Arsenal fans don’t take a lot of riling. Most football fans are a sensitive bunch, but it seems that our club has more than its fair share of the bipolar. One minute we are a signing or two away from seriously challenging for honours next season, the next we’re doomed to abject mediocrity. And often the difference is the width of the post. Literally (not in a Redknappian sense, but actually literally).
This post is going to require a preface, so here we go – one point from a pair of homes games isn’t a great return, and neither performance could be described as inspiring, or will live long in the memory. But I’m still left with the confused view of a man who seems to have seen a different couple of games from the most vociferous of supporters. The team were accused of things I don’t believe to be accurate, and the wrong players continue to be singled out for unnecessary and frankly pathetic abuse. Let’s start with Wigan.
The general consensus from the Wigan game is that we were complacent. Lazy. Felt we just ‘needed to turn up to win’ (or whatever that ridiculous phrase is). It has become accepted fact that we breezed through the game without a care in the world, handing a victory to the opposition without putting up a fight.
That’s not what I saw.
I saw a poor performance. I saw players making the wrong decisions in the final third, players not quite connecting with their efforts on goal as they would like, players who occasionally mislaid crucial passes. And of course, I saw a shabby opening fifteen minutes that ultimately cost us the game.
However, I did see effort. I saw a team desperately looking to break down an impressive Wigan team who defending manfully and skilfully. I saw players making passes that were inches away from being perfect. I saw tracking back, and determination going forward. In essence, I saw what I wanted to see – a team who wanted to win and were willing to put in the hard yards to do so.
Sometimes, you don’t win football matches, and it isn’t always because you were complacent. I feel people are too quick in their efforts to find snap explanations for draws and defeats – it always has to be because we were lazy, or that at least three players were a disgrace to the shirt. You never hear anyone say ‘sometimes, shit happens‘. Look at United yesterday – 3-1 and 4-2 up against an Everton side who have struggled for goals, and they blew it, drawing 4-4 and letting City back into the title race. Were they complacent? Were they cocky? Or was it just one of those days?
Hats off to Wigan, by the way. They were brilliant on the night. We all stayed behind to applaud them off, which felt like a nice touch (well, when I say ‘all’, I mean those that remained – around me I reckon only about one in three seats were still occupied at the final whistle, which I hated). I hope they stay up, I really do.
And so to Saturday lunchtime, and a home game against a Chelsea side who made some changes and parked the bus ahead of their second leg with Barcelona on Tuesday night. Last time we watched Chelsea on a Saturday lunchtime, they played out a bore draw with Spurs, and this was no different. Calling it attritional would be paying it a compliment. Yet we still had the best chances – Van Persie would normally bury at least one of his, hitting the post from Walcott’s free kick and firing straight at Cech later on, while Koscielny was also unlucky to see his header crash back off the crossbar. In a week where the woodwork favoured Chelsea enormously, they could and should have lost to us and Barcelona, but escaped on both occasions. That isn’t to say that we were complacent, poor or lazy, or even that Chelsea defended that well, but sometimes you get matches were the narrow margins go against you.
Consider this. For about three years, Chelsea beat us routinely, both home and away. And what’s more – we got used to it. We went into games hoping for a result, but secretly preparing for the inevitable defeat. Now, they come away from the Emirates delighted with a fortunate point that doesn’t even help them that much, while we look on, disappointed. How times change.
Not only did I feel that some of the reporting of the team performances this week was inaccurate, but I felt the assessment of some of the individual players was off kilter too. I think most of us would accept that Arsenal fans have particular targets when things aren’t going well, and while some of that is borne out of a succession of poor displays or poor attitude (read: Eboue), some of it is less warranted. The usual suspects bore the brunt again this week, none more so than Aaron Ramsey, who I will return to in a moment.
Do you know which players I thought were poor this week? Van Persie had two sub-par games, Song was below par too, Sagna was unusually shaky against Wigan, while Walcott did little in either game. Even the Ox was anonymous. Now, reading that list, I’m pretty sure I can gauge many of your reactions, and they will be angry. How dare I criticise those players, you may ask? Well, here’s the thing – you can say a player has had a poor week without abusing them, without saying they are crap or should be sold. There is a middle ground, which is this – each of the players I have listed, to different degrees, have had excellent moments this season, and I value every single one of them as a crucial part of this Arsenal team. But sometimes, players have poor games, and chances are, they are honest enough about it to admit when they do, and don’t seek to blame less culpable members of the team. So why do we?
Ramsey didn’t set the world alight in either game, but he did ok for me, particularly against Chelsea. We praise Rosicky for his endless running, yet conveniently ignore that Ramsey does the same thing. He is frequently compared to Denilson, which is among the worst links I’ve ever known. Denilson’s problems were two-fold – he didn’t try to create much, preferring the safe options, and he didn’t work hard enough to win the ball back when we lost it. Ramsey cannot be accused of either. He loses the ball precisely because he tries things, and he works his bollocks off trying to regain possession, particularly after his own mistakes. On Saturday, he copped abuse when he lost the ball to a man he never saw, and never got a shout about. Surely we should be criticising the lack of communication from his teammates?
I’m not saying Ramsey is on form. He isn’t. But when a player is off colour, all we ask is that he works hard to get himself back to previous heights, something that Arshavin, Denilson, Chamakh and others have failed to do. So why, when a player shows us the desire we’ve been crying out for, do we vilify him anyway?
When I hear the groans from the stands, when I hear the disgusting abuse some of these guys face from a minority of their own supporters, I find myself fearing what we could lose. We have some precocious talents at the club that have everything they need to have tremendous futures. I just hope they want to have that future with us. Sometimes, I wonder why they would.