It’s a precarious and inexact science is football. The lines are so often wafer thin between glory and disaster. I’m talking Steve Mcmanaman’s forearms thin. A succession of delicious injury time winners has everyone cock a hoop in the Goonerverse at the time of writing. With Tottenham’s ten point advantage whittled down to one point, fingers are pointing towards our erstwhile neighbours with accompanying laughter at their premature “mind the gap” assertions.
This, as though the remaining point that yawns between us has already been overturned and Tottenham’s twitchy bowels and choking tendencies are already assured. Whilst we are quite correct to set our sights greedily up to third place, it’s worth pointing out that we only have a three point gap above Chelsea in 5th. So we’re one dodgy result away from the sky falling in, everything being shit and everyone being a cunt again.
Many, myself included, have guffawed and cringed when Arsene has waxed lyrical about Arsenal’s “mental strength” but we really are beginning to see palpable signs of it. I put this down to a combination of factors. Chiefly, familiarity. The guts of the team are still pretty new and acclimatising to one another. I’ve made the point several times before about fluidity being the hallmark of a good side. It’s a theme the ever excellent Arsenal Column has embellished upon well here.
Thomas Vermaelen was in the penalty area for two good goalscoring opportunities before slotting home his last ditch winner. He can do this because he has every confidence that either Song or Arteta will simply slot back in to his place without him having to issue an affidavit to them to do so. The swapping of positions between Song and Vermaelen very much puts one in mind of the manner in which Toure and Gilberto used to jockey. Toure’s powering runs forward could be a potent weapon and Gilberto understood exactly when to drop back and allow the Ivorian to utilise that skill set. There’s nothing more to that than trust, which takes time to forge.
But I do believe there is a core of players that ‘get’ Arsenal now. Trying to stay as objective as possible, it’s genuinely a unique club, one which is guided by a set of principles. Some players absorb that ethos and others don’t. Very good players have struggled at the club in the past due to the standards it demands. I don’t like to single out individuals ordinarily, but to furnish my point I shall indulge. A couple of years ago I would have scanned the likes of Adebayor, Eboue, Nasri, Denilson – players with varying degrees of talent – and wonder if they ever really imbibed the culture of Arsenal. (Perhaps “imbibed” is an unfortunate phrase given the excesses of some notorious squad members in the 80s and 90s).
Evaluating the talents of respective players is entirely subjective. However, I look now at the likes of Sagna, Szczesny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Koscielny and van Persie, as well as experienced heads such as Rosicky and Arteta that recognise they are in something of an autumn at this level and I see a group that genuinely see the distinction of Arsenal. Representatives of the cannon in the recent past left you with the impression they could be cut and pasted into any other top 4 side in any of the more prominent leagues if the going was good for them.
I think that accounts for a lot of the fight we have seen of late. It was clear as day in the celebration of Vermaelen’s clincher against Newcastle. It’s why Robin van Persie is prepared to make a point to a very touchy Newcastle goalkeeper and why his team mates will rush across to back him up. I am unconvinced that the cameras picked it up, but once the melee had been cooled, there were some Arsenal players not yet in position from Newcastle’s centre. From the right back slot, Bacary Sagna furiously waved his arms at his teammates and told them in no uncertain terms, “Get the fuck back!”
That sort of spirit carries you through sometimes. Sagna’s no nonsense header against Spurs that that just glowed with a beautiful “fuck this”-ness. Vermaelen sprinting 80 yards into the area after 95 minutes. In retrospect, I think you could say the F.A. Cup comeback against Aston Villa sewed some restorative seeds. Probably in the inverse manner to which last season’s capitulation at St. James’ Park became the by-word for our subsequent collapse. Or something.
In the wake of the Villa cup tie, Wenger subtly made that Arsenal distinction clear. When asked what he had said to his players at half time, he coyly answered, “You can sit around and feel sorry for yourself or you can fight and show you have the qualities to play for this club.” I like to think those words have stayed with his players. The task now is for the manager to nail their ears to the wall and repeat them over and over again. Too often over the last 2 or 3 years an apparent revival has been allowed to slink back into a sea of self pity.
But it’s also crucial to appreciate the fragility of the situation. As I said earlier, we’re the hunters as well as the hunted in terms of league position. Playing catch up has probably suited our gung-ho style. Draws aren’t a lot of good to us at this stage, so pressing for last gasp, all out attack winners suits the personality of the side. But one well launched counter attack at Goodison next week sees doubts resurface. I still think Arsenal could stand to do a little more research on their opponents. Newcastle’s goal on Monday was a glaring example. Hatem Ben Arfa is possibly the most laughably one footed player in the Premier League, yet Gibbs still somehow deigned to show him onto his good foot in the penalty area.
That comes down to a lack of basic research. Arsene has a philosophy that has served us incredibly well and I wouldn’t suggest we should go tossing babies and bath water all over the shop. But even a slightly more hybrid approach could make a difference. This sort of rigour comes from the manager, but I also dare say it would have taken Kieran Gibbs around 1 hour of his voluminous spare time to have dug out some You Tube reels and obtained a basic appreciation of his opponent. That’s not intended to single out Gibbs per se; it goes for the whole team. The top players put that extra 1 or 2% in.
To close, I’ll address Arsenal’s pretty amusing “Twitter takeover” Q & A this week. As harmlessly fun as it seemed to be, it did cause me to briefly put myself in the place of the players with regards to social networking, which neatly precipitated this snippet of news. I have to say if I were a player, there’s no way in a million years I would have a Twitter account. The amount of moralising and judgement for every utterance would probably lead me to a Michael Douglas style ‘Falling Down’ moment.
For instance, Jack Wilshere has used his Twitter account to say he’d rather win a World Cup with England than a Champions League with Arsenal and this week said that he wanted to see Chelsea win in Europe. Now, personally, I’d equate England winning the World Cup with successfully negotiating a tricky dump. Ideally I would like to see Chelsea sucked into a vortex leaving behind only the vast, vast entrails of Frank Lampard’s intestinal tract and possibly one of John Terry’s limbs so I could feast upon it bloody jawed and muddy pawed.
Jack thinks differently. Strange and unsettling as I find anyone that doesn’t want to howl at the moon with John Terry’s blood all over their chops; I can deal with it. So long as Wilshere performs on the pitch for us and provided he isn’t a danger to society at large, is it really desirable or important to judge his thought processes? The amount of hand wringing and tut tutting I saw in reaction to those tweets contained enough piety to sustain the staff and readership of the Daily Mail. Oh what a tangled interweb we weave. Hey ho, that will do for this week.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA and point out the hypocrisy of my flirting for followers having just cocked a snook at social networking. LD.