Morning all. Alas no laughter at last night’s League Cup results as Chelsea continued their march toward invincibility with a win at Shrewsbury. This early in the season it seems daft that people are talking about Mourinho guiding his team to the title without defeat, it’s not even November. It sums up the desperation of the media to create something newsworthy, that will prick our consciousness. Whether it is viewed positively or otherwise depends on the colour of your shirt; it doesn’t matter to the media though, just paying attention is enough and the results are music to their ears.
Music and football were inextricably linked at the Proact Stadium last night when Swindon’s Andy Williams rounded Chesterfield’s Tommy Lee for the third goal; a good crooner will always beat a dodgy rocker. It’s one video Tommy Lee won’t be watching again with any pleasure. Especially in football terms.It was an interesting experience, being among 371 hardy souls in the away end as swirling rain filled the Derbyshire night sky. The age of the football wag appeared to be dead but no, they still exist, capable of captivating their audience. Or irritating, depending on how quickly you tire of the witty repartee.
That was one thing missing from the cup final in May; music. The obligatory record. Not something to berate the club about, the tradition of cup final records is long gone and that can hardly be put at Arsenal’s door, can it? Not many of those discs were any good either; a few scratched the charts but had little impact beyond irritation. I always thought it was David Pleat’s knees that got all trembly near Wembley – the t-shirts on sale of that incident did a roaring trade around Highbury one summer (was it 1987?), as popular as the blow-up doll which emerged from the terraces at White Hart Lane – but Chas and Dave insisted it was Ossie’s. And no, his, ahem, humourous pronunciation didn’t make Tottingham any more appealing.
I am not sure when the decline set in, if football records were ever that popular. Back Home, the 1970 World Cup squad took to the Top of the Pops stage in dinner suits and the top of the charts but Pete Davies really punctured the football / music crossover in All Played Out – now re-issued as One Night in Turin but still eminently readable – when he noted that despite the England squad having the opportunity to record with one of the most influential bands of the time, New Order, once they had mumbled their way through their lyrical contributions, the players were more interested in making a quick buck by going to store openings than the process of making a record.
It’s not surprising when you think about it. I remember when I was young, easy listening or inoffensive jazz funk were the musical orders of the day in Shoot! questionnaires. Indeed Pat Nevin was seen as an outsider when photographed for NME in a heavy woollen trenchcoat so popular at the time – God, they were bloody heavy when it rained. Listening to John Peel set him apart from his peers and as a consequence, I could never quite bring myself to dislike him as much despite being a Chelsea player.
Anyway, I digressed and nearly half a post in I suppose we’d better get round to the Arsenal bit. It is the main reason, after all, why we are here.
Speaking to the official site, Jack Wilshere – a Marmite Arsenal player for some bizarre (and to me inexplicable) reason – offered a thought on what is going to become a regular routine,
I said at the start of the season that it was going to take me a few games to come back to the level I was at. When you miss time at this level you lose a bit of pace, a bit of form and it takes you time to get back. I’m very pleased.
His own motivation was personal – pride in his work – and I am sure that many of the injured players returning at various points have the same desire to do well. Wilshere wears his heart a bit more on his sleeve than others, a will to win which manifests in niggling fouls but the reaction this generates is disproportionate to the ‘crime’. His problem appears to be one of jealousy, that his nationality means he is not ‘Arsenal’s’ but shared with a nation and by extension suffering for the low regard in which the national team is held. We’re not very good at sharing and when a couple of injuries have happened on international duty – even if one was exacerbating a club problem – it reinforces views and opinions.
That and he is the poster boy for the “wrong sort” as I was once told – the “wrong sort” was never fully explained although alluded to as those who don’t fawn over the manager’s every word and action – which is some cases is held against him. That some of the apparent ‘right sort’ like the player is one of those inconveniences conveniently ignored.
But that’s not the issue. I don’t care whether he is popular with others, I believe he is a strong part of Arsenal’s present and future; imperfect as all players are, with areas to improve and strengths to enhance. However, it’s the nature of the return to first-team action, the slow inconsistency of performances until confidence returns and the pitch of the ball flies in the direction and pace it was intended. Aaron Ramsey had the same patchwork quilt of performances which now seems to be getting there and Theo Walcott will be similar, over a longer period as well given the length of his absence.
It puts a question mark over Arsène’s observations that we won’t see the real quality of the team until November. Cutely, he never qualified whether it would be 2014 or 2015 when pressed on the point but with the players missing returning in the next 12 weeks or so, is the disruptive effect going to manifest in a continuation of the inconsistent performances. In an ideal world, the likes of Özil, Debuchy, Giroud and Koscielny would come back at convenient four weekly intervals, allowing one to get back into the side and find their form before another follows the same path.
Football isn’t like that though and the likelihood is that they will come back in clusters. Two here, two there, as they are joined by others who fall by the wayside in the meantime. Whilst the midfielders or forwards can come back through a series of substitute appearances without too much impact, such luxuries are rarely afforded to defenders. Back in at kick-off and error-strewn performances or disappearing into the shadows will not be tolerated. The ‘now’ world requires instant results and form is one of them which puts pressure on Koscielny and Debuchy. It strikes me as unlikely that they would come back together, or certainly not into the side at the same time.
Of course, it depends on the other members of the XI, how they have performed. Close to the top four now, the expectation is that a full Arsenal XI will consolidate and march forward. It might not be that simple and whilst results may improve, to believe that performances will not be affected by the changes to the side is naive. That’s part of Arsène’s job though and whilst he would always want to have his best players available, having an XI that picks itself makes life a little easier in some respects.
The test on Saturday will be to find an XI fit enough to face Burnley. There’s a useful centre back on the bench. Bit experienced but if you asked, I’m sure Steve Bould wouldn’t mind pulling on the boots one last time…