All fans have memories of Arsenal moments past, which over time take on additional meaning. When I think back to attending my earliest matches with my dad I recall Limpar’s burst of speed, and the strength and power (to a 10 year old boy!) of Kevin Campbell. Numerous images of Wrighty permeate my memories of the mid-nineties, which exist alongside a picture of Tony Adams and A.N. other midfield clogger (Selley, Jensen, Morrow, Hillier) in allowing for an easy summing up of what the team was about in those years. Certain moments are iconic and sum up the strength, focus and determination of an Arsenal side. I can still recall perfectly the view from where I was sat in the North Bank against Everton in 1998, and in my mind’s eye can see Tony’s remarkably proud, straight face as he belted in the fourth goal in what – in retrospect – was a match that was the pinnacle of club-changing season. However, sometimes the image which sums up a side is more akin to an easily read facial expression that betrays its owner like an insincere smile; it demonstrates the inner fragility of a team even in a moment of triumph. Back in mid-October, Arsenal were about to record third straight victory at the outset of the Champions League group stage. Most agreed that we had received a rather favourable draw. Shakhtar Donetsk were the visitors to the Grove, and while the eventual scoreline read 5-1, we struggled to break down their well-drilled defence during the opening spell. If the Shakhtar keeper Pyatov hadn’t spilled a simple catch following a corner at Djourou’s feet, this entire article would be bunk. However Johann got a toe to the ball, Alex Song flicked the ball with his right foot from behind his non-standing leg over the attending defender, and the ball nestled in the net. Cast your mind back to that moment – I remember gazing up at the screens for the replay from my seat behind the goal we’d scored at, and allowing myself a wry chuckle at the audacity of the strike; it seemed as though Song could simply have stabbed the ball into the net with an orthodox
THAT sums iT All up
Owen Griffiths on a moment of impudence he feels defines the current
Arsenal side finish, and could quite easily have hit his shot against his marker given the improvised approach. In short, it was unnecessary, reckless, but thankfully successful and brought a smile to my face. But it also - with the benefit of hindsight - sums up both the individual and collective personality of this current Arsenal side in nutshell. From a positive perspective, it was a moment in which the Wengerian philosophy of sport-asentertainment (in sharp contrast to Mourinho and any of the mini-Fergusons) shines through, even in a slightly ham-fisted attempt at goal. It can be seen as the culmination of Wenger’s belief in Alex Song, and his incredible rise since the events at Craven Cottage in 2006. The most wonderful images from previous years - whether they recall Wright, Bergkamp, Henry - were those where the level of improvisation was paramount. Was this one of those moments? It certainly didn’t feel on a par with Dennis’ pirouette at St James’ Park in 2002 or Henry’s swivel and volley against Manchester United. Unfortunately, the attempt at goal also encapsulates the enigma of Song and his attempts early in the season to be less Makelele-lite and more a combination of Beckenbauer and Platini. To be attempting flicks and tricks at 0-0 (the “Arshavin complex”, if you will) is a bizarre sight. In terms of reflecting the team dynamic within the context of the game and season as a
6 whole, it showcases that long-held tendency to over-play, and given that it occurred at 0-0, could even be seen as indicative of our inability to kill games off and our poor home form (plus our poor Champions League form thereafter). You could also turn the moment on its head and see the first in a 5-1 win as further evidence of our flat-trackbullying tendencies if you so wished. The human mind delights at an opportunity to see patterns and links where they may not exist and to draw conclusions after the event; in this case that is indubitably the case – I obviously didn’t at the time see Song’s strike and remark that we would struggle to break down Championship quality teams at home – but while the side continues to take one step forward and one sideways while looking over it’s shoulder, I don’t feel as though a Nasri shimmy or more of his stunning interplay with Cesc really sums up what this team is about, and until such a time as this side confirms they are capable to attaining major silverware, such judgements will remain. A near stumble and an unnecessary flick of the boot by Song to open the scoring in a CL rout however does show what Arsenal are about in 2011. Interestingly, an image which sums up what I believe Arsenal as a club and its fans to be about was provided at the other end of this same match when Eduardo scored, didn’t celebrate and received a wonderful ovation from those present. There is a certain degree of revisionism occurring here, clearly. But until the team shows the ruthlessness which sets champions apart, I will see Denilson falling over as if shot against Everton in
To be attempting flicks and tricks at 0-0 (the “Arshavin complex”, if you will) is a bizarre sight the snow last season as indicative of that particular side’s frailties. There is a marked improvement this year - Song did actually score after all, and Denilson has largely been shoved aside to allow Wilshere to blossom - but we still feel a long way from being defined by an image to go along with Thierry on his knees in front of the Clock End after scoring against Spurs while in his pomp or Tony Adams saluting the North Bank. We have seen Arsenal players displaying defiance (Vermaelen’s reaction to his goal away to Stoke last season) and incredible moments of skill (too many recent memories of Nasri of mention), but none are up there with those quoted above, or indeed that which summed up the 2002 side for me - Bobby Pires nonchalantly lobbing Schmeichel at Villa Park. When discussing this article, a friend noted that perhaps the most relevant image to sum up the current side is the large gap that appears after 2005 in the ring of trophies around the stadium. But in terms of setting out why this team may be struggling to fill the shoes of it’s recent predecessors, I can’t look past Alex Song, nearly tripping himself up in scoring an easy tap-in against a middling European side.