By Tony Attwood
“We trained today with the Champions League balls and the bibs with the Champions League on, and it’s difficult to describe the feeling,” said Mr Pochettino the latest in a long line of Tottenham managers.
I suppose it gets easier and less exciting for Arsenal, year after year after year playing in the Champs League, but yes it must be exciting for the smaller clubs that don’t get there so often. While occasional Arsenal fans claim that fourth is not a trophy, it seems that third feels like one to the Tottenham manager.
Tottenham of course are repeating the experiment from years ago that Arsenal engaged in by playing Champs League games at Wembley, and they’ve been doing all the stuff such as practising on bigger pitches and exciting things like that. The media, who chose to see Arsenal’s time at Wembley as a gimmick, are lapping it up. But then, that’s what they do.
Meanwhile what did we learn from PSG v Arsenal?
First that there is a lot of fight in Arsenal. Second there is probably a lot more to come, as the new players get used to the game plan. Third, Ospina is one hell of a keeper. Actually we didn’t learn that – at least those of us who watched his activities in the international arena didn’t.
The problem however is unless one was there, the enjoyment of the game was mediated via BT Sprout who built up to the match with a level of negativity about Wenger and Ospina which exceeded even their normal rabid delivery level.
Ian Wright got it going with a prolonged rant against Ospina for his incompetence in European matches in the past and Wenger for his crass stupidity in using Ospina. “It’s a big game so you need your best keeper,” he said or something along those lines.
The entire build up on BT Sprout was in fact negative, negative, negative, negative. Wenger had got the team selection wrong, and in particular the selection of Ooooospina was a nonsense. Why drop Cech? Ospina was rubbish last season. (No mention of his international exploits since then). It went on and on and on.
Compare and contrast with the Guardian newspaper this morning which says
“This was one of those occasions when what had initially appeared an unnecessarily risky team selection ended up feeling more like a masterstroke. Arsenal were overrun for long periods in Paris but still departed buoyed by the point pilfered from their trickiest tie of the section, and with David Ospina’s reputation as enhanced as Edinson Cavani’s was wrecked. The locals are growing used to their Uruguayan’s profligacy. Ospina, in contrast, has rarely asserted such a positive influence on his own team’s display.”
Sprout meaning could not get around the idea that if Cech gets injured we need a top keeper who is fit, and ready to play. If you want a top international keeper as back up you have to give him a reason to stay at the club – and in this case that reason is playing in the Champions League. It is not that hard to grasp. Except for the Sprout.
And just when we thought the negative ranting might finish it went on and on and on some more, and by and large had little relationship with what I was watching on the screen. From my seat on the sofa 374 miles away from the action Ospina was superb. True Arsenal looked a bit overwhelmed at the start, but after that Arsenal looked to me very much like a team who knew what they were doing.
Of course the Sprout would never admit that their people had been attacking Arsenal, Wenger, Ospina… at the end of the match it was “other people” (not the likes of I Wright and co) who had perhaps suggested that Ospina was a bit of a gamble. The negativity never once stopped until we scored.
As for the football, the result was excellent was Arsenal, in my view, leaving us with a chance of winning the group for a change. Certainly if you had just listened to the commentary what you would never have imagined is that Arsenal had 48% possession.
So why do TV channels like the Sprout do this? Why be so constantly, utterly negative?
In the end it comes down to a cheap way of making TV in which nothing much can go wrong. Those of us who don’t buy into the opening propaganda can see that much of what is being spouted through the game is gibberish and can see the swerve away from the gibberish as it becomes clear that Arsenal are not being beaten 10-0.
But what the Sprout primarily relies on is the fact that attention span of much of their audience is very slight. So instead of an honest statement, such as “Ian Wright told us the selection of Ospina was a dreadful mistake that was going to cost Arsenal dear, but the exact reverse has proven to be the case. Why did you get it so utterly and totally wrong Ian?” we just get a change of view to meet the new situation.
The reality was that Ospina kept the score at 1-0, repeatedly denying Cavani another goal. Alexis Sanchez equalised with a half chance through a crowd and with the keeper well positioned, and suddenly the commentators have to change their tune. An away draw in their hardest game is a good result. Wow. Arsenal are good. Oh but Giroud is sent off. Right time to attack Giroud.
Compounding their reality shift, BT Sprout then announced that Arsenal’s game against Chelsea is on Friday. Arsenal.com are showing it as Saturday. Of course if it is BT Sprout who got this wrong, they won’t ever admit it but will instead tell us that Friday is the new Saturday and that it was an extra turn of the world that changed the day because Sproutists can never ever be wrong.
They make reality. Us poor followers know nothing and have to be told how the world works. Because if we didn’t have Sprout, well, how would we ever know what was really going on?
Well, we always have the Guardian I suppose. “For a team whose spirit is questioned so regularly, Arsenal do play often with real heart,” wrote Barney Ronay. It was good of him to admit it.
Finally, back to the Tiny Totts, and a little word of warning. Since they were last at Wembley, getting a beating in the League Cup final in the normal way, things have changed in terms of crowd control.
Following the gaining of planning permission for further development around the stadium, a new kettling plan is being introduced as supporters going to and from the ground are increasingly funnelled in and out of the stadium area.
Certainly I had difficulty getting access to the ground for both the recent semi-finals, but worse, the kettling that is now planned to take place (in which thousands of people are pushed into spaces and then held there with no way out until the police deem it proper for the crowd to move on) is becoming worrying.
Even the FA’s operations director, Julie Harrington, has been exercised about the issue, telling a meeting with the firm behind the redevelopment, Quintain, that it was “working from a position to maximise profits” rather than to “protect fan safety”.
She added: “If fans can’t get to their coaches and can’t get to their vehicles, if up to 9,000 fans are pooled behind the stadium with nowhere to go, if 15,000 fans are pushed down back streets to their coaches, it’s a recipe for disaster, a public order disaster, and the FA will not stand by and see fans treated in this way.
“We cannot be complacent about the huge steps forward made in stadium safety in the past two decades. No-one should believe that it’s acceptable to herd fans like cattle. We must learn from past mistakes.”
Transport consultants working for the FA presented analysis indicating fans could be forced to wait for up to three hours to board coaches. An FA spokesperson said the FA “would not be able to attract major events to Wembley if fans can’t leave the car park”.
Still, for anyone who regularly goes to WHL for matches it will seem like luxury.