or break period. Let’s hope it’s the making of a fine young right back.

In closing, I’d like to add to blogger’s inspired post this morning by adding in one of the things I like most about The Arsenal. Mine would come under the general umbrella of Standards. Arsenal has always been a club that has strived to set them, on and off the pitch. From the Arsenal embossing on the napkins in the club restaurant. To the flowers in the boardroom being dyed in the colours of the visiting team. The custom of the team lining up in the centre circle to salute all four sides of the ground before kick off.

The quirks and traditions are endless. But all are a symptom of a club that seeks to set itself apart from the others. If you doubt that spirit persists at the club, take a look at the stadium we watch football in every other week and the blood and sweat that went into building it. Tradition with vision. As it is, was and ever shall be. Up the Arse. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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