Thursday, September 29, 2022

Manager mind-games begin, and why Wenger is wrong about protests

Morning all, a quick Saturday round-up for you.

The mind games between the managers ahead of Sunday have begun in earnest. Claudio Ranieri says there’s no pressure on Leicester, and it’s all on Arsenal because … we spend a lot of money every year! Seriously. He says:

We don’t have pressure because we did our job. Our goal is OK – anything more is fantastic. It is important to put pressure on them because they spend a lot of money and if they don’t win it is a disaster.

But there is no pressure on us, there was pressure on us at the beginning to start well and to carry on and maintain our performance.

I tend to agree with him that there’s no real pressure on them yet, but to say there’s pressure on us because we spend a lot money … if anything there’s pressure because we haven’t spent as much as people would have liked. I like Ranieri though, he seems a decent man and he’s clearly doing great work there this season.

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger says although Leicester are flying high and playing with real freedom, at some point their situation will bring about its own pressure:

Once you are top of the league, you can also think about losing what you have. That is where the nerves come in a little bit. I do not know how they will respond to that.

Before qualifying that by saying:

Let’s not count too much on the weakness of Leicester because they have not shown too many.

Isn’t that the truth?! We can look more at the game itself in tomorrow’s preview. He does have some decisions to make in terms of his team, at the back and in central midfield, but that can all wait until the preview piece. What is clear is that the pressure that exists in this game is primarily on us. We’re 5 points behind them, we’re at home, we have to win, so in general terms and how we approach the game, it’s all on us. We have to be proactive, Leicester can be reactive, and as we’ve seen this season that suits them down the ground.

The manager also touched on the protest planned by Leicester fans, who are going to follow the lead of Bayern Munich’s fans by staying on the concourse for the first five minutes of the game. They will be joined by some Arsenal fans also. And this is a protest not at ticket prices, but at the way Sky moved the game at such short notice.

It was not one of the fixtures originally scheduled for TV because clearly they thought Leicester would have fallen away by now. They haven’t, and with 21 days notice they moved the game from 3pm on Saturday to 12 noon Sunday. Fans of both clubs found themselves inconvenienced and out of pocket. Planes, trains, hotels, all kinds of things had to be re-booked, and this protest is aimed directly at that decision from Sky, and to a lesser degree at the clubs who are complicit in it too.

Speaking yesterday, Arsene said:

You want everybody there when the game starts. For me, the game is a joy and everyone has to be part of it. You can protest before and after, but during the game you want everyone to be there. It’s a moment of happiness in your life. Life is not every day fantastic – sometimes it’s boring, sometimes it’s difficult for many people. Football is a moment of happiness in your life, so don’t miss it.

He’s obviously coming at it from the angle of a football purist. For him there’s nothing greater than the sport itself. He wants people to feel inclusivity and to enjoy the spectacle for what it is, but that has to work both ways. Fans pay their money and make the journeys because they love the game, they love their clubs, and in an ideal world yes, everybody would be in the ground to watch what’s sure to be an exciting, enthralling game.

But then you have to look very closely at why people are willing to miss out, even if it’s just 5 minutes. It’s because there’s no other way to effectively protest at the people who made the decision to move the game. Sky will do everything in their power not to show what’s going on in those 5 minutes tomorrow, so protesting before and after is a pointless exercise.

The only possible way to make your point at how TV makes decisions that are bad for fans is during their live broadcasts. There is no other option, other than a complete boycott of the match, and like clubs with ticket prices, Sky and the others know that fans desire to watch their team will generally override the disenchantment they feel, because football matters so much to us.

All that’s left for fans is disruption. Sky will try not to show a half-empty away end. Sky will try not to show Arsenal seats empty in solidarity. And I can’t imagine Sky will show fans coming into the stadium because they’d have to explain why. “Oh look, we used our power to make life more difficult for people, and here they all are now!”

Whether it will have any effect or not remains to be seen. I suspect this is the kind of thing Sky and clubs will brush off as the insignificant chattering of the proles, but there’s a growing appetite for protest amongst football fans, and an increased harmony between them that transcends club rivalries. This will be relatively minor, for sure, but it’s something and it won’t be the last thing, that’s for sure.

Remember, if you haven’t yet had a chance to listen to this week’s Arsecast, you can find it on site here, via iTunes or Acast. I chat with Adrian Clarke about the Leicester game, the choices the manager faces, how we approach the match from a tactical point of view, and much more. Thanks as ever for listening, it’s much appreciated.

Right, that’s your lot from me for today. Back tomorrow with a full preview of the Leicester game. Until

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