By Tony Attwood
England is one of those parts of the world where the social sciences are decried, denied and thought to be the final source of excuses for the namby-pamby middle-class so-called intellectuals. The ludicrous words of Margaret Thatcher – “there is no such thing as society” – still resonate, and it seems that most of the country don’t actually know the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist.
As for “group dynamics”, if a definition is to be understood in football it probably has something to do with Tony Adams bending half forward, looking up and waving his fist at the team while suggesting that the mere power of Arsenal’s self-belief will see them through.
But last night’s performance was different because of the way the team played as a team, seemingly everyone rejoicing in the boyish excitement of the work of Saka, Martinelli and and Smith Rowe.
And let us not forget Willock.
Willock has started nine games this season, been a substitute in another five and scored three goals. Unusually for a youngster (especially a youngster playing for Arsenal), in those 14 appearances he has received but two yellow cards.
The fact is Arsenal has a range of interesting and exciting young players, but introducing them to the team has been hard. If a team is settled, youngsters tend to get tiny cameo parts when the game is won. If the team is under pressure it is felt that the kids don’t have the experience to dig deep and fight their way out of the mire as seasoned players can do.
Yet we are seeing the emergence of these youngsters – and for all of his lack of experience as a manager, Mr Arteta seems to be finding a way to bring the young players in, even though the team as a whole has been struggling.
Our 21 year olds and the younger players who have got some time this season include Willock, Saka, Smith Rowe, Martinelli, Nelson, and Nketiah. Seven of them. Plus Saliba who has yet to appear, and Balogun who we have seen but is yet to start.
The trouble with bringing youngsters in however, is that you need a settled team around them so they can feel confident and not get pushed around by snarling old-timers in the opposition defence. But there’s the rub: if we have a settled team, how do the youngsters get more than five minutes at the end of the game when there is nothing to play for? It’s why we lose so many youngsters.
So there might just be something rather good to emerge from the trials and tribulations of this season. The chance for these young players to come through and shine. Especially since Martinelli, Saka, Willock and Smith Rowe were there picking up appearances last season too. It is this core of young players who are now getting on with their work on the pitch who could well see us through the crisis.
Xhaka can take all the flak and anger created by the journalists, but these journalists tend to lay off the youngsters, not through any sense of kindness or willingness to let them find their feet with the big boys, but through the simple fact that the older players are easier targets. (And the journalists often simply don’t know who the kids are).
And this is a key point. If the journalists are howling and screeching with rage against Xhaka, they are not telling us that the youngsters are simply not up to it and that you can’t win things with kids.
Even today, after such a fine performance by the younger players the Guardian focuses on Xhaka calling him “a poorly programmed robot trying to master the role,” telling us that some supporters were calling for a public apology.
“Where can this really lead, Granit?” asks the Guardian piece. Well one obvious place, is a pitch where there is no focus on other players who might get a hard time of it.
We are in a world where criticising Arsenal players is just the starting point of each commentary. And to be fair it happens not only in the media but in the supporters clubs as well. Xhaka, Pepe, David Luiz, Elneny, Kolasinac, Lacazette, Rúnarsson, Mustafi – they’ve all had significant attacks upon them this season with commentaries that they ought not to be in the squad: it is not what other teams get from their own supporters even when they sink down to the lower echelons of the league table.
But if it has to be that way at Arsenal, then at least let us be happy that such criticism is stopping the morons from attacking Saka, Willock, Smith Rowe, Martinelli and Nelson while mindlessly telling us you can’t win things with kids.
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