Friday, June 2, 2023

Reaction Reaction Reaction

Tim Stillman Column

Following consecutive league defeats (both games in which we took the lead) I think we can all agree the need for savage and violent revolution is obvious. A blood thirsty, shrieking gallop to the hills followed by a good fortnight of medieval combat ought to sort it. Because nothing quite says “ambitious football club” like flapping through a wooded area wearing Arsene Wenger’s skin as a dress and Peter Hill Wood’s nuts for earrings. All whilst screeching like horny hyenas, naturally.

In all seriousness, there’s plenty to be concerned about given the symmetry of our defeats. Both the Fulham and Swansea games were bookended by fast starts, followed by sluggish, leggy second halves that have allowed our opponents to overpower us and win the game. I think that does come back to a point blogger made earlier in the week that a small group of players is being overloaded and the congested Christmas period, with little replenishing of the starting XI has taken its toll.

Still, it’s difficult to ignore the fluctuating, frankly schizophrenic reactions of the fans. Little less than a month ago we were hailing the newfound professionalism in this squad. Two defeats later and we’re back to everything being shit and everyone being a cunt. Defensive frailties can be amended by the sacking of the whole board of directors.

Where Szczesny’s confidence once made him a future great, now it’s evidence that he thinks he’s made it and Ramsey’s entire career written off as average at the age of 21. I often sit and marvel at the energy required to maintain this sort of flip-flopping. It’s dizzying just watching it.

I think the truth is, we’re in a bad spell. All teams get them at some point in a season. The trouble is, the club handled last summer in such slipshod fashion, that we almost wantonly gave ourselves a 5 game handicap at the start of the campaign. These were fairly unique circumstances due to the turmoil we incubated ourselves into.  We’ve done well to come from a long way back, but unfortunately, it didn’t leave much room for a bad patch.

It’s important to remember that a good deal of this team weren’t even in situ during that turbulent summer. So the last iffy run of form doesn’t even belong to them, it sits with a barely recognisable mutation of this squad. For all of the full back woes we’ve experienced in the last month or so, it seems ridiculous to contemplate that we finished our first home game of the season with Henri Lansbury at right back. He was an 84th minute substitute in a Championship match this weekend past.

But our full back woes, as it were, have had a deep and cutting effect I think. It’s no coincidence that Walcott’s early season pizzazz has evaporated completely since the twin losses of Sagna and Jenkinson. There was a time, around two seasons ago, when Eboue was preferred to Sagna at right back for home matches. This was not solely because, at the time, Eboue posed a greater attacking threat than Sagna. (Of course Sagna’s response was to stay quiet and improve his crossing, Eboue’s was to soak up the faux adulation afforded to him by his cult status).

But this was just as much because Walcott depends on the ability of his right back to push him up the pitch, to carry the threat and leave him to run in behind opposition defences. We don’t have that sort of weaponry at right full back at the moment, meaning Walcott is having to do his work nearer the halfway line, where his effectiveness is dulled. Gervinho fared slightly better without an attacking left back because he’s more adept at beating players. But the lack of an overlap has affected his and Walcott’s ability to take up central positions.

I’ve seen some scathing criticism of Ramsey’s form and it has confused me somewhat. For me, a player, particularly a midfielder, isn’t in trouble form wise unless he starts completely disappearing in games. Anonymity is a cause for concern. Ramsey has been anything but anonymous. I think he’s become identifiable because it’s perceived that his passes aren’t coming off and that he’s not creating.

Given what I’ve explained above; the reality in my eyes is that he doesn’t have an awful lot ahead of him to aim for. Without overlapping full backs, the wide players aren’t assuming dangerous positions centrally. In Gervinho’s absence, we’re playing Arshavin who, like Benayoun and Rosicky, doesn’t really penetrate in behind defences, but sits off the front line looking to create an opening.

This essentially means our forward line has lacked diversity without proper attacking full backs. Ramsey’s seemingly wonky radar is much about the lack of movement in front of him as it is erring execution. The heavily marked van Persie is usually his only option. That also explains why van Persie’s overall contribution to our build up play has dwindled in the last few games- though thankfully his ability to finish moves hasn’t. The wide players aren’t the viable outlets they were when Sagna and Santos were manning the line, so often the captain has to try to conjure his way through crowds single handedly.

But given the run of form we are in, the voguish criticisms of every facet of the club are creeping back. Whilst in relatively good form, no supporter breathes a word about the board of directors, but a couple of defeats later and blood needs to be smeared across the oak panelled walls of Highbury House. Peter Hill Wood apparently invited a petition for his removal from the board with some really tame comments this week.

Whilst it’s true that Hill Wood is something of an old fuddy duddy, I fail to see the mortal offence taken. His comments amounted to, ‘we really want to get in the Champions League, but if we don’t, we won’t go bust.’ Heathen! How dare he? You can argue that he should perhaps hit the ‘decline’ button once in a while when the Daily Star start calling, but the hysterical screams for his removal are a little much.

For a start, the role of Chairman is a purely ceremonial one. The cigar chomping old codger doesn’t actually run the club in any operational way. Chairmen rarely do in this day and age. Besides which, when Kroenke took over last April, an agreement was signed, locking the current board in for 12 months. It’s almost certain that Hill Wood will be pensioned off in the not too distant future anyway.

When he and other members of the old guard begin to drift away, it won’t be the tempestuous cull many will paint it as. The club’s operational staff has slowly begun to groove to Kroenke’s beat. The appointment of Gazidis was the opening bass trill of this gradual evolution, with Tom Fox and Angus Kinnear joining on drums and keyboards. The board lock in was simply to smooth the transition- it’s very common to have a handover period when stewardship changes in any big company. It stands to reason that the next step will be for the front men to take on a more Yankee drawl when that lockdown expires.

Dein, Edelman and Bracewell-Smith have already scuttled off into the sun, Fiszman sadly no longer with us. Hill Wood is 76 years old, Friar is 78 this spring, Sir Chips Keswick is 71 and Lord Harris turns 70 this year. They’ve steered the club through a huge period of off pitch progression and deserve commendation for doing so. But it’s natural that their time is nigh and they will know that better than anyone. It makes sense to handle that upheaval gradually. So please spare me the “the axe has been wielded because Kroenke is, like, totally pissed dude” comments when they do collect their pensions.

Anyway, I think I’m going to charge back to my little molehill. I figure if I dance naked around it, smearing myself in the droppings of David Dein as I do, it’ll turn into a mountain sooner or later. Till then, adios. LD.

Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA

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