Big Al’s investigating his Arsenal DNA; it’s more durable than it’s Catalan cousins…
There’s no way we’d normally want this many new faces in the side. Really, at least two wouldn’t be there at the moment if we could only have a little luck with injuries. That’s not to say that I’m suspicious of the recent arrivals, just that it might have been better if we could have afforded to let them trickle into the team rather than flood our engine.
It’s going to take a while to get this baby going.
What we’re witnessing on the pitch at the moment is the football equivalent of a Trust Fall. You may have done it, or seen it in films. Well, we’re doing the hardcore version; over a coffin-shaped hole full of angry venomous snakes, itching to bite the backside of anyone who slips through the catchers’ fingers. And if the catchers don’t do their jobs? They just get castrated – and then thrown to the snakes.
It looks like we still intend to play one and two-touch football, but this is a style that cannot function without familiarity. If we want to press then our players are going to have to get to know each other first, otherwise the whole exercise will be exhausting and detrimental to the performance of the team.
You can’t expect the Arsenal of old – it’s just not going to happen until these new players get to know the group as a whole, their teammates on an individual level and understand what the manager expects from them. It’s the kind of integration that begins on the training ground, but only in competitive situations are any real strides made. I say this now – it would have been helpful to bring these guys in earlier, but that’s not how it worked out, and it wouldn’t have made that much difference to our current situation.
What you can expect are some moments of individual skill; fleeting hints of brighter months ahead.
So it was encouraging then to see Benayoun wriggle free of challenges and release van Persie so astutely, albeit on the second attempt, for that chance in the first half against Dortmund. And then there’s Gervinho, who was born to bamboozle and confuse everyone and everything in his path. Sadly, even the ones he loves.
How reassuring to see Mertesacker form a bond with the ever-improving Koscielny, and time his own challenges and interceptions so comfortably. The scrutiny on his debut was absurd. Defenders absolutely need time to adapt and become part of a unit. Just thinking back to the early Premier League careers of some of the competition’s best centre-backs in recent years; I remember seeing Darren Huckerby humiliate World Cup winner Marcel Desailly on Match of the Day in 1998, and Vidic looked horribly slow and gauche in his early days at ManU. Our new recruit had all of two training sessions to settle in, and did OK.
Meanwhile Arteta’s one of the most Arsenal-ready players I can recall, firing laser-guided passes to feet and getting into space. But even he needs some time to start adding a little more subtlety to his distribution, putting detailed, bespoke information on the ball for his teammates.
This isn’t a team in its infancy – it’s a teenage side. One that goes down to Camden market to buy tie-dye t-shirts, then returns home to listen to Sex Pistols and Ramones records; full of contradiction and still to find its identity. I mean, what do you guys want to do? Keep your shape and counter, or play a pressing game? Oh OK; some of you want to do one thing and the rest want to do the other.
Oh dear, I’m starting to sound like a low-rent Stewart Robson. Anyway, as I suggested above, time should iron out this kind of wrinkle.
And in the face of all these difficulties things are starting to turn. After the few weeks we’ve had, it’s great that we’re disappointed with a draw against the Bundesliga Champions. And if you get past the chaotic opening 15 minutes Szczesny was hardly troubled. We went out to protect our lead and faced wave after wave of attacks, but they broke against our imperious Franco-German seawall, until that Danny Rose-style volley at the end.
If Champions League qualification was Arsenal grasping the final branch before the abyss, then the last two matches have seen us clawing our way up the cliff-face, scratching into the rock for every bloody point. It’s probably not a good idea to look up or down at this moment; just keep clambering for God’s sake.
Anyway, as our senior side was battling in the awesome arena that is the Westfalenstadion, our reserves were earning a point against Bolton in the equally imposing Lancashire County Ground. Not bad for such a young team, playing against a mix of journeymen and established Premier League talents like Robbie Blake, David Wheater, Stuart Holden, Tuncay and David Ngog.
It’s definitely a result that should be recognised. And this is something that’s important to me; I believe that there’s nothing wrong with drawing attention to the achievements of our younger players. If anything it should help prepare them for the exposure they might have to face every week as footballers in the future.
What I’d like is a more mature attitude towards youth football. That’s to say, we should be able to congratulate individuals for lower level achievement, without trying to extrapolate too much, or make wild predictions about career trajectory. I get the feeling some fans have swung too far the other way; to the point of weary disenchantment with young talent. – perhaps a response to the premature hype that accompanied some of our prospects a few years back.
The average age of our first team squad is probably higher than it’s been for years, but our academy will continue to produce players of immense promise. Now’s as good a time as any to re-evaluate how we relate to youth and reserve level, especially if you’re in need of a feel-good Arsenal story, because you never have to wait long for one when our young guns are involved – as long as you keep it in context.