By Tony Attwood
Theo Walcott has scored 12 goals in his last 13 Premier League starts. It is the sort of scoring that takes the mind back to someone like the incredible Jack Lambert who in Arsenal’s first ever league winning season scored 38 league goals in 34 games.
That was in 1930/31, and I am not sure if anyone has exceeded that record since. I don’t think so.
I mention that because last night the person who sits a row or two behind me in the upper east stand started called Theo names, and did at one point call him useless.
Now I was my usual calm self, and I didn’t rise up, seek him out, and smash his face to a pulp. After all he may only be a child – I’ve never looked to see. But the shout – one of a torrent of criticism that poured out of this person against the team – made me ponder exactly where we have got to in football.
Arsenal are having a curious up and down season – two superb away wins against the Tiny Totts and at the time unbeaten Leicester, followed this most disappointing defeat. It is very frustrating but it happens most seasons, even when we win the league.
The moaning, groaning and the like at the Emirates was something to behold, but in the chit chat I picked up what I didn’t hear was much grown-up talk. The essence of it seemed to be that
a) I was there so I expect Arsenal to win
b) If we can’t beat this team of time wasters then Arsenal are useless.
Both of which to my mind seem rather silly, although not as silly as calling Theo useless because he missed a shot.
But what is interesting in relation to the incredible Jack Lambert is that there are plenty of stories around about him that say that despite his amazing goalscoring he was regularly booed by the Highbury crowd, and it was this activity that led Herbert Chapman to start his campaign against the “boo-boys” as he called them. A campaign that lasted until his death.
This booing of Jack Lambert was particularly appalling not just because he was so brilliant, but because he was a particularly nervous player, and most prone to feeling the pressure of the crowd. But these days it seems managers are less likely to criticise their own team’s supporters.
But back to last night. The sensible question, the question that the grown-ups might ask, is one that runs something like this:
- Why are we having problems in home games?
with the variant
- Why are we having problems in the Champions League?
Of course there might be no answers to this – or rather no consistent answers. Maybe it just is what it is, without explanation. But before adopting that view, it is worth considering a few points.
At home this season we have played 3 league games, won one, lost one and drawn one. Plus we’ve played one cup match which of course we lost. It does suggest there might be a problem developing at the Emirates, and so we can ask, what is it? The only answer I can see is the crowd, unless last night’s defeat is a Champions League problem.
Much was made last season of our defeat to Monaco, and far less was made of our victory over the same team in the return match. Much was made of the fact that Arsenal go out fairly soon after the group stages are done and dusted.
But then so do most English teams. As of last night English teams have played six and lost five in the Champs League. And as the Guardian makes clear in an article today, the two English teams playing last night were the champions of England and the team with the most points in the Premier League this calender year.
Now perhaps England teams do badly in Europe because we are not used to the instant return of the ball, or the different way in which European referees run games from the way in which English refs run games. Maybe we aren’t used to playing teams mired in criminal investigations, as our last two opponents are. Maybe it is because we play lots of other high-intensity games in league and cups. Maybe it is because English teams don’t spend enough money in the transfer windows.
Or maybe not that last one.
Of course it is not as if we haven’t been here before. If you check your memory, or the record books, you will see that in the early years of Wenger’s reign we really didn’t do very well in Europe. Indeed by and large Arsenal don’t do very well in Europe. We’ve won the Fairs Cup and the Cup Winners Cup, and that’s about it. So expecting a big run is a bit against history. It would be nice, but unusual.
Still, maybe we can blame Ooooooospina. Except, maybe not. He was superb in the second half of last season when he came into the team. Sure he has made mistakes, but like calling Theo useless, it is pointless to put the blame on him. Pointless because every player has off days. We wish they wouldn’t but they do.
And since I have been around for a while I can remember the off days on Pat Jennings, David Seaman, Bob Wilson and Jens Lehmann. And if you wonder about the inclusion of the last of those names, I would add he is the only player in the history of the English league to play unbeaten in every game in a season.
As it turns out there was a fitness concern about Cech before the Leicester game. He came through that ok, but Wenger didn’t want to take any chances so rested him today, using the man who had served us so well in the second half of last season.
Had he acted the other way and Cech been injured, and out for a while, there would have been cries of derision all round that Wenger “took a gamble”. One thing you can’t ever do as a manager is get all the decisions right.
And certainly against Tottenham I thought Oooooospina was fine. No problems at all. But maybe I am not as good a futurologist as the rest of the crowd. Maybe the turnip behind me knows that Theo is about to stop scoring goals and won’t become Jack Lambert at all, but will be Peter Marinello instead.
Or as Mr Wenger said Arsenal gave away easy goals and lacked concentration and that is undoubtedly true – and quite different from saying Theo is useless.
But what is also interesting is that in the team (including subs) last night we had Koscielny who was described as useless in his first season, Ramsey who was utterly derided in his early years at Arsenal and remorselessly attacked (in the same style as Jack Lambert in fact), Bellerin, whose arrival into the team in the Champions League last season was sneered at, Cazorla whose purchase was laughed at with a load of “he’s too short to play football”, and Coquelin who was said by some to be unable to hold down a place in the Charlton team, and was shown to be useless when on loan.
So maybe the crowd don’t know so much after all.
Interestingly José Mourinho seems to have had less of a hard time of it than Mr Wenger despite losing to the almighty Porto, and leaving Oscar, Loïc Rémy and Radamel Falcao in England. But that I suppose is football.
One thing is certain for me, being critical of your team in their home games rarely gets victories. It can do, but it is rare. With a home-crowd attitude like this, I think we’re going to find it very tough.
From the anniversary files…
- 30 September 1996: Arsène Wenger appointed as Arsenal manager (although some sources quote 28th and others 29th).
- 30 September 1997: Arsenal 1 PAOK 1. Arsenal exited the Uefa cup in the first round losing 2-1 on aggregate. However in the long term the defeat was forgotten as Arsenal went on to the semi-final of the League Cup, and to win the FA Cup and League Double for the second time.