Calm, Rational Analysis Deserts Fans and the Press.
Many Arsenal fans and members of the press, have tipped this as Arsenal‘s best and maybe last, opportunity to win the Premier League. Big spending Chelsea and Manchester City have stalled, the shine fell off of The Special One, José Mourinho. Manchester United haven’t been the same since Sir Alex Ferguson retired and many of Arsenal‘s youthful squad appear to have come of age.
But a bad run of games since Christmas has turned lots of Arsenal ‘supporters’ into a baying mass, calling for the head of the manager and most of the team… once again. Undoubtedly, they are fuelled by the tales of woe in the media.
To some extent, I can understand the reaction in the press. It’s their job to sell papers and keep people tuned to their TV and Radio stations and visiting their web sites. And since Rupert Murdoch took on world domination of the media, sensationalism has been confirmed as the only way to do that.
But why do the Arsenal ‘fans’ buy into it?
There are several answers to that, so let’s take a look at them.
There is no doubt that the win at any cost mentality has been prevalent in football for many years. The idea of a football club being a place where players are developed, a team outlook is formulated and a profitable business model is maintained seems to have been abandoned long ago.
Football is now a game of Monopoly, where he with the most money wins. The only tactic that counts is buying up every available talent that you can and disposing of them immediately, if results are not instant.
This explains the attitude to Mesut Özil from many fans that could not see his contribution until this season. It also explains why so many players, who were heroes before Christmas, are now considered useless and need to be replaced.
I grew up in the “One nil to the Arsenal” era, when long barren spells between trophies and mid-table finishes were not uncommon, when the prospect of finishing in the top four and in the knock out stages of the Champions League, for sixteen consecutive years, would have been inconceivable, back to back FA Cup wins, maybe not so much. So that is probably why I take the long term view and relish in the triumphs and dwell less on the defeats.
Don’t get me wrong, no one is more disappointed and frustrated than I am when Arsenal lose and fail to capitalise on their good opportunities. I just don’t think that wholesale changes is the answer and neither is the ‘spend, spend, spend’ mentality. Hopefully Leicester‘s success this season, with their cut price squad, will make some start to think that there is another way.
So What Are The Answers?
Many of the Arsenal players, who are currently being condemned, are not actually playing that badly. Giroud and Ramsey, who cop so much criticism, have turned in very good performances recently. They are just not finishing off that good work in front of goal. The stats from the Swansea match confirm that. Sanchez, who has so far escaped the wrath, is suffering with the same problem.
On the other hand, Welbeck, who has spent a long, long period out of the game, has come back in great form and Joel Campbell is causing problems for all opposition and getting on the score sheet more regularly. And of course, we can not forget that Mesut Özil is having an outstanding season. We all know that he has the highest number of goal assists in the league, but is anyone counting how many chances he creates that do not get put away by his team mates?
So let’s build an attack around those guys.
For me, Arsenal‘s biggest problems are at the back. Koscielny, Gabriel and Coquelin are frequently lauded by the fans, but I have never been convinced of the reliability of the first two and Coquelin has not yet regained his form, since his come back from injury.
Leadership, or lack of it, is Arsenal‘s biggest problem. We have not seen a player on the field at Arsenal who can fire up the troops, give them a rocket when they stuff up and the right kind of motivation when they do well, since the days of Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira.
Players of that nature are rare, but are often central defenders. Apart from Adams, the names John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Bobby Moore spring to mind. All of them were predominantly one club players and interestingly, three of them started at West Ham. So maybe, if Arsenal can not develop their own leader and quality central defender, they should look to East London, rather than overseas.
The only player in the current Arsenal squad that I believe could potentially fill that leadership role is Jack Wilshere. But his frequent long periods of injury, petulance and poor discipline record may mean that he never fulfils that potential.
Contrary to popular opinion, statistics show that there are very few front line players who consistently perform better than those that Arsenal have and Neymar, Messi, Suarez and Ronaldo are all gainfully employed and are unlikely to become available. So until a real quality striker becomes available, who will fit in with Arsenal‘s team structure, I believe that they should concentrate on conceding fewer goals and the results will come.
On the subject of leadership, older cricket fans will remember Mike Brearley. He was far from the best batsmen England ever produced, but was undoubtedly the best captain that I can remember. Admittedly he was more intellectual than most footballers, he studied Psychology and knew, for instance, that Ian Botham could be goaded, but David Gower needed coaxing, to get their best form.
There is no doubt that all football clubs employ sports psychologists, in order to get the best mind set from their players, but it seems to me that football falls a long way behind other sports in producing leaders with the right qualities, often giving the captaincy to the best, or longest serving player in the squad, without taking into consideration their qualifications for the job.