By Tony Attwood
There was an insight into what is wrong with Aston Villa after the Mirror published a piece that suggested that Ashley Young has “slammed” Arsenal players for celebrating “like they won the league” after they secured the one-goal victory over Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon.
As anyone who has studied group behaviour will tell you, when a group has success, no matter how modest, it is important for the group to bind together in some way. As long as that celebration does not inhibit proper performance thereafter, it is actually a really positive thing to do, rather than being something worthy of negative comment.
Hence the celebration which Young singularly failed to comprehend.
Indeed Young’s suggestion (if it is true, and this being the Mirror reporting the matter, that is of course open to doubt) shows much more about what is wrong with Villa than Arsenal. They are not bonding together. The club has only won four of the last dozen league games they have played, and as we saw once again at their stadium, it is still decorated with a tribute to their last major trophy – the European Cup 40 years ago. Fair enough, they won the pot, but to stretch that along the whole of one stand, seems a trifle over the top.
They did incidentally also win the League Cup in 1994 and 1996, but that’s about it – some runners’ up medals too, but no trophies this century.
Their bitterness is understandable, but still not very gallant.
“Villa players singled out the talented England international with tough challenges which weren’t always picked up by referee Andy Madley,” the Mirror website announced in a total transformation of its previous approach to Arsenal. Saka himself said on BT Sport that he asked the referee for a little more protection, “when players are purposefully trying to kick me.” Which seems reasonable. Do clubs have a way of communicating their concerns to the ultra-secretive PGMO? I’m not sure if they do, but they should have.
Indeed the Mirror seems to have done more than turn over a new leaf when it comes to Arsenal, doing instead a 360 degree turn (the new leaf turning being just 180 degrees), and then shooting off at 90 degrees upward in their thinking. One part of this is their attitude to Philippe Countinho who they claimed Arsenal were courting but then didn’t sign. At the time, the issue was another Arsenal failure due to Edu’s inability to get out of bed in the morning, but now the media are generally saying that Countinho was “outshone by Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe, the young Gunners again delivering the goods which showed why boss Mikel Arteta knew he could do without the Brazilian. Odegaard, in the No.10 role, in particular had a fine game.”
In fact, Arsenal is being thoroughly praised by the Mirror, just a couple of months after everyone was being criticised, from Arteta to the guys who wave the flags as the teams come out. And yet there is no admission of their past commentaries existing.
Ian Wright also came up with a good line commenting on how Saka, Smith Rowe, White, Gabriel Martinelli, Odegaard, Kieran Tierney and Aaron Ramsdale had all impressed him this season, and noting how young they are. Which is something it is easy to forget. With a bit of luck these guys are going to be with the club for a number of years, just as Thierry Henry was. And that’s what we want.
Our Ian also laid into the media (another reason why I like him so much), saying, “A lot of pundits have been very joyous in talking about Arsenal and how weak they are with no leaders. Look at them now… this Arsenal team are a young side, we’re starting to see characters grow in the side.”
Yep, I’d go with that too.
And there was one other little event of note: Saka scored Arsenal’s 2000th goal in the Premier League with that win against Villa. Another something special for him to be known for.
The 1000th goal was scored on 11 September 2010 by Alex Song in a 4-1 beating of the infamous Bolton. It was the third of the four goals, just 10 minutes from the end of the game, after Gary Cahill had quite rightly been shown a straight red for an utterly disgraceful and dangerous assault on Chamakh.
And one more thing: after 28 games in 2002, Arsenal had 57 points. We went on to win the title. This season after 28 games we have 54 points – just one win behind our total as the title winners 20 years ago. I don’t point this out to suggest that Arsenal are going to win the league – of course not – but it shows the incredible progress that Arteta and the squad have made.
No wonder Mr Wenger, looking on from afar, is rather pleased with what he is seeing.