Friday, September 30, 2022

Get carried away with not getting carried away

Football is like life in that fortune is a fragile mistress. There is a delicate poise between triumph and tragedy at all times. Sequences of events can occur that are beyond our control. There is no mystical, benevolent force powering them. We control and manipulate our own destinies for the most part, but the universe is blind and behaves with complete ambivalence towards our existence. Events happen and we, as humans, project our own subjective experience onto that event.

Often, we try to comfort ourselves with make believe concepts, such as “luck” or “destiny.” Or we implore non-existent deities to drop everything they’re supposedly doing and unduly use their influence to deflect this injury time free kick into the net for us. Screw the thousands and thousands of people in the other stand, wearing the other colour scarf that will be heartbroken by the realisation of such a scenario. We promise we’ll never ask again.  Just make ME happy NOW Jesus, Allah, Buddah!

You might have just won the Nobel Peace Prize and found a winning lottery ticket on the pavement. But step out into the road just as a lorry loses control of its breaks and you’re pretty fucked dude. As Bill Hicks laconically termed it, “Human beings aren’t great. We’re just a virus with shoes.” Events have conspired to favour Arsenal over the last four weeks. Since the North London derby defeat in March, Tottenham have creaked under the twin pillars of injury and loss of form whilst the Gunners have thrived. It feels like things are coming together for Arsenal at just the right time. Again.

Arsenal have found form in the spring in the last two seasons for much the same reasons Wigan Athletic always seem to wait until the clock hits 0.03 before they start snipping wires. When a team is ritualistically asset stripped of its best players each summer, it takes time to put Humpty together again. Yet we must caution against getting carried away at all times. In February 2011, Arsenal were playing some very nice football and were still in contention for four trophies. Things continued to tick over nicely, if unconvincingly, with a narrow 1-0 home win over Stoke City.

Then Cesc Fabregas pulled his hamstring. Shortly after, Theo Walcott twisted his ankle. Both players missed the ensuing Carling Cup Final as a result. Robin van Persie was then injured in the first half of the showpiece at Wembley. Very quickly, three of our better players were watching from the bench. Against our better will, we all remember the freak incident that occurred in the last minute of that final. Effectively, a chain of in-game events unravelled and destroyed our season within a space of about 150 minutes.

Football, like life, is perfectly capable of slicing your nads off just before you hit vinegar strokes. That’s why perspective and humility are important for fans and players until a job is done. Things have turned in our favour very quickly and they can turn against us just as quickly too. The West Brom game was instructive in that respective. One minute you’re 2-0 up and cruising. One foul later and you’re staring down the gauntlet. A couple of significant injuries and an inspired Norwich goalkeeper this weekend and we’re looking desperate again.

The manager has some very interesting selection puzzles ahead of the Norwich game. Gervinho’s form has been resuscitated whilst Walcott’s floundered prior to injury. Ramsey’s partnership with Arteta at the base of midfield has one wondering where Wilshere fits in at the moment. The substitute’s bench this weekend could feature Wilshere, Szczesny, Podolski, Gibbs and Walcott. (Vermaelen too were it not for suspension to the BFG). Meanwhile, Ramsey, Gervinho, Rosicky and Fabianski are likely to be squinting at them from the starting line up.

Even six weeks ago, that would have been unthinkable. I suppose that’s a neat illustration of what I am talking about. Situations can change very quickly. It’s not destiny but circumstance. At the moment the formula is working, so I would be loath to change it if I were the man directing operations from my sleeping bag coat on the bench. Our underachievement in the cups has left the fixture list sufficiently spread out for us to keep the starting line up constant.

Maybe it’s borne of a team with a few players looking to prove something, maybe we have some fresher legs and minds in the team at the moment. Maybe we have unwittingly stumbled across a good balance. Ramsey’s energy alongside Arteta has given our midfield a greater defensive presence. In many ways, Rambo reminds me increasingly of Ray Parlour. He may be spoken of in hushed tones as a legend by Arsenal fans now, but I remember hearing some withering comments aimed at him from the Clock End during his career. Ramsey as “runner” alongside Arteta as “sitter” has worked very well.

Tomas Rosicky has been able to replicate the energy that Wilshere provides us higher up the pitch. The assurance that trio provides has allowed Cazorla to flourish from a freer role too. When Cazorla and Wilshere start together I sometimes think they struggle with the balance of responsibility. Effectively, it’s an identity crisis between the two as to whom the alpha male is. Rosicky is a little older than Jack and understands better how to provoke the qualities of other players, rather than simply trying to take the world on all by himself.

Wilshere is a player of such quality that he will learn this by osmosis in no time at all. But in the short term, I don’t think that chemistry should be tampered with unless necessary. Fabregas was faced with a similar struggle when the reins of Arsenal’s midfield were handed to him. Arsenal suffered a physical shortfall in the centre of the pitch with an 18 year old directing operations. Cesc was such a talent that he learned very quickly that he needed to get mean. I think Wilshere’s precocious ability will see him make necessary amendments to his game with similar gusto.

As much as I feel sympathy for Abou Diaby on a human level, Tomas Rosicky will always be the great “what if?” of the Emirates era for me. When one considers that we signed him shortly before his 26th birthday, it’s difficult not to feel robbed. He lost two seasons of his career at age 27-28- his peak years. Such an intelligent and talented footballer really ought to have reaped better rewards from his time in N5. I just hope he can flourish with us in his autumn years.

I feel I must end by encouraging people to get down to Borehamwood this Sunday. The Arsenal Ladies play Wolfsburg in the Women’s Champions League semi final at Meadow Park at 2pm. Tickets are £5 adults, £2.50 for kiddies and the weatherman says the sun is going to be out. I’m sure the girls would appreciate the support. I can tell you that they definitely deserve it. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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