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By Tony Attwood
I suppose one of my biggest gripes about football journalists is that they treat their audience like little children who will gobble up anything that is said and accept it as truth.
To give an example of this consider an article on Inside Football, in which we are told in the headline, “Arsenal Players Just Not Very Good – Former Top Flight Star Says Overhaul Needed”
In this piece Steve Nicol’s interview on ESPN is quoted at some length, and the essence of the piece is that what is wrong with Arsenal is that the team is simply not good enough.
The blog takes quite a few lines of quote to deliver the message, but that is about it.
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Then Nicol comes to his solution. It is that Arsenal need to buy new players. Lots of them in fact since the only ones who are good enough are Aubameyang and Lacazette.
I don’t agree with this at all. Simply to debate the point on Nicol’s own terms, I’d say Leno is an excellent goalkeeper, Bellerin is a fantastic full back who is making his way back to his previous high level through the only method possible – playing games – and on the evidence of the Brighton game in the second half, Pepe is a fantastic player. I could go on, but basically I think Nicol speaks gibberish.
But let’s assume that Nicol is right, what then?
On that basis nine players need replacing which means nine players will be sold, presumably cheaply because they have been designated as no good (why would anyone pay a top price for players who have just been deemed no good?) and others will have to be brought in at top prices (because everyone knows that Arsenal needs the players urgently to avoid relegation).
Now last summer Arsenal spent a lot more money than most commentators said the club would spend bringing in the likes of Gabriel Martinelli, Dani Ceballos, William Saliba, Nicolas Pépé, Kieran Tierney, and David Luiz.
Do you really think Arsenal will have much money available to do that again in January? Do you really think the players that Arsenal might want will be available in January? After all, it is all very well us saying we want someone, the club that employs him have to want to sell him.
It all seems very unlikley to me at every level.
But even if the players Arsenal want can be afforded by another £100m or more to be put up by the owner (an unlikely event if ever there was one) what happens then? The player is told he can go to Arsenal, and the player might want to leave, but would he leave to come to Arsenal? A club that is struggling, and which is subject to ceaseless vitriol from journalists, the crowd and bloggers alike?
No, what Nicols is doing is making it ever harder for Arsenal to recruit players. What ESPN and Inside Football are doing, as they always do, is knocking Arsenal, because knocking Arsenal gets viewers and readers and gives Arsenal more problems.
It is in short a vicious circle which can only be broken if people stop watching and reading such nonsense.
Personally I think that as with any team, one can always look at one or two positions and say, we could be better there. Otherwise it is about motivation and tactics, while helping each player see exactly how he can improve. It is about making him want to improve both for his own sake and for the sake of the team.
Now that type of positive reinforcement and direction of effort is not especially hard normally, but in the face of the hour by hour, day by day onslaught from the media, it is very difficult to do. Much easier for the players to start saying, “you know what, actually I think I would sooner be somewhere else.”
So yes, then the players leave. But who on earth would want to come into this environment, having seen what the media and the “supporters” are like?