Saturday, September 23, 2023

Accepting imperfection

Morning all. A quick Saturday blog for you.

Are you a cup warmer? When you make coffee in the morning, do you boil the kettle, fill your cup/mug with hot water, let it take the chill out of it and then make the coffee? Or do you just make coffee into a cold cup that you’ve taken out of the cupboard? This is primarily a winter issue, as in summer the mug isn’t as cold, but if you’re not already a warmer, I recommend it.

Here’s Mikel Arteta on overcoming the early mistake we made against Wolves to win the game:

I am especially happy when a player individually makes an error that costs a goal, that then the team can put that aside and win the match, and never even talk about it.

It’s quite an interesting thing to consider, and I think the relative ‘newness’ of this team, and its youth, plays a part in how mistakes are perceived among fans. I really like how Ben White and Gabriel are developing as a central defensive partnership, not least because we haven’t had a proper one in such a long time. You have to go back to Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.

Since then we’ve had a motley crew of central defenders who were capable of the ridiculous far more often than the sublime. Individuals who were never properly focused on the collective, and who were so scatty they couldn’t have formed a consistent duo even if they tried. When those players make mistakes, the tolerance is low. When those players never appear to learn from those mistakes and still just do what they want to the detriment of the team, it is even lower. Why would anyone put up with it? It’d be like being part of a relay team but with one member who, with much greater frequency than anyone could possibly bear, blunderbusses his teammate’s foot off as he’s starting the final lap – then turns around and points at him as if he was the one to blame for having feet in the first place.

On the goal the other night, I thought both our centre-halves could have done better, but the mistake didn’t make me furious the way it might have done if another player from our not too distant past had made it. These two have played so well for us this season, and there’s goodwill in the bank. I can see that they’re working hard to form the kind of defensive duo we need to get back towards the business end of the Premier League, and I’m cognisant of their age. They’re both 24, and in the life of a central defender, that’s still relatively young.

This is the period in their careers when they really start to develop and use all the experiences they’ve had up to now to become a regular, senior player for a club like Arsenal. White arrived via Brighton after loan spells at Newport County, Peterborough United and Leeds; Gabriel is in his second season here having started in Brazil, then moved to France (Lille) with loans to Troyes and Dinamo Zagreb along the way. This is why I’m fairly sanguine about the decision to loan out a 19/20 year old William Saliba, because the minutes he’s getting now will be absolutely invaluable to him down the line – and hopefully that’s with us.

I think when you have lived through some of the defenders Arsenal fans have, you start to crave perfection. The nonsense you have endured makes you basically allergic to errors, you develop a pathological fear of them. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to the dark side, and all that.

Getting rid of the chumps then then requires a shift of mindset. You need to accept that mistakes will happen. Every player makes them, every team has its moments when things aren’t the way they should be, but if you realise that those are going to be isolated – in relative terms – and not a weekly occurrence, or even more than once per game – it becomes much easier to cope with. That re-calibration isn’t easy, but I think it’s necessary.

We left it late, and there were times when we rode our luck a little against Wolves, but in the end we didn’t dwell on that early cock-up which cost us a goal, and we came back to take three points. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a bit of blame, when mistakes  happen it’s important you learn from them because otherwise you’re into the realms of the defenders we never want to see again, but finding that balance, especially during games, is important too.

Finally, I just want to talk about this for a second:

In isolation, this is pretty terrible from Ben White. A poor pass, then a very obvious foul, but I love that we got away with it. I also love the cynicism, sorry, but you need it at the top level. I don’t want to see him do that every week or anything, ideally he’ll make the pass so he doesn’t put himself in trouble, but in a season when everything we do gets punished to the absolute maximum and the opposition can routinely assault our players without censure, getting away with something like that was very enjoyable indeed. Especially because we won.

Right, that’s it for now. More tomorrow, and, if you haven’t had a chance to listen yet, I’ll point you in the direction of the new Arsecast chatting about the Wolves game more.


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