By Tony Attwood
It’s not often that I find Amy Lawrence in the Guardian writing an article that I can agree with wholeheartedly, but it has happened today. Annoyingly hers is not only written in a much better way than I could ever do, but she got there first.
The issue is one about movement, and her article refers back to the incredible speed of the team in the years around the turn of the century and for a few years thereafter. Speed of players, speed of thought, speed of the ball.
I always loved watching that team, not just because we won lots of stuff, but because of the football that was played. For me, the speed was what made the team successful.
Across the years we’ve tried to find more such players like Theo and of course Alexis, but never had a whole bunch of them together.
But now I begin to wonder if we might not be close. Lacazette, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan. All supplied with brilliant through balls from Mesut Özil. No wonder that the club was willing to meet whatever demands Mesut made. They need those through balls with a forward line of those three.
What Amy Lawrence has done however is not just beaten me to it, she has also come up with a stat that we missed, when publishing the details of Aubameyang with regards to games and goals. It is this…
In the last campaign that Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan played together at Dortmund, 2015-16, their combined figures were superb: 59 goals and 31 assists between them, with a lot of the goals reflecting the rapport they had with each other; one providing and the other finishing.
The point about this is that the construction of the forward line affects the way the entire opposition XI plays. When we had Henry and Pires, the opposition knew that they were going to have to keep close tabs on those two, even when Arsenal were on the defensive. Indeed I remember seeing teams attacking Arsenal but still leaving two (yes two) players man marking Henry and one lurking around Pires.
Those teams that didn’t go for the three man constant defence would put one defender on each player. Their problem was then that if Henry got the ball he would mesmerise one defender and that would pull the other man across, leaving Pires unmarked. That’s how Pires came to score so many goals.
It was all fairly obvious after the first anniversary of Pires joining the club (and it did take a year for him to fit in with the whole performance) but still clubs couldn’t find a way of coping.
Of course the worry is about the number of goals that Alexis, Giroud and Theo scored for Arsenal. Indeed people like me who run blogs get sent sponsored statistical analyses regularly, and one of these noted just how many goals these three scored, before making the point that they have now all gone. Cue complaints about Wenger not knowing what he is doing. (I was already adding up how many goals our new forward line had scored in their prime, which seemed a more interesting approach).
Because whatever Arsenal do is going to be wrong (according to many commentators), because it is done by Mr Wenger, actually admitting that it is just possible that the removal of Alexis might actually prove to be a bonus is not something that will appeal to some, but it might, it just might be true.
So I’m looking forward to joining the usual gang in the journey from the East Midlands to London for the Everton game, even though the stupid kick off time means I shall miss my saturday night out. However I am not sure West Ham will be thinking the same way as the club has been accused of racism and unlawful discrimination in their transfer market dealings.
According to the ever righteous Daily Mail, West Ham’s director of football, (Tony Henry), rather than being all conquering and returning to the office today with a smile on his face as new players are paraded, he has allegedly spent time telling agents that West Ham did not want to sign any more African players. Allegedly this is because (he said) “they have a bad attitude” and “cause mayhem” when they are not in the team.
The director also denied the policy was racist. He told the Mail: “It’s nothing racist at all. It’s just sometimes they can have a bad attitude. We had problems with Diafra Sakho. We find that when they are not in the team they cause mayhem. It’s nothing against the African race at all.” When pressed on the issue by the Mail he also suggested the policy was supported by club management.
West Ham have suspended Tony Henry “pending a full and thorough investigation.” A spokesperson said, “The West Ham United family is an inclusive one where, regardless of gender, age, ability, race, religion or sexual orientation, everybody feels welcome and included. The club will make no further comment until the investigation has been concluded.”
Lord Ouseley, the chairman of Kick It Out, has said that some of the comments made by Henry in an email are potentially unlawful.
The issue looks to me, from the outside, as one of underlying attitude, and reminds me of what happened when I objected to homophobic statements made by a dance teacher at a club in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. My complaints were greeted by laughter from the club owner, and comments from other members of the club that the teacher “didn’t mean anything by it” and “it’s just his way”. I stopped going to the club. I don’t think anyone else did. That’s how it seems to go these days.
Sadly there are many people around who still seem to think it is perfectly ok to make the kind of statement reported in the Mail, and to excuse such statements by simply saying they are not racist. Hopefully West Ham will do the right thing.