This post was written by the inimitable RockyLives on October 23rd 2012. It’s worth another look, not only for the superlative nature of the writing but also the sentiment. Read until the end else you’ll miss something. Ah, Rocky.
Saturday’s defeat at Norwich affected me much more than is normally the case with our setbacks and I have spent the last couple of days trying to figure out why.
Usually in the wake of a bad defeat (or even a depressing draw, like the 4-4s against Newcastle and Totteringham) I am able to keep things in perspective.
But on Saturday evening perspective was nowhere to be found: it was off cavorting somewhere with Lord Lucan and the Loch Ness Monster.
In yesterday’s Post Kelsey said: “That was one of the worst team performances I have seen for many a season.”
I would go further: it was the worst performance I can remember from Arsenal since Arsène Wenger took charge.
Casting my mind back to earlier horrors, there was always either an extenuating circumstance or something positive to grab hold of.
Collapsing 8-2 at Old Trafford? Well, we were a club in turmoil with a team comprising mostly youths and reserves.
Drawing 3-3 at home to Norwich during the run-in last season? The defence may have gone missing but at least we scored three.
Going from 4-0 up to finish 4-4 in the debacle at Newcastle? Again, we scored goals. Plus Joey Barton behaved despicably to get one of our players sent off and Phil Dowd gave the worst refereeing performance that this spectator has witnessed in more than 40 years.
I could go through many more examples (sadly) and there would always be some crumb of comfort to take away from the mess. But not on Saturday.
On Saturday we were so poor that the only crumbs were little bits of broken dream, dissolving dismally into the East Anglian turf.
Going forward, we were as toothless as a granny with gingivitis. At the back, we were as impregnable as an Essex girl on a Saturday night. And in midfield we made so many backwards passes we might as well have been playing rugby.
The three pillars of successful football – Skill, Passion and Determination – were absent without leave, away with Lucan and Nessie.
Of course, as you probably know, the disappointment hit me harder this time because I truly believed that we had put those sorts of performances behind us. Not that we would never again have bad results – that happens to everyone – but that there would be no more examples of just not turning up for a game that was there for the taking.
In recent seasons I have felt that these kinds of showing were down to an inherent psychological weakness in the squad – one that also always manifested itself in our traditional late-season collapses.
And the weakness I blamed on the fact that the balance of the squad was wrong: too many young players who did not know what it took to win the big prizes. And that we also had players who were disruptive to good team spirit (like Nasri and Adebayor).
This season no-one can say we don’t have experienced, mature players throughout the squad: Mertesacker, Arteta, Podolski, Giroud, Cazorla for starters. And there seems to have been a good sense of camaraderie among the players so far. The only potentially disruptive factor has been the on-going saga of Theo’s contract, but you just don’t get the sense that he is someone who would cause trouble in the dressing room.
I know we have a lot of injuries, but when I saw the starting 11 for Saturday’s game I was happy we had a team capable of bringing home the points.
So when we lost in such a timid fashion, my train of logic went like this: here we are again with another abject surrender; but we now have mature players; we no longer have the disruptive elements… so it must be down to the manager and his team.
I do not for one second believe we lost because we were tired from international travel; or that we were complacent. Other teams also had many players on international duty and they did just fine. And we have had so many bad results to lower placed teams in recent seasons that the complacency thing doesn’t wash.
What was lacking, I felt, was any sense of motivation from the team. And the man ultimately responsible for motivating them is the manager.
If you look for a link between all the bad performances of the past five or six years, it’s not the players: the personnel have changed so much that our current team is barely recognisable from even two season ago; it’s not even the silent whipping boy of some supporters, Pat Rice. Pat has left and the man everyone wants to replace him is now in his position; the only link is Arsène Wenger.
In my post-Norwich doldrums I started to realise I was losing faith in Arsène. And that’s why this defeat hit me harder than any previous one.
Losing faith in Arsène is like falling out of love with your wife. It can creep up on you and before you know it, you’re looking at someone you have known for years as if they are a stranger.
The things that were so appealing, so charming – the windmilling arms, that way of drawling “weeellll…” at the start of every answer, the silly knee length puffer jacket – suddenly look silly. Unattractive even. But that’s enough about my wife. A similar effect was starting to happen with my view of Arsène.
In a marriage you can go to a relationship counselor who might just make you realise that the woman you always loved is still there, it’s just that current circumstances have got in the way of you seeing her properly.
In a football relationships, there are no counselors but there is good counsel to be found. And I found it here in the comments of Arsenal Arsenal. I read a litany of disappointment and disbelief. But, as the shock of that awful performance wore off, I also read many comments putting it down to “a bad day at the office.”
And while there has, perhaps, been a reassessing of expectations for this season, many commenters also pointed to the optimism we felt after the West Ham and Liverpool wins; to the quality of our performance against Man City. Surely the team that did so well in those games can not have vanished overnight?
There IS a link connecting all our poor performances of recent years. But it’s not Arsène (or at least, not a failure on his part to motivate players). The link is the changing economics of football.
This link forced us (rightly) to build a bigger stadium, with the period of austerity that it inevitably brought; it meant that when sugar daddy owners came on the scene they could skew the market for players to such a degree that even a club like Manchester United can no longer compete equally; and it meant a club like Arsenal, running itself sustainably, would suffer defections of key players at bad moments.
That’s the link that has left us now with a team in which several regular starters have only been with the club a few months; a team, therefore, that will inevitably stutter occasionally as it gels together; a team that has lost the EPL’s top goal scorer and player of the season; a team that gets lambasted by the ignorant press for not adopting the sort of Gordon Gekko economics that have bankrupted the entire nation.
No manager could have produced a title winning team during that period. In fact, no manager could have kept a team in the top four throughout all those crazy years.
Except that one man did: Arsène Wenger.
My faith wobbled, but it has come back stronger. We may win nothing this year. We may not even finish in the top four. But Arsène is still the right man at the helm and the tide in football finances is turning ever so slowly in our favour.
And I have a funny feeling that this version of Arsène’s Arsenal is going to surprise us all.
Written by RockyLives