Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Wild turkeys and statues

Tim Stillman Column

I write shortly before 3pm, the afternoon after the launch of So Paddy Got Up at the Tollington. My hands still tremble as I type. I’ve cleaned my teeth three times and had a tactical fry up yet still the sour taste of Wild Turkey trips off my tongue. It really was a pleasure to see so many of you and stop for a beer and a chat. From a personal standpoint, I cannot wait to get started and read the book for myself! Though my copy now has some peculiar stains on it and smells of whiskey. Not sure how that might have happened!

Moving on and it’s been a slightly bittersweet week. The Olympiacos game on Wednesday night is the first I’ve not been at since signing up for a twitter profile. It was my first ever exposure to in game social networking. I can’t say I was enthused. We all get frustrated even for games that mean little, but the amount of visceral anger people exhibit really makes me question why they watch football at all. It’s clearly used as a release valve for some very negative issues in people’s lives. I saw people saying they wished Arshavin would break his leg. Pathetic stuff.

The game itself wasn’t the best performance you’ll ever see from an Arsenal perspective. Whilst the first team appear to have slowly earned the trust of the supporters, questions abound around the squad players. Most didn’t do themselves many favours on Tuesday evening. That said, I think the poverty of the performance showed us exactly why those players needed to play in the fixture.

People enormously underestimate the difficulty of coming into a team when you don’t play very regularly and instantly establishing any sort of rhythm. You can bleat about them being highly paid professionals all you like- and it’s not a terribly unfair point to make. But the human condition is impervious to purse strings. There was a whole lotta ring rust out there I think and it’s much better the players exorcise some of it in a relatively meaningless fixture.

With errors from Fabianski and Mannone there’s been some teeth gnashing about the quality we have in reserve between the sticks. When Fabianski had a run in the side around 12 months ago he began to look a decent goalkeeper. Again, I think it’s very difficult to come into the goalkeeping position, which requires so much concentration and analysis, when you don’t play very often. I am not and never have been Mannone’s biggest fan. (Largely because I think he’s a bit bobbins). But I find explanation for his error, if not mitigation.

Simultaneously keeping an eye on the ball and assessing his bearings in the fraction of a second between his clearance and the shot is one of those decisions that comes instinctively and automatically when you play regularly. It must have been more than 6 months since Mannone’s last competitive outing. It’s not an excuse so much for such a comedic error. But looking for and understanding the reasons for a mistake will always beat just pouting and calling the individual responsible a cunt for me.

I’ve seen some anxiety about the goalkeeping situation beyond Szczesny as the predictable “buy, buy, buy”  slogans appear. Yet if you assess the number 2 and 3 keepers at our rivals, I don’t think you’ll see a lot different. Are the likes of Gomes, Stuart Taylor, Ross Turnbull and Thomas Kuszczak genuinely vastly superior? Good goalkeepers don’t tend to sit on benches. If you don’t have a quality gap between your number 1 and 2, it’s either because you’re number 1 isn’t good enough. Or else your number 2 isn’t ambitious enough.

Of course there were players for whom rust wasn’t really an excuse. I’ve spoken about Andrey Arshavin here recently and he just doesn’t look like lifting himself out of this rut and into a groove any time soon. When you compare the dedication and professionalism (on and off the pitch) shown by Yossi Benayoun, big questions begin to emerge about Arshavin. For my money, Benayoun should be ahead of him in the pecking order and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain is beginning to overtake too. Nevertheless, I cannot shake the feeling that Arshavin is a special player and one I am not ready to give up on yet.

Marouane Chamakh is coming in for plenty of criticism too. Not all of it undeserved. I think part of the issue is that the team doesn’t play to his strengths. It’s notable that the team is geared towards van Persie and his movement. On Tuesday night, players were slipping intricate through balls into the channels and it just isn’t Chamakh’s game to maximise on those. Even van Persie himself would struggle if the team started relying on him to hold up aerial balls, win flick ons and attack headers in the penalty area because it’s not his game.

That said, Chamakh doesn’t seem to be making any great inroads. With Ju Young Park seemingly a figment of the imagination, it does rather make you worry about the striker situation. Wenger openly admitted that the prospect of sending Chamakh out on loan would have been a viable option were it not for the African Nations Cup. You have to think he doesn’t have many chances left to prove his worth.

Arsenal will of course mark their 125th anniversary officially on Saturday’s match against Everton. The club will unveil three statues to commemorate some AFC legends too. This was intended to be a surprise for the supporters until The Daily Telegraph saw fit to spoil it and reveal the three bronzed identities. The soulless, joyless cunty killjoys. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to argue with the club’s most successful ever captain (even if there is something iffy about the relationship he currently has with the club), the record goalscorer and our most innovative ever manager. When there are only three statues, there are always going to be debatable omissions, but I find little argument with the choices.

The club have again invited a handful of supporters to the unveiling (not me though, harrumph!) and it shows the escalated level to which the club has been reaching out to supporters and bloggers this season. With several invited to view the new medical centre and more asked along to the media launch of the revamped stadium tours the club has made a concerted PR attempt to reach out to an ever more popular and influential medium for fan opinion. It makes sense for Arsenal to interact and I think, slowly, we’re beginning to see KSE’s influence on the direction of operations.

I think that just about wraps things up from me for another week. Until this time next week, stay well Goonered. LD.

Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA

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