Arsene Wenger met the press yesterday ahead of tomorrow’s North London derby at Wembley, and the latest team news is that there’s a real doubt over Petr Cech who picked up a calf knock during the 5-1 win over Everton.
Should he not make it, it will David Ospina in goal, and the manager publicly declared his full faith in the Colombian if he’s brought into action. I mean, you’d expect nothing less. Saying any other than that is hardly the right way to prepare a player for a game of this magnitude.
“It’s a real blow to be without Cech, but I suppose Ospina will have to do,” is not going to inspire him to a top performance. Of course there is the question about how much of a blow it is to be without the number 1, although personally I prefer him because he’s got a neck, his arms extend to greater length to make saves and he commands his area better than his counterpart.
On the other hand though, I believe I’ve seen Ospina save a penalty in my lifetime – perhaps only for his country though – and given their propensity for, and instruction to, fall over in the box at all times, that might come in useful. Wenger was asked about the comments made by Mauricio Pochettino after the diving furore after their 2-2 draw over Liverpool.
The Argentine said, “Football is about trying to trick your opponent. Yes or no?”, which is true when it comes to moments of skill, teamwork or tactical invention, but diving is about getting your opponent into trouble and tricking the referee, which is a very different thing altogether.
I was quite happy to read those comments ahead of this game, because referees don’t like to be fooled, and if it casts some doubt in the mind of Anthony Taylor during tomorrow’s game, then maybe that will be a positive thing for us. If he sees Dele Alli go down in the box, it must surely be in his mind that potentially he’s cheating again, like he did last week when he picked up yet another booking for simulation.
Wenger is a wise old goat in many respects, and although I don’t have any truck with the tabloid line about how he ‘blasted’ the Sp*rs players with what he said, saw that there was a chance for him to hammer home the point about how they love a tumble. He said:
I remember there were tremendous cases here when the foreign players did it but I must say the English players have learned very quickly and they may be the masters now.
He said it with a smile on his face, and although he didn’t name anyone, it’s clear he was referencing the Kane/Alli incidents to some extent. It remains to be seen whether it will have any impact, but I thought another exchange was interesting:
Journo: Do you actively tell you players not to dive?
Wenger: I don’t tell my players to dive
Journo: Do you tell them not dive.
Wenger: I don’t encourage them to dive at all.
Which is, of course, is still not quite saying ‘Do not dive’, because as much as we want clean football – as far as that’s possible – managers know that penalties are rarely awarded for heroics and trying to stay on your feet. If there’s sufficient contact, you should go down. Even then you’re not guaranteed to get a penalty, we’ve had a few bad decisions go against us this season for what I thought were fairly blatant spot-kicks, but it would be foolish for any manager to encourage his players to stay upright if they’ve been fouled in the box.
Going down without any contact though, like Alli at the weekend, or doing what Kane did – which is knock the ball beyond a keeper then fall into to him to initiate contact – is different. That last one in particular wrecks my head because we see it so often and it’s so widely accepted as penalty when 99% of the time it’s the striker who tumbles into his opponent rather than the opponent taking him out.
If you want to be generous about it, you’d say Sp*rs – particularly under Pochettino’s management – are a cynical side. They foul a lot, rotational fouling to disrupt the rhythm of the opposition and they go down easily to win free kicks and penalties. That’s under instruction, no question, and they won’t be the first or last side to play that way. However, perhaps there’s a bit more spotlight on the way they play, and if referees wise up to it even a little bit, it will make their lives more difficult.
It should also be said that we’ve had players who have dived and although I hate seeing it the mental gymnastics you can perform as a fan desperate to win a game mean you can come to terms with it pretty easily. I also thoroughly enjoy a cynical foul on halfway to stop a break, but at least that is what it is. There’s no pretence or deception about it, which is what drives people mad about diving.
Kick. Yellow card. Thank you very much. For some it’s an ugly occurrence, but I’d rather watch my player get booked than see an opponent waltz through the open spaces of our midfield and create danger in our final third. Anyway, it’s probably one of the only things that all football fans agree on: diving is bad.
The arguments and debates come from trying to figure out what’s a dive or not, who did the dive, how important the dive was in the overall scheme of the match and if an Arsenal player takes a tumble tomorrow to win us a penalty that wins the match, how many of us are genuinely going to be outraged by it? Exactly.
For some extra reading, here’s Tim Stillman on Mesut Ozil, and I’ll catch you tomorrow for a preview of the game, a live blog and all the rest. Until then.