Saturday, March 2, 2024

The sound of the crowd

In my time writing this column, I don’t ever recall such difficulty in thinking up material to fill my remit. It’s quite absurd when you think about it, that on the back of one of the team’s best runs of form in the last five years, there really is nothing to say. Professional journalists at least have the advantage of being able to stick a microphone under someone’s nose and attempt to extract a comment that can be conjured into a morsel of controversy.

But for your humble, access starved blogger, everything being shit and everyone being a cunt makes it much easier to produce copy. That gives you choices too. You can either expand at length at the shitness of everything and the cuntiness of everyone, or else you can approach from a different angle. You can try and explain that everything is not as shit as it seems and everyone’s not as big a cunt as they appear and actually what’s more shit is everyone thinking everything’s shit and the biggest cunts going are those that think everyone’s a cunt.

Over time you can then begin to chisel everyone’s views into neatly cordoned off factions. There’s the “we think everything’s shit and everyone’s a cunt” brigade, armed with bin liners and billboards. Then there’s the “we think the everything’s shit and everyone’s a cunt brigade is really shit and all therein are cunts” party. Any opinion you offer is then processed, filtered and made to measure the appropriate clique.

This leads to a situation where a splinter clique develops. The “stop trying to put everything I say into a silly little clique” clique. That third party has some neat ideas that nobody seems to rabidly object to, but realistically they’re not slogany enough to capture the popular imagination, and will lack the will to carry forward a sustained campaign.

But with seven consecutive league wins behind us, the constant hum of conflict has mellowed to a murmur. It’s like the vacuum cleaner has been on for 12 months and somebody just pulled the plug. At first you hated its ear piercing howl, closing your bedroom door and playing Husker Du LP’s at full volume to try and drown it out. Then you made a determination just to live with it.

After a while you kind of stopped noticing. But now the chord has been pulled, you notice and appreciate the silence. You glory in it, quietly hoping against hope that a drunken brother doesn’t noisily stumble through the front door, muddying the carpet and causing the noise of the vacuum cleaner to restart and for conflict to rage once more in the house.

As to the reasons for our improvement, I think they are many and varied. The return of fully licensed full backs has been spoken about ad infinitum. Continuity, particularly across the defence, cannot be underestimated. For instance, I would rate Andre Santos as a slightly better left back than Kieran Gibbs. However, whilst Gibbs is showing his current form, I’d let him keep the shirt until such time that he does something to lose it.

Continuity is aided and abetted by the injury overlords; who appear to have taken some kind of spring time sabbatical. Though I’m sure they’ll return soon enough, looking plump and bronzed and cracking their knuckles before getting back to work on our helpless troops.  The mixture of continuity and the confidence of the results it has brought have led to Arsenal playing at a much higher intensity.

This piece from 7amkickoff neatly outlines how much happier and more flexible a team is when everyone can perform a variety of functions, knowing that a teammate will slot into place. Central to this I think has been the deployment of a reinvigorated Tomas Rosicky. In terms of raw numbers, the stats actually show that Aaron Ramsey creates chances and attempts through balls much more regularly than the Czech. (Though this article wards the dangers of quoting stats without context).

The difference, I think, is the speed with which Rosicky plays. He passes quickly, and then he moves quickly, making himself available for the next pass. Rosicky sets a high tempo. Crucially, not just on the ball, but off it too. Walcott’s goal against Villa on Saturday came as a result of Rosicky harrying the Villa defence into pumping the ball away aimlessly. Arteta had a rangefinder from distance in the first half which also came as a direct result of Rosicky pressing the Villa defence into ceding the ball in their own half. This enables Arsenal to play at the sort of intensity our passing game requires to be effective.

Playing at such intensity has enabled us to punish sides at the weakest moments of their game. Our penchant for late goals was well documented in the early part of the winning run, but there are other vague patterns emerging. It’s often said a team is at its weakest when they’ve just scored. At the start of the winning sequence, Sunderland led us for five minutes before we equalised. Spurs’ two goal lead was overturned in seven minutes. Liverpool led us for eight minutes. Newcastle didn’t last even sixty seconds in the ascendancy. Confidence and belief are vital here, but so too is the speed at which we do things. The equaliser against Newcastle was the culmination of that. Within five touches of the ball, we were level.

Allied to this, we’re starting games more quickly too. More often than not, we’ll face a team whose game plan it is to defend deep. A pattern over recent years has been for Arsenal to begin with good intentions, only to not score and allow the opposition to settle into the groove of their strategy; making the rest of the match a real ball ache. But against Milan, Everton and Villa we’ve been swift out of the blocks, scored quickly and that makes such a huge difference to the pattern of the game. It achieves something of an economies of scale in its effect in that it simultaneously unsettles the opposition’s tactics and settles us into our rhythm.

The challenge now is to be even more ruthless. Everton and Newcastle ought to have been out of sight well before time and we let Villa dangle a bit at 2-0. Had Villa’s only vaguely competent striker been fit in the shape of Darren Bent, the second half might have been a little less comfortable. Fortunately, Villa had Emile Heskey. Not every team we’re going to face will be blessed with such a spectacular, and let’s face it, hilarious brand of incompetence.

In any case, humility and continuing to respect the simpler arts of the game- hard work, high pressing, ruthlessness, will see the run continue. Then maybe the pleasant silence might even morph into a pleasant tune of content. We can teach one another to sing in perfect harmony. On second thoughts, that would be horrible. Enjoy the silence. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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