I see a lot of frustration brewing around how the media have been portraying Arsenal in recent weeks. After a couple of months of daily ‘crisis’ articles, many have been chasing other negative angles due to the team’s improved performances and results on the pitch. There was Van Persie’s contract (which still has nearly two years to run), Walcott’s contract (ditto), the ‘one man team’ nonsense, and finally the completely out of context claims that Wenger said he might leave at the end of the season.
On that note, does anyone else spot the irony that the press claim we’ll implode when Wenger leaves, just weeks after saying he was past it and should be replaced?
It is easy to get annoyed. After all, our last twelve games have produced an impressive 10-1-1 record, and even our much maligned defence is showing signs of tightening up, but despite that, there is still a negative overtone to almost every article we see. As an example, each Van Persie goal now guarantees an analysis along the lines of ‘totally reliant on him, they’ll plummet when he gets injured’. It is almost as if we should apologise for having a world class striker at the club. Do they think he is here by accident?
But take a step back for a moment, and realise that being the underdog, the team that no-one expects to succeed, is no bad thing. We’ve seen in recent years that the squad haven’t always handled expectations particularly well, so the longer the press refuse to talk us up, the longer we can carry on quietly working our way back up the table, slipping under the radar (in other words, we’ll be the anti-Spurs). We’re level on points with Chelsea and Liverpool, still in all four competitions, and could progress to the Champions League knockout stages tonight (while other English clubs are struggling to qualify). Some crisis.
The press have always taken a long time to come round to anything, good or bad. Only now are they beginning to realise that John Terry is slow, that Cech isn’t what he was, that Carragher and Gerrard’s best days are behind them. Likewise, they still haven’t noticed how solid Koscielny has become, or how effortlessly Arteta has fitted in. They even think Ramsey isn’t ready for first team action, despite assist after assist.
And it isn’t just Arsenal – they take ages to come round to any player. I remember it took Malouda about four months of brilliant performances in his second season at Chelsea before people realised he wasn’t as terrible as they thought. Outdated punditry views is nothing new – it is a cross between laziness that stops some of them from keeping their opinions up to date (here’s looking at you, Match of the Day), and a total refusal to back down on an opinion that has been proven wrong.
To bring it back to Arsenal, witness the analysis of Robin Van Persie. 31 goals in 29 league games in 2011 is a quite ridiculous record, the sort reserved for Messi and Ronaldo, who play for brilliant teams in a league containing an obscene disparity of quality between clubs. The Premiership is tighter, which makes the record even more impressive, and that is before you take into account that we haven’t had the best 2011 as a club.
But instead of focusing on the record breaking, they keep banging three drums. The first is the one man team garbage, which is ridiculously disrespectful to Ramsey and Walcott, who keep presenting chances on a plate to the Dutchman. Yes, he got both goals against Norwich at the weekend, but Vermaelen was the best player on the park by a distance. Any mention of that? Of course not.
The second is that Van Persie isn’t a natural striker. Really? The reason he gets so many goals is that his movement around the box is top notch, one of the key assets of being a ‘natural striker’. His finishing isn’t half bad either. To say he would be good in the Bergkamp role is probably true, but to say he should therefore play there is plainly stupid.
The final tired line is that he ‘is no leader’. Again – really? Aren’t we always told that the best leaders are those that lead by example? Those that the team look to for inspiration? Surely that makes him a more than adequate captain? I find English pundits have a massively outdated view on what being a captain actually is, as if shouting is all in entails. If you hadn’t noticed, the man they think should wear the armband – Vermaelen – isn’t a shouter either. He is quietly authoritative, and organises well, but he isn’t barking orders like Tony Adams once did. Yet he is clearly a good leader too – there are many different types.
A lot of the frustration comes from Match of the Day, where Hansen and Lawrenson are so painfully dinosaur-esque in their approach to punditry, harking back to the old days where flying tackles were okay (how many times have you heard them utter the phrase ‘nowadays, that is a yellow/red card’, as if ‘nowadays’ is so much worse?), managers shouted, captains shouted and everyone hoofed the ball past the ‘two banks of four’ to the big bloke up front. The irony is that a man most thought would make a terrible and annoying analyst – Gary Neville – is providing ten times the insight over on Sky, and is currently one of the best to listen to. Yes, I really did just say that.
But instead of getting angry about it, chuckle at their ignorance and move on. So what they that don’t give us a hope? So what that they think Koscielny is terrible, that Mertesacker’s 80 caps mean nothing, that they think we’ll have an exodus in the summer? Or that they think Spurs will finish above us? After all, we’ve heard so many of those lines before, and by May they are usually dismissed for another year, buried away as secretly as Harry Redknapp’s financial dealings.
Let them chuckle, let them taunt. As long as we have the last laugh, I couldn’t care less who is shouting loudest now.