all enquiries to:

Monday 1 March 2010

Pretty Pretenders, To Battle-Hardened Contenders?

Hi folks,

Having been struck down by a particularly obstinate bout of the lurgy, I didn't get around to posting last week's piece and as a result, it's become somewhat obsolete, with everything that's transpired since. Nevertheless, I will post the older missive after this one, just in case it's of interest to anyone. After having questioned our mettle following the defeat in Porto and quite how much we really want it, it was great to see the Gunners show what they are made of at the Britannia on Saturday.

After all, based on our experience of the previous fiasco at St. Andrews, I don't think any of us would've been particularly surprised if we'd folded on Saturday, with none of the Gunners showing any real taste for a fightback, after seeing their team mate scythed down in such a horrific fashion.

I've grown very cynical in my dotage and despite the heartwarming scenes after our victory at Stoke and the thought that Aaron's injury might serve some purpose, as the catalyst that could engender the sort of "fortress Arsenal" type spirit which might yet make for a memorable season, I can't help but wonder quite how genuine this sense of unity is and whether it can endure in the sort of concerted fashion that will ensure we can go from now, until the end of the season without dropping another point.

Don't get me wrong, as it was obvious at the Britannia that everyone wanted to do it for Aaron, but without a somewhat fortunate, last gasp penalty, it might've been a different story. Moreover there's an all-pervasive mercenary credo amongst footballs' modern superstars that I sometimes wonder if we will ever again see that genuine "never say die" attitude, which has served far less talented Arsenal sides so well in the past.

Nevertheless, in truth, it's no longer a matter of us showing this sort of rapacious hunger, to prove quite how much we "want it" nowadays, but merely necessary for us to demonstrate that we want it just a little more than the competition, which is an eminently more feasible proposition considering all three teams' current circumstances.

Bendtner produced a great header for the equaliser, but I remain to be convinced that he has the capacity to produce a consistent run of title-winning firepower. Besides I'm not sure it's part of Nicky's over-inflated makeup to be committed to anything but his own self-glorification. Although no-one will be more delighted when the young Dane proves me wrong.

With some Gooners having already labelled Shawcross the Butcher of the Britannia, I might have to don my tin hat for suggesting there was no harm intended by Stoke's young centre-back. I've mentioned below the history that others have referred to. However who amongst us wouldn't have applauded the sight of Martin Keown inflicting what Big Fat Ron liked to call "a reducer", on an opposition player with Greedybayor's reputation as an archetypal wind-up merchant?

I understand Arsène's "anti-football" argument and although the grind of battling against beligerent sides such as Stoke, Blackburn and Wolves will inevitably take it's toll and perhaps eventually scare off our skipper, because at some stage Cesc is bound to opt for the more sedate environment of La Liga, we have to guard against throwing our toys out of the pram and turning ourselves into victims.

In spite of the physical nature of British football, the likes of Torres, Tevez and all the world's best players continue to want to test themselves, in the most fast-paced and competitive league on the planet. Obviously money is a big factor. But there are few fans better placed than ourselves to know that there are specific attributes necessary in a player for them to be able to flourish in the game in this country, as we've witnessed more than our fair share of footballers who might've been capable of prospering on the Continent, but who just couldn't cope with the demands of our domestic brand of the beautiful game.

I want to see Arsenal players protected from injurious tackles as much as the next Gooner, but I would be absolutely gutted if the recent trend towards a "nanny culture" began to impinge on our football, to the point where it begins to detract from unique the nature of the game in this country. As a defender in my dim & distant youth, I already find it a crying shame that the tackle from behind has been outlawed entirely. I fully agree that defenders cannot be going through strikers to get to the ball, but to see a centre-back struggling to stay with a pacy attacker, but still having the presence of mind to hook his leg around and deprive the striker of the ball with great dexterity and perfect timing, this for me has always been an art form which should never have been outlawed.

The thought that I might sound like Jimmy Hill is frightening, but to my mind one of the biggest problems with officials in the modern game is that they are career referees and too many of them have never actually played football. Otherwise, there would be room for referees to use their discretion, in the application of the rules. Naturally they'd still get it wrong with consistent regularity, but they would at least have the capacity to apply the laws, using "intent" as a principal guideline.

Then the poor paying punter might not have to endure a dozen bookings in a game that doesn't include what I would term, a single "dirty" tackle and we wouldn't end up stumping up for expensive tickets every week, only to find so many of our favourite players sidelined by suspension.

In addition to the loss of Aaron Ramsey for the time being, sadly just as the youngster was beginning to prove himself to be the real deal, another potentially significant consequence of Saturday's encounter could be the suspension of Alex Song for the games against Burnley and Hull, matches where the absence of Alex's muscular presence could prove a serious disadvantage (especially when it would appear that, if fit, the far less combative Abou Diaby might be our only alternative!).

While I wouldn't like to trust to my positively sieve like memory, as far as I can recall, although Alex might have made plenty of ill-timed, or clumsy tackles over the course of this season, I don't remember him committing any fouls that I would deem genuinely worthy of a booking. Nevertheless he's still managed to accumulate a sufficient amount of yellow cards, for it to be neccesary for him to serve out a two-match suspension. What's more, as we approach the business end of the season, I'm sure we'll have to suffer several other Arsenal players sitting out games as a result of this toting up system. Not to mention the galling prospect of seeing our competition benefit, as a result of some star names being similarly absent from the opposing teams, in games they are involved in.

I could understand the reasoning, if Song had been guilty of regularly kicking opposition players up in the air, but on the basis that so many of the bookings nowadays are accumulated for relatively petty misdemeanours, kicking the ball away, pulling one's shirt over one's head in celebration of a goal, or industrial backchat to the officials, how can the authorities possibly justify depriving us poor fans from watching the players we all pay to see?

Enuf of my whinging
Come on you Reds...let's win it for the Welsh lad
Big Love

It felt like déjà vu at the Britannia on Saturday, as the Gunners stared down the barrel of another ‘there but for the grace of…’, bone crunching, potentially career-wrecking challenge. Understandably, , the grotesque sight of poor Aaron Ramsey’s distorted limb, left the shell-shocked Arsenal players so utterly aghast, that just as it did at St. Andrews almost two years to the day, it seemed as if our season was about to implode before our very eyes.

Perhaps we were merely overdue a slice of compensatory good fortune, by way of an inept official’s charitable 90th minute penalty. Or, with the majority having already endured the anguish of Eduardo's atrocious injury, maybe we refused to entertain the idea of an encore of the Birmingham debacle. Instead of meekly lying down like lambs and inviting Stoke to add insult to Aaron’s harrowing injury, we stood up to be counted.

I’m reminded that Shawcross clattered Adebayor from behind last term, after they and the ball had crossed the touchline. Yet despite any such previous, as far as I’m concerned, in this instance the young centre-back’s only crime was that of being fractionally late, in a 50/50 challenge. In fact it was a display of the sort of over-enthusiastic commitment to win the ball that I’d usually applaud from one of our own. Judging by the youngster’s distraught reaction to the damage he’d inflicted, I find it hard to believe that there was any malice intended. I’m not even certain he deserved a red card?

Nevertheless, I fully appreciate the frustration that's given vent to Wenger’s mounting persecution complex, even if there's nothing more sinister afoot than the law of averages. The more our opponents adopt a physical approach, both in an effort to combat our superior ball-skills and to attempt to get under the skin of a side that’s perceived not to enjoy a robust encounter, obviously the higher the risk of us being on the wrong end of industrial challenges.

You certainly can’t legislate against the sort of committed football, which lends that crucial element of unpredictability, to even the most inequitable of Premiership encounters. Not without the slightest expression of heart and passion being viewed as a heinous crime, worthy of mandatory punishment and the danger of our fervent domestic contest developing into the same sort of sterile annual procession witnessed on the Continent.

This might be easy for me to say, as I'm not in fear of a snapped Achilles, torn cruciate, or broken bone, every time I pull on a pair of football boots. We might well enjoy a short period of immunity, in the immediate aftermath of Ramsey's misfortune, because on some level, the incident could have a subconscious impact on certain referees. But in the long run the Arsenal are due the exact same inconsistent levels of protection afforded to every other Premiership side.

The ferocity of modern day football rarely comes across on TV. It’s only up close, in the ‘cheap’ seats that you truly begin to appreciate the intense, breathtaking thwack of a full-blooded challenge. But from where I sit, the best means of combating an overly physical approach is by giving as good as we get, thereby dissuading opposing sides from focusing on a perceived ‘don’t like it up ‘em’ chink in the Gunners armour. Only then will the odds be evened out, to the point where our players are no more at risk than anyone else.

Meanwhile, after celebrating Bendtner’s equaliser with the Gunners’ gleeful prodigy one moment and then witnessing poor Aaron writhing in agony the next, as the prime target of the oppositions’ bruising attentions, I can’t help but ponder our captain's continued motivation, when Fabregas could be receiving perhaps twice the remuneration without anything like the same threat to life and limb, while plying his trade on Spain's far less frenetic plains. Perhaps a climactic conclusion to our campaign will distract the jewel in Wenger’s crown, from the strain of constantly treading a fine line between the burden of carrying this Arsenal side and these terrifying aide-memoires of the perils of a career-threatening injury!

Sadly I fear we still lack both the potency up front and the security between the sticks, to maintain the sort of consistency necessary for a really big finish. I also refuse to get carried away with all this ‘easiest run-in’ claptrap. In what’s fast proving to be the most volatile Premiership battle, there are no surefire bankers. Besides, it could be argued that the Gunners are more likely to produce their ‘A’ game against some of the bigger fish, than in less glamorous encounters, especially against sides scrapping to avoid relegation.

Hopefully Saturday’s show of unity was not just for the cameras and in contrast to St. Andrews, having turned tragedy into 3 points, perhaps this triumph will prove to be a watershed, where Arsène’s young squad unearth the maturity and the mettle to finally make the transition from pretty pretenders, into battle-hardened contenders?

Meantime, with Hilario, by name and nature, tending the Blues’ onion bag and Man Utd struggling to find their customary groove, so long as fate continues to insist on chucking us such charitable lifelines, it would be awfully rude of us Gooners to look this stable full of gift horses in the mouth!

e-mail to:


Anonymous said...

I couldn't get through the whole of this but:
Birmingham could/should have been the statement of the team as champions with the team coming back from 1-0 down and the injury without Flamini's pass and Clichy falling asleep and the ref making a bad call - afterwards things went wrong but the Bham game was a last minute mini-disaster not a melt down at all.
The penalty was not last gasp it was effectively 83 minutes with the injury.
The tackle from behind you describe is not outlawed, only if you get it wrong.
Cesc will not necessarily go back to Spain, not necessarily soon and certainly not necessarily because he's looking to be kicked less, lazy and insulting imo.
Too many assumptions taken from the crowd in one form or another for me.