Two sides of the same Arsenal coin
Simon Lloyd considers the polar views about the club’s state of health
We Arsenal fans are a hard bunch to please. Even the excitement of four stirring comeback wins in a row, is still not enough to stop the old familiar arguments from re-surfacing. Opinion is still keenly divided on all manner of Arsenalrelated topics. Arsène Wenger, the board, the club’s transfer policy and financial position and seven seasons without a trophy have all received plenty of blogspace in the last few weeks. Most of what has been written has been done so from a specific point of view, either Arsène knows best or Arsène must go, and most of them regard those from the opposite camp roughly as described below. The AKBs are generally perceived as overoptimistic idiots who are blindly hanging on to what they have, because things will get better and the alternative may be much worse. The AMGs, on the other hand, are generally perceived as unappeasable doom-andgloom merchants who firmly believe that, no matter what happens, the club will never go forward until the manager is replaced. Most of the articles I have read this week all make valid points, but what is missing from them is any sense of balance. I find it unusual to read so many articles that so vehemently support only one point of view, and I think I know why. It’s because there is no stand-out reason for this season’s performances. This season, for every poor signing there is a huge success; for every poor performance, there is a five-star show, and we will all have our favourite examples. The most popular theme on the Gooner website over the last few weeks has been variations of “beating Spurs 5-2 shows that we are on the right track” countered by “a one-off result against our biggest rivals is only papering over the gaping cracks”. In many ways, the Spurs game was our whole season in 90 minutes, with the AKBs and the AMGs all having valid reasons to back up their points of view. The shoddy defending, the brilliant attacking, the bad luck; they were all in there, and each twist and turn left us more and more bemused. The biggest talking-point, apart from the Welsh Tom Daley doing what he is increasingly doing best, was the vilification and subsequent glorification of Theo Walcott. If the game was the season in 90 minutes, then Theo is the season personified. Brilliant one minute, abject the next, with no apparent reason for either. How can a team that can put seven past Blackburn, five past Chelsea and Spurs, ship eight against United and lose to Swansea and Fulham? How can
6 onlinegooner.com a team that breezed through to the last 16 of the Champions League, when United and City, both went out, get hammered by Milan? Injuries? Maybe. Bad luck? Possibly. How can Theo miss one-on-ones time and again and yet, when he is under pressure, produce quality finishes? Lack of a footballing brain, and plays on instinct? Maybe. Badly coached? Possibly. The truth is I haven’t got a clue about either and nor, I suspect, does anyone else. It’s this lack of an obvious reason that we as humans need to address, so, with nothing else to blame, it must be either the manager, the board or both who carry the can and we all take our side and blame the others. But life is rarely as black and white as this, and football is no exception. We are not the only team to experience strange performances and events this season. United getting beaten 6-1 and 3-2 at home by City and Blackburn. Spurs, the greatest footballing team ever, remember, losing 5-1 at home to City and 5-2 away to us, but they put five past a Newcastle team who had recently beat United 3-0. Explain that if you can. We have also had the frankly laughable suggestion that the most expensively assembled team of football mercenaries in history had a rough patch during January because a defender was out suspended for a few games and a midfielder was away at the African Nations Cup. Now, in a bid to rescue their title challenge, they are turning to a player who only a few months ago flatly refused to play for the club and went home. I think the reason for this season’s perceived failure cannot simply be confined to either the manager or the board. Long-term injuries to almost the entire defence have seen us play many matches with centrebacks as full backs. All of these injuries have ironically co-incided with RvP having an injury-free goal-laden season. The loss of Jack Wilshere for effectively the entire season robbed us of a true creative midfield powerhouse, just as Cesc and Na$ri were leaving. We have also had more than our fair share of bad decisions and bad luck. But there have also been many tactical mistakes from the manager, and the lack of funds for signings is the fault of the board. So where do we go from here?
In many ways, the Spurs game was our whole season in 90 minutes
Well, to be an AKB and look on the bright side, it could be a lot worse. Take Glasgow Rangers; they could be on the brink of total collapse caused by wanton overspending in order to put nine consecutive league trophies in the cupboard. Ex-Premiership participants, and recent F.A. Cup-winners, Portsmouth about to suffer a similar fate, for a similar reason. Arsenal, however, have the best financial results of any topflight club. We have a genius manager and another exciting crop of youngsters coming through. We went through the 2004 season unbeaten. We have also been in the Champions League for 14 consecutive years, the last 6 on almost no budget whilst the magnificent new stadium was built and paid for. Aston Villa have been threatened with the real possibility of relegation and financial trouble, despite spending millions and changing the manager twice in two years. Chelsea, despite spending untold millions on managers and players, are currently below us in the table. They have an aging squad that has petulantly caused the sacking of AVB, and is consumed with its own importance. United are currently relying on players with a combined age of about 75 to scrape past a recently-promoted side and having to suffer a onlinegooner.com 7