By Tony Attwood
Every day we get comments on Untold which criticise either one or more Arsenal players, or our manager, or the management team.
As I have said many, many times before, we will publish such commentaries, but only when backed up by some logic, stats or reasoned argument. Just calling someone at Arsenal a name, or making an accusation, is to my mind, just plain dumb. There are, after all, enough supporters of Tottenham H, Manchester C, Manchester U, and Chelsea to do that. Why should people who call themselves Arsenal fans do this as well?
The answer to this question is usually given by restating the original complaint – that player x is not fit to wear the shirt, that the manager is useless, and so on. The implication is that someone, anyone, is going to be better.
But of course we don’t really know that. The notion that Arsenal automatically should be winning the league every few years is not based on any historical analysis, but on the history of the club under Wenger. Put another way, it is an argument that says that Wenger today is not as good as Wenger in earlier years, so he should go.
Leaving aside the issue of how the financing of football has changed in the last ten years, there is still the question of whether criticising a player or manager or anyone else at the club, does any good. It is hard to find any evidence that it does, but there are lots of situations in which good people have been forced out of football clubs when the crowd has turned on them.
We’ve certainly seen this in the past with Herbert Chapman becoming very vocal in his contempt for supposed Arsenal fans booing players like Jack Lambert – and it got to the stage in 1953 when members of the Arsenal Championship winning side openly said to the press that Arsenal fans were the worst in the country.
But of course it is not just Arsenal that has this problem. I have no particular desire to talk up Gareth Bale, but stepping back from my usual prejudice, of course I admit what a superb player he is.
Although it seems supporters of his chosen club, Real Mad, don’t share my view. He is whistled every time he gets the ball because he is supposedly “too greedy.” He gets jeered if he ever loses possession.
Whether he is greedy or not is not really my point here. Rather I’m more interested in whether this sort of critical activity is helpful. When we saw it over Gervinho it certainly wasn’t. Going back to the Graham era we saw it with the promising talent of Martin Hayes and that more or less destroyed his talent. In fact the crowd were getting decidedly edgy about Theirry Henry during the first four or five games he played at Highbury. It has happened through the ages.
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Support from the manager is always there for such players. Real Mad manager Carlo Ancelotti, said recently, “I do not expect anything more from him and he has done very well.” But in the end there is only one outcome: Bale will decline as a player – at least at home.
Of course sometimes players don’t help themselves – and one can certainly say this of Mauro Icardi who plays for Inter. He made the mistake of thinking that some of Inter’s travelling support might welcome a chance to get their hands on his shirt, but when he threw it into the away crowd after the game against Sassuolo the Inter fan who got it, threw it back at him.
That might be enough of a confrontation for most players but Icardi is not one to let matters drift. He repeatedly called the offending fans “pieces of shit”.
To attempt to redeem the situation, the manager then told the offending Icardi to go back to the away support (ably protected by Andrea Ranocchia, Juan Pablo Carrizo, Fredy Guarín, Samir Handanovic and Rodrigo Palacio) and apologise. Which he did.
The point is, banners proclaiming that the manager should leave, the booing of players, the little demos on the roundabout outside the Emirates Media Entrance that Black Scarf used to organise or condone – none of them do anything positive.
As a result of those protests nothing changed. Arsene Wenger bought the players he was going to buy and who were willing to come to the club, he hasn’t changed his methodology, and the refs haven’t changed their approach to Arsenal. The club has improved its results of late not because of a banner telling the manager to go, but because the number of injures has come down.
And hhe number of injuries has come down, not because of any change in training methods or because the club has relayed the pitch at Stadium Wenger, but because our players are getting better at jumping out of the way of lunging potentially leg breaking tackles.
I can’t think of any occasion in which booing one’s own players or the manager or management has ever done a club any good. And yet people continue to do it. Yes there are times when I think Arsenal should have moved their manager on more quickly (Knighton should have gone at least two years earlier, Bertie Mee four – to give two examples) and I really, really, really didn’t like the utterly negative approach to football that Graham used when winning the Cup Double, but I never booed the teams of Mee or Graham, not least because it would have done no good. (Contrary to popular belief I wasn’t actually on the terraces during the Knighton era).
For the moment those who have protested and booed have gone back underground, but I suspect that it will only take one defeat or another rash of injuries for them to emerge once more. But each protest only does one thing: it makes matters worse.
Anniversary of the date
- 2 February 2002: Arsenal 1 Southampton 1. Through this draw Arsenal broke the consecutive goal scoring record, scoring in 26 consecutive games, and then went on to win every single league game. League match 25 of the 3rd Double season.
Footnote: Through much of today the History of Arsenal web site has been down. This appears to be due to a problem with web hosting service One and One (who don’t host Untold) and for the moment is completely beyond our control.