Talking Reds by Kevin Whitcher
Iwrite the afternoon following former Arsenal player Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest on the pitch at White Hart Lane. The player is still under sedation at the London Chest Hospital, but by the time this issue is printed we will have a much better idea of his condition. One sincerely hopes that not only is he alive as you read this, but on the road to recovery. The gravity of events suggests that things may not be as straightforward as that, but at this stage we can only hope for the best. Credit to the fans at the Lane for their patience and understanding as paramedics were battling to save the life of the former Gunner on the pitch. They showed similar respect when a minute’s silence was held in memory of David Rocastle just over ten years ago before a north London derby at Highbury, a demonstration that football fans can overcome animosity when the sport is shown up to be the mere game that it is. Let’s suffered the cup defeats to Milan and Sunderland and enjoyed a mixed set of results in the league. It was difficult to see where sufficient points to climb the table might come from. At 2-0 down at home to Spurs, there looked every possibility that outright dissent from the stands might follow before too long.
But football retains the ability to surprise, and by hook or by crook Arsenal won the derby and the following three matches, showing the mixture of good play, some fortune and critically, enough will to win to secure some vital victories. The challenge now is to win matches that the team might be expected to – games that, at this time of the season, have proved more difficult than they should be for Wenger’s players. If they can continue to post good results, not only will it set the team up for Champions League football next season, it might prove some kind of a springboard for the next campaign.
What is absolutely key if this side is going to challenge once again is that the necessary changes actually occur hope by the time of the rescheduled tie the players on both sides are able to play a match with their thoughts unclouded by bad news.
Football, of course, will continue and Arsenal have a simple target for the remainder of the season. A valiant effort in the second leg of the Champions League tie with Milan at least allowed the players to exit the competition with some pride regained. Now their focus is on ensuring that they can have another stab at the tournament next season. When the previous issue went to press, the team had just
What is absolutely key if this side is going to challenge once again is that the necessary changes actually occur. A new approach is required in the transfer market to identify targets and actually secure them with the minimum of fuss and in decent time. The signs regarding Lukas Podolski look highly encouraging, and talk of at least three other players with significant reputations must be turned into signatures on contracts. The club must do everything to secure Robin van Persie, which means not only signing talent that will increase Arsenal’s chances, but pay the man something near to the type of salary he will be offered by suitors. My huge concern here is that Ivan Gazidis is very concerned about the value of players, and Van Persie’s would be a lot less to the club were he to leave in 2015 instead of 2012. But that ignores the value he can give to the club by remaining and leading a stronger group of players than we have now. I am not optimistic that the skipper will remain, but until his departure is announced there is always hope.
The other necessary change that needs to take place
4 onlinegooner.com is the defensive organisation of the team as a unit. Perhaps, if Pat Rice is finally allowed to retire, a new face in the first team coaching set up might be given the opportunity to work on this. It would take a change of philosophy on the manager’s part, but the first half of the Liverpool game – in spite of the scoreline – must have left Arsène Wenger with few illusions about the work required in this area.
When I have stated my argument against the current manager, I always ask the question of whether or not a different coach could get more out of this group of players. And the performance from two goals down against Spurs demonstrated just how well these players can play when they want to. The art of management is to get them performing in this way so often that the team start winning matches on reputation, as was the case in the first half of the previous decade. The remainder of the manager’s current contract will tell us whether he has it in him to get his charges performing consistently or if he has simply lost the ability to achieve this. The past few seasons have not been encouraging, but let us hope this old dog is willing to try a few new tricks, because a club of Arsenal’s stature needs to be credibly competing for the major honours instead of being perceived as a feeder club for more ambitious concerns.
Finally, some of you may be aware of my arrest at the Milan game for ticket touting, in spite of quite obviously selling a spare seat for the match at face value to a friend. It is referred to more than once by others in this issue, and the full account can be read online on our website. Going forward, I intend to campaign for changes which give fans the opportunity to exchange tickets on what is the huge informal ticket exchange that operates every matchday, with the blessing of both the club and the police. Initially, this will be attempted through the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association, and receive appropriate publicity through the various Gooner platforms. Many, many thanks for the multitude of offers of support I have received, which certainly cheered me up at a time when I was facing the prospect of not being allowed to witness another Arsenal game in the flesh until 2015. I hope this will not prove to be the case. I will update on developments both via the website and on these pages next issue.