Someone said something I disagreed with

The Tim Stillman column - Arseblog

We currently sit marooned in the post season pre European Championships no man’s land. It’s sometimes a bit crazying to watch my fellow inhabitants of this post apocalyptic wasteland roaming the thunder dome for scraps of tumbleweed with which to forge transfer speculation – desperately looking to fuse liquid gold from its drying spores. On a personal level, the whole transfer circus has moved me to a point where I can’t even be bothered to think about it.

That’s an odd feeling, because I know the business we do this summer is very important and I certainly hope the club don’t feel weary about it. But for me it’s reached a level of saturation now that my brain totally rejects the subject. It’s a bit like being forced to watch a continuous, 24 hour loop of hardcore pornography. At first it’s a pleasant enough distraction, but then it just becomes meaningless mounds of flesh lumped together. Then you reach this sort of post desensitisation state and you want to run home and sob like a little girl. Or so I’d imagine anyway. Ahem…..

Where was I? Oh yes. I think there are a certain amount of “live issues” with the squad that are equally worthy of attention. Robin van Persie’s contract is obviously the most pressing and has been subject to huge conjecture. My personal (uninformed) hunch is that he will stay but not necessarily sign a new deal. At a cost of around £6m in wages we’d keep one of the world’s best strikers for another of his peak years. If Podolski is to be his ultimate replacement, it’d give him a year to bed in.

It’s not ideal. But it would transfer the risk to Robin himself. He would need to produce another prolific, injury free season if he wanted the best deal in 2013. Especially when you consider that he’ll be close to 30 at the end of his contract and possibly past his peak. In any case, whatever the outcome there, removing the burden from him needs to be an incremental process. Off the back of a 48 game season, van Persie now goes into a summer of international action. He played every minute of every game after the January 9th cup tie against Leeds.

In September and October, van Persie started on the bench in games against Olympiacos and Stoke City, with the manager sighting the fact that he was in the famed “red zone” physically. I find it hard to believe he didn’t end the season with his deckchair and flip flops firmly entrenched in the red zone, but the lack of quality back up put paid to any prospect of rest. Walcott and Koscielny have also produced a comparable amount of minutes as they pack their bags for Polkraine. It’s naïve to think that they won’t come back at least feeling the nagging bite of fatigue next season.

Basically, this is a short hand way of saying that we won’t be able to go through another season relying on a core of 15-16 players. (There is also the spectre of another African Nations tournament next January too). Then of course there is the curiously quieter issue of Theo Walcott’s contract. Given his age and value we would not be in the same situation as we are with 29 year old van Persie. Remember, when one speaks of value in terms of contracts, it doesn’t just come down to ability.

Walcott is one of Arsenal’s most marketable faces. Think of every commercial activity of the last 5 years that has required a grinning player decked in red and white. Theo is usually front row centre for the lights, camera action. His agents and advisors will only be too well aware of this and it could make negotiations tricky, because his demands will likely be in advance of his actual ability on the pitch as a result. Speaking of Theo and his footballing ability, he had some criticism from sometime Arsenal TV pundit Stewart Robson this week. In turn, this seemed to spark something of a miniature outrage.

I didn’t 100% agree with Robson’s criticism myself (though I can see what he’s driving at). But I made the mistake online of trying to defend Robson’s right to pull no punches in his assessment. It’s fair to say this contention was widely contested! Within minutes of the quotes being printed, I saw online petitions for his removal and posters urging that the club sack him from his position on Arsenal TV. Employees of the club shouldn’t be so critical seemed to be the main jist of the counter argument and I have to say, that’s a philosophy I find troubling.

In my boredom, last summer I sifted through my mum’s attic for my old Arsenal programmes. I started to flick through publications from the 1992-93 season – my first as a season ticket holder. The club used to give up an entire page called ‘The Page That You Write’ in which supporters wrote in on subjects of their choice. Reading in the hindsight of the media coached, 21st Century propaganda paradise, I found it amazing that the club regularly printed missives aimed at the F.A., Sky television and the increasing commercialisation of the new Premier League alienating fans. It was amazing in that it was incredibly refreshing.

The knicker twisting at Robson’s lack of PR savvy reinforced how far we have fallen, not just as football fans, but as a society. We’ve become entrenched into this slave / master relationship with corporate blandness to the point that, not only do we accept it, but we find anything else genuinely unpalatable. Anything not couched in media friendly double speak is rejected vehemently. It’s contributed enormously to the pussification of our culture where sensibilities are offended so easily.

As I said, I didn’t entirely agree with Robson myself. But that’s OK. I think Theo is a very important player. That’s what makes him so frustrating at times. I don’t ever recall getting frustrated with McGoldrick or Hillier or even Chamakh. Poor players aren’t frustrating. But I find it genuinely troubling that a lot of people actively want happy clappy, diluted, disingenuous commentary. We’ve become cosseted to the point that somebody speaking their mind offends us so profoundly that we start up petitions, begging PR departments to rescue us with their veil of dilution.

“PR” is the absolute fucking devil’s spawn in this sort of scenario. It’s prevented us from behaving like adults and either exercising the right to disagree and argue the toss, or else to just ignore and disregard without the need to seek a gagging order. This is why we are served the sort of half baked, ill researched “punditry” from the likes of Shearer and Hansen, who just iron a shirt, sit on a sofa, recite cliché and trouser public cash for doing so. We’ve become so accustomed to it that any pundit that satisfies his job description by speaking his mind is regarded as a leper.

This isn’t necessarily to champion Robson’s opinions per se. But to see a criticism of one of our players (the substance of which I’ve seen from a thousand others) dressed up as some kind of conspiratorial agenda was a little dispiriting. If the guy thinks Walcott is “an athlete who puts football boots on” why shouldn’t he say it? He was asked his view of Walcott’s ability and did so. If you listen to him commentate on games that don’t involve Arsenal, you realise he’s curmudgeonly with a lot of players. Almost exactly a year ago, I was moved to write this piece, the last three paragraphs of which take up a similar theme.

I probably gave that an unequal amount of column inches and I realise that there’s an irony to getting angry about the oversensitivity of others. But it was cathartic to get it off my chest and it certainly sparked plenty of discussion when I broached the subject earlier in the week. Ultimately, as ever, you’re free to disagree or ignore. Of course you could petition for blogger to string me up by my bollocks. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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