Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against bad losers, as it’s the distaste for defeat that makes determined winners. Still I wanted Wenger to shake Mark Hughes hand last Wednesday night and prove himself to be the bigger man, instead of demonstrating the same lack of stature that some would have us believe is a crucial weakness in this Arsenal squad.
Supposedly Hughes had insulted Arsène, calling him an onanist. I’m reminded of the ancient tale of the kid who’s father caught him playing with himself in the bathroom, warning his son “Don’t do that, you’ll go blind”, whereupon his quick-thinking progeny piped up “Can I at least do it until I have to wear glasses?”
Despite Hughes’ allusion to the cause of our leader’s dodgy eyesight, considering the fact that he regularly has to endure the positively slanderous taunts of several thousand fans singing the “packet of sweets” paedophile chant, I can’t honestly believe Arsène took this personal abuse to heart. No I fancy his rancour runs deeper than that. Perhaps the insults were just an excuse for le Gaffer’s display of disrespect, when in truth it’s his disdain for ‘financial doping’, which is what he’s really railing against.
If this is the case, then I can appreciate how galling it must be, to have to try and work the oracle every season, fettered by budgetary restraints (despite the suits best efforts to kid us otherwise!), in the face of ever increasing competition from the likes of Man City, with a ‘money no object’ sugar-daddy prepared to continue pumping limitless millions into the pursuit of the Holy Grail of footballing glory.
Mark Hughes has always possessed that 100%, heart-on-the-sleeve commitment of an infuriating, ‘love to hate’ figure, ever since he lead the line for Man Utd. He could just as easily end up a victim of the obscene vagaries of modern football, as a beneficiary, since the pressure for him to produce a return is so much greater, with fathomless resources at his disposal.
Obviously, he’s hardly top of Arsène’s Xmas card list, but in his fit of pique, it seems to me as if le Prof is sending out all the wrong signals, giving his young squad carte blanche to throw their own toys out of the pram, every time they feel hard done by. For all the wonderful entertainment, that makes the Arsenal by far in a way everyone’s favourite team to watch, we’ll continue to struggle to win friends, so long as this unsportsmanlike undercurrent prevails.
But unlike the X Factor, football isn’t a popularity contest and Arsène is such an incredibly obstinate bugger that when that clarion of public opinion, the media, casts him as the villain, it only serves to make our manager that much more determined not to yield. While I have the utmost respect for his unflinching self-belief and I appreciate that it’s an integral part of what makes him the Gunner’s most successful ever gaffer, there are times when I can’t help but wonder if his ability to fly in the face of overwhelming evidence is also his greatest weakness.
Although Shava ran out of steam somewhat in the second-half against Stoke, it was perhaps to be expected, considering the wee fella had run his socks off during the first 45. However for the most part, our Ruski pocket rocket did a grand job filling in as the front man on Saturday. Nevertheless, this was only Stoke (no disrespect intended) and I can’t agree with those who suggest Shava is the solution to the problem posed by Van Persie’s long-term injury (at least not until, hopefully, he leaves me with my foot in my mouth, after another 4-goal fiesta at Anfield!).
I see the diddy man as a Ljungberg/Pires type player, hopefully contributing a commendable double figures goal tally, occasionally leaving us all agog with the odd astounding match winner. He’s definitely a doughty little cookie, but I can’t envisage him carrying the Arsenal on his diminutive shoulders, with the unstinting strike rate of a 20 plus goals a season striker.
In his programme notes, Arsène responded to the endless reams of media speculation, with his stock statement about only shopping during the January sales to buy someone who he believes can “add something to the team”. For 25 minutes on Saturday, it felt as if it was going to be another ‘if it wasn’t for bad luck, there’d be no luck’ afternoon. But with Shava doing his best to corroborate le Gaffer’s notion that our injury-ravaged squad can cope, in truth, we should’ve been 3 goals to the good by the break.
The Potters are no Chelsea, but Tony Pullis had done his homework. I guess, in the Premiership at least, we’re going to have to get used to patiently waiting for the Gunners to pick an intricate path through the compact hordes at the heart of opposition defences, so long as we have no means of posing an alternative problem. Our superior ability might enable us to break down the vast majority of teams, but this lack of variation is making life far too easy for the opposition, while they need only focus on the one task of getting bodies between us and their goal.
Sitting down to enjoy coverage of events at Eastlands on my return, only served to underline our inability to tax Chelsea’s defence, as Man City proved them far from invincible. But with the approach of the silly season and the intensification of white noise on the transfer bush telegraph, I worry that Wenger’s stubborn streak will cause him to continue to try and force the Premiership to bend to his will, instead of addressing this problem.
“I will not buy just to satisfy the press” he reiterated in the programme and the louder the clamour grows, on the evidence of seasons past, the less inclined he might be to pander to the demands to splash the cash!
As Man Utd demonstrated on Saturday, by beating the Hammers so comfortably with half their defence missing, it’s a sides ability to rise to the challenge in adversity, which marks out the men from the boys. Despite such a surfeit of talent, Van Persie’s absence has highlighted that for the moment at least, our squad is bereft of ‘big time’ personalities, who, irrespective of their physical stature, have the capacity to impose themselves at pivotal moments, thereby emboldening all around them to bring the full weight of their abilities to bear.
We’ve witnessed all too brief glimpses of what these Wenger boys are capable of and perhaps the likes of Arshavin will come to the fore and reignite the fire that’s been dampened in recent weeks. But without this catalyst, the obvious missing ingredient in Arsène’s experiment, I fear we’ll continue to splutter through the season, with our best hope being for us to blow hot enough for a concerted cup run.
Saturday’s results added the feintest whiff of fuel to a tantalizing title dream, but you know you’ve undergone a more realistic expectation readjustment, when you find yourself leaping out of the armchair on a Sunday, revelling in the Schadenfreude of Spurs misfortunes!
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