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Something very odd is going on re Arsenal

I’ve noticed it for some time, and I still can’t quite understand it.  It is a form of logic that appears in the newspapers and on TV, and it goes like this:

Arsenal failed to win the Champs League, FA Cup and EPL this year because Wenger only likes to play young players.   Because of this failure it is now time for him to change tactics.

Which of course he will do because in 2009/10 the average age of the team we put out in Europe will be 14 years older.   Somehow the writers of these complaints against Wenger seem to suggest that he’s now going to get rid of all his players and bring in younger players.

But of course he isn’t – the whole point of the project is to bring in a load of youngsters and mould them to his style, and then let them grow as a team. They’ll all be one year older, and Arshavin will be playing next year – hence the rise in the team’s age of 14 years.

Here’s another complaint – Wenger won’t get his chequebook out.   But this year he did just that – he broke our transfer record and did it with the transfer of the season bringing in a player that everyone else wanted.  (A transfer that as I just noted has taken the age of the first team up several levels.)

The fact is that with a phenomenally young squad Arsenal reached the semi final of the Champions League and the FA Cup and are probably going to end up around 10 points off the top of the EPL.    That is an extraordinary achievement for such a team – and remember it is a team that has had the most dreadful run of injuries over two years.

If the squad was like that of Chelsea with a whole range of players who are approaching their sell-by date, then I’d say, “well if we don’t win it this year that’s it – break up the squad and start again.”

But the squad is so young it can only improve – and an improvement on the three achievements of this year can only mean something better next year.

We started this season with endless complaints about the weakness of the squad, and all the “This is exactly what I was afraid of” comments after the Fulham defeat.   We have had one major upgrade in terms of Arshavin, but he, as we all know, can’t play in Europe this year.  Worse, we’ve had Rosicky and Eduardo out all year, Cesc out for 3 months and… well you know the rest.

Despite all this, despite the youth of the squad, despite the injuries, we are the fourth best team in the world.   So if you had offered me this outcome by the end of the year I’d have said yes, that’s good progress.  If you say to me, these improving players should be set aside so that a series of big money transfers should come in, I’d say no, you must be out of your mind.

The project is half way through.  To destroy it now with endless moaning about failure, after reaching the Euro Semi with a very young and injury ravaged team is a qualification for working on ITV Sport, but not much else.

Oh, and there’s a 21 game unbeaten run too.   Best not mention that, because it rather spoils all the “buy buy buy” arguments.

I am truly sorry Mr Wenger had his worst night in football.   If I were ever to meet him I’d tell him what it felt like after we were beaten by Wrexham.  That was worse, because that was a side that had no excuse and no explanation and no reason for failure.   That was the bleakest day of all.  This is just a momentary slip on the climb to the very top.

(c) Tony Attwood 2009

21 comments to Something very odd is going on re Arsenal

  • IndianGooner

    Nice post, Tony…

    Good to see the positives inspite of the loss yesterday. It was a big blow to all Gooners..

    Hope this makes the players more hungry for success and the fans to get behind the team intsead of slagging off our team.

  • NYmarcus

    Just finished watching Arsene’s press conference on the official site, I think every gooner should. I was devastated just like every other gooner was and still felt that way this morning but somehow watching him respond honestly, openly, directly to the press made me feel better. He even said he felt Fletcher’s red card was harsh. Cesc’s post-game press conference is also worth a look. He confirms my (and many others’) suspicions that Gibbs was too devastated at half time to go on so he was substituted for the 2nd half.

    Two of Arsene’s quotes:

    “It’s the most disappointing defeat. The fans were up for a big night and to disappoint people, it hurts really. The most difficult thing for me is that we have the feeling that we never played in the semi-final. We can only look at ourselves.”

    “I have to take some distance from this season. We are on a consistent run, twenty-one games unbeaten, but recently in a game where it mattered, like Chelsea or tonight, we couldn’t win and that, of course, needs thinking.”

    Unlike the ostrich rose-tinted brigade who choose to blame only “injuries, luck, and the referee” every single season for every single failure, Arsene admits “we can only look at ourselves” and admitted crucially “recently in a game where it mattered, like Chelsea or tonight, we couldn’t win and that, of course, needs thinking.”

    There is a middle ground, Tony. No, of course he shouldn’t go out and buy a bunch of new players and sell all his current ones. He’s got the core of a fine team, an extraordinary one in fact. The media pundits are clueless observers of this team.

    And he doesn’t need to bring in a lot of players either, maybe 1 or 2 at the most. He doesn’t need to break the bank. But as he said the team’s failure to win the big games, to surpass bad luck, bad refereeing and injuries, diving scum opponents, is something that needs thinking about. We used to be able to deal with all of that and still win trophies.

    What hurts esp. about last night is that the team really came out and started very well. Then one hapless mistake by a very young, inexperienced player playing in such a huge game and it all went to pieces.

    What I’ve been thinking about since the game is how this has affected the players, how shattered they must have been and how hard it will be to pick themselves up. They’ll do it of course with Arsene’s help but beyond my own personal disappointment, I’ve just been thinking about them and how much they went out there intending to fight for us, and how in 10 minutes it was all over. Like Arsene said, it didn’t even feel like they played in a CL semifinal.

  • don't believe the hype

    Great post – I can always rely on you to provide an antidote to the endless gloom elsewhere. Why are defeats for Arsenal always treated as a ‘crisis’? We lost to the current European Champions, not to a non-league club so it’s hardly something to be ashamed of. This team will be back and all the better for the experience. What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger!

  • Nhan Le

    I’m so heartbroken buying/selling just isn’t important now. I do want to share sympathy with Gibbs just as Robin did right after the moment. Whatever words Robin said could have a defining effect on Gibbs’ career and – if he develops and stays with us as I hope – on Arsenal’s future. I would want to see Gibbs start against Chelsea in the PL this Sunday.
    It was cruel for him and the team. Since the Villareal game he had been rising to the occasion and played manfully.

    Tony, I notice your blog ranking has made a big jump up from a blip lately. Doesn’t matter much, but still congrats to you!

  • jbh

    Great post Tony. Shameful that the myriad of pundits, papers and pap can only run the team and AW down. Its quite remarkable the success that such a young team has achieved this year particularly with all the injuries. Where is the “well done Arsenal, we look forward to you being stronger and better next year”.
    The core of the team is actually not that young (Eduardo 26, Rosicky 28, Arshavin 27, Gallas 31, Toure 28, Ade 25, RvP 25, Almunia 31, etc). So a first choice 11 may not be that much different than Man Utd in average age. But for the injuries…. But for the injuries…. Injuries to the older players…. injuries to the older player…..

  • Bobby Pliers

    Its times like these where you need to quite rightly take a step back from the emotional side of things and look clearly at what is staring us in the face. I totally agree that we are a work in progress and a very good one at that, but we do need a couple of experienced faces just to freshen things up and provide a wee bit of steel. The experience of last night will improve the team no end and hopefully we will not have to experience it again for quite some time. I am totally happy that Wenger is on the right track. I too remember Wrexham. Lets not get complacent, at least we are playing in the big games, most clubs never get a sniff of anything vaguely resembling success. Lets not go all shortsighted and join the NOW NOW NOW brigade. We would not want anyone else at the helm.

  • Toby

    OX IN THE BOX
    Tony – I’ve been tuning into your site for about a year, and very much enjoy your insight. I was a season-ticket holder in the late eighties before moving to the US, but still follow the lads and all the slings and arrows that come with them. After watching the game yesterday, I feel it’s time to chime in with a thought.

    After watching Ade labor around for 180 minutes without making any contribution whatsoever, except peeling off to the flanks whenever the team moved forward, it reminded me of Wenger’s pursuit a few years back of a ‘fox in the box.’

    Seems what we need instead is an ‘ox in the box’. Not their box, but ours. We don’t have any men of stature in the team. The games with Man U seemed to come across as men against boys. Wenger has built this time around the principles of speed and finesse. Every time we had a corner and the camera panned to the players in the box, the lads in red shirts seemed like dwarfs next to the Man U players. What happened to the Adams- or Vieira- type player who had real STATURE on the field. The team today is small, every player giving a few inches and a few pounds to their counterparts on the other team. We have lost the ability to muscle our way back into games. The opposition simply does not fear the fight. We don’t have anyone that can provide that psychological edge. You can tell by the way Ade played that his psychological battle with Ferdinand and Vidic was lost before the game began.

    If you look at the other big teams, they all have these men of stature. Liverpool has Gerrard; Chelsea has Ballack and Essein and Terry; Man U has Vidic and Ferdinand. Who do we have?

    Time for Wenger to start looking for an ‘Ox in the Box.’ Toure and Gallas are solid (the former more than the latter in my opinion), but they are pretty short by way of central defenders. The Senderos experiment failed. Djourou looks like he might be useful, but he is not IMPOSING. We need someone IMPOSING at the back, and possibly in the middle.

    Looks like Wenger has filled out his shopping cart of players who can play in the middle of the park and up front. So I feel like simply ignoring all the off-season gossip about buying a striker or a winger.

    What Wenger needs to focus on now is in central defence. Let’s go out and find a Vidic or a Ferdinand or a Terry. Or a Viera-type who can partner with Cesc.

    Keep up the good work.

    Toby

  • Terence McGovern

    All things being equal, I would like to see an absolute beast of a central midfielder brought in. The kind that keeps other teams’ thugs in line by his very presence on the pitch. One whose lack of flair is offset by his tackling and distribution skill.
    I have become a believer in Almunia this year where I had doubts before but I doubt that there would be any Arsenal supporters complaining if we bought at least 1 10 million grade centre half that had the height of Steve Bould and the disposition of Hannibal Lecktor.

    Really where we are lacking is a bit of old fashioned hardness. Viera wasn’t a soft touch. Grimandi knew how to use his head. Dennis had a tasty bit of badness in him. None of the current squad have a mean streak worth mentioning and in some matches it is required.

    What I am very proud of is the way that RVP went straightover and put an arm around Gibbs. That, boys and girls is natural leadership and is worth its weight in gold.

    Anyway after a night like last night, I asked myself what would Darren Fletcher do in my place?
    The answer….say to hell with it and watch the CL final on TV.
    Peace out

  • Ian Trevett

    Phew. A refuge from the kneejerk doom-mongers.
    Thanks Tony and to all the posters on this site.
    This site is the equivalent of the loyal Gooners last night who stayed to the end to support their side.
    Supporting a football team isn’t always easy. It is how you support your team when things aren’t going well that determines how good a supporter you are.
    Keep the faith in Wenger and Arsenal.

  • NYmarcus

    And another thing, about Cronaldo: last night he showed what a thoroughly despicable human being he is. None of the Arsenal supporters were goading him or abusing him in any way. Yet after he scored his first goal he came over to celebrate in front of THEM deliberately to goad them, instead of going over to the Utd supporters who’d spent so much money to come to London for the game. Evra did the same thing when he had a throw-in in front of our supporters — the far more classy Carrick came over to him and told him to stop it.

    THEN, 93 mins. into the game, Utd have already won the tie, the game’s about to end, and Cronaldo abuses the referee for not booking Sagna for a nothing move against him. THAT’S the kind of lowlife scumbag he is.

    At the end of the game the remaining gooners (and yes, there were many of them who supported the team to the end) applauded the Utd players and most of them in turn acknowledged our supporters graciously. Not Cronaldo, however. I don’t give a damn how talented he is, I wouldn’t want him at Arsenal ever.

  • Gun_Slinger

    Not really a fan of the word apologist but some fans do seem DELUDED. I dont think Wenger’s finished yet but anyone trying to absolve him of any blame for our failures in recent seasons needs their head testing. Even those with a very limited understanding of the game can see where its gone wrong. Its Wenger who fields a team containing players like Adebayor and Walcott who are clearly not first team material for a side looking to win top club honours. Like a few of our players, Ade has a distinct lack of intelligence on the pitch which was clear to me during his one “good” (he should have been top scorer) season. If your not convinced tell me how many goals he has made…dont worry I’ll wait. Walcott is similar in that some of the physical attributes are there but the rest sadly isnt (Wiltord wasnt a winger nor is Kuyt – understand?). The midfield is lightweight, hence why we often come undone against more athletic teams. As much as I cant stand the bloke, Ashley Cole wasn’t taking the mick when he said you wouldn’t want these guys in the trenches with you. When the chips are down, WHO, other than Toure maybe, stands up to be counted on a consistent basis…dont worry I’ll wait! I dont think Wenger should be sacked, but if Ade is not sold this season, I think we can all agree that WENGER IS INDEED THE APOLOGIST.

  • ATLen

    I found myself thinking like you do,Tony.
    Financial irresponsibility gets you trophies.

  • Mihir Saudagar

    Nice post! Ever the optimist, Tony!
    Somehow I feel that for a top 4 club in the premiership, being in debt does not really matter. The debt will keep on being recycled and the club will pass from one wealthy owner to another because the differentiating factor will always be the prestige factor between say Liverpool and a club like Southampton.
    All said and done, I think we do seem to miss some calmness at the back. I hate to say it but its that precise lack of confidence is why we couldnt take Manchester United on yesterday.The one time we tried, they stuck one in.We do need someone like Sol or Tony. True, they are once in a generation players, but thats the only thing that is really missing in this side.
    Every position seems to be filled with great upcoming players except for the centre back position. In the end, the professor knows better than anyone else.

  • I’m a doom monger, Wenger must buy experienced players to mix them with the youth. He succeeded with world class players B4 he must buy buy buy, it’s common sense. Enough of this Arsenal mediocrity

  • Consolsbob

    It also gets you relegated and bankrupt. Ask any Leeds supporter.

    Onwards and upwards.

  • Toby

    TERENCE – YOU AND I ARE ON THE SAME PAGE
    I agree – we need that meanness that is lacking in the team. Not only to put the fear of God into the opposition, but also to put the fear of God into our players too if they don’t do the job. There is no natural leader in the team like Terry who can do that.

    With Adams or Vieira, you just got the sense that the other players on the team didn’t want to piss their captain off, and elevated their game accordingly. Cesc just does not inspire in the same way.

    We need an Ox on the team. NOW.

  • NYmarcus

    FROM THE TELEGRAPH:

    www. telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/leagues/premierleague/arsenal/5284933/Arsenal-striker-Emmanuel-Adebayor-claims-club-have-taken-step-backwards.html

    “I think we have taken a step backwards – not only me but the team,” Adebayor told the Evening Standard.

    “We need some players. We had Hleb gone to Barcelona, Flamini gone to Milan and it was quite difficult to play.

    “The team are quite young and we have tried to make the best of everything. Don’t forget, I was injured three times this season.

    “At the beginning of the season it was quite difficult but we have showed we have passed that moment. Now what are we going to achieve next season. That’s what we have to fight for.”

    This time last year Adebayor was heavily linked with a move to AC Milan, though he was quick to dismiss the notion that his frustrations may force him to seek a transfer when the window opens again at the end of the season.

    “Before signing for Arsenal, people were telling me I have the chance to win things,” said Adebayor.

    “Now I am empty-handed but I don’t have any reason for leaving until I get the trophies that I came here for.”

  • NYmarcus

    FROM THE TELEGRAPH:

    “I think we have taken a step backwards – not only me but the team,” Adebayor told the Evening Standard.

    “We need some players. We had Hleb gone to Barcelona, Flamini gone to Milan and it was quite difficult to play.

    “The team are quite young and we have tried to make the best of everything. Don’t forget, I was injured three times this season.

    “At the beginning of the season it was quite difficult but we have showed we have passed that moment. Now what are we going to achieve next season. That’s what we have to fight for.”

    This time last year Adebayor was heavily linked with a move to AC Milan, though he was quick to dismiss the notion that his frustrations may force him to seek a transfer when the window opens again at the end of the season.

    “Before signing for Arsenal, people were telling me I have the chance to win things,” said Adebayor.

    “Now I am empty-handed but I don’t have any reason for leaving until I get the trophies that I came here for.”

  • Paul N

    NY Marcus, here you are!

    Wenger never said that the team wasnt good enough, he said he needs to take a look at things and that you have to look within, where are you supposed to look? maybe it could also be some of his tactics, you ever thought of that? Are you telling me that injuries have not been a problem? are you saying that without Vidic and the Ferdinand or whoever that Man U would’ve played the same? get it together man, this team can do it.

    This team will do it and ever one will have to eat their words!

  • Terence McGovern

    Adebayour has a very good reason for leaving.

    His absenc….absens….departure would be allow eduardo into the starting 11 for next season which would restore balance to the passing, movement and close control at speed that has been the core of Arsenal when they won trophies. He unlike the rest of the team posesses none of those qualities.
    I’m sure he is very nice and popular and means well but too many attacking movements break down upon his attempted receipt of the ball.
    wish him well and send him to the San Siro collect for 20 mil marked fragile.
    Bentner has his ariel ability and a higher goals per minute-on-pitch ratio and can actually receive the ball at his feet.
    20 million would do alot more for this team right now.

    However it should be noted that its all about to kick off in the boardroom right now so god only knows whats gonna happen for next season.
    I recommend that all of you read the wikipedia page on Alisher Usamov and tell me it doesn’t give you the chills.
    Guys who write critical pieces on his dodgy past have had their blogs taken down. A latvian businessman who filed suit in NY claiming to have been ‘coerced’ to sell vital shares in a telecom company went missing leaving behind a blood soaked apartment.

    I wonder if he can play central midfield? 😉

  • Travis

    I always expect to read something to heal my brokenheart hear, and I’m right. Great post.