When you are down on your luck, the footballing gods waste no time in putting their size 11s in as Arsène found this week. Jack Wilshere had adopted a talismanic status, the saviour of the season; it seems unlikely that he will be that. That the manager offered nothing more has been taken as a signal that the setback reported yesterday means his comeback will be in March/April/May/Euro2012/2012-13/Never (delete as appropriate depending on the reading of your own gloom-o-meter). Nobody knows, publicly at least, what the real scenario is or even dares to posit any theory which holds credibility; we have to wait and see.
It has intensified the despondency that hangs in the air following the recent run of defeats. By every measure, this has been the worst January during Arsène’s reign; never before has one of his Arsenal sides lost more games than it has won in this month or failed to take even a solitary league point. Quite simply it has been abysmal and as such, intensified the desire for new faces. Criticism now is now founded on an imponderable; Arsène’s failure to buy someone for £10m has cost the club £30m in Champions League money since that new face would have prevented the defeats at Fulham and Swansea whilst single-handedly beating Manchester United. No-one can prove it but like a great many criticisms of this season and those before, this has become an accepted fact without any substance behind it.
We simply will never know if a new signing would have made the difference in any or all of those three matches. As the window has passed without activity, deflated resignation is evident over the lack of business in the transfer market. Arsène observed yesterday that, at a push, he will have four left backs so does not need to sign one. The shifting sands upon which that theory is built are all too apparent. Santos is not fit and won’t be for another month or two, Gibbs returns to training on Monday but his injury record is such that for the moment at least, no-one can rely on him being available for more than a month whilst Bacary Sagna will soon be the only fit right back, Arsène’s relief barely disguised with that announcement. Which leaves Vermaelen.
Whilst I would agree that there is probably enough scope for the club to do without a left back now, it largely depends on Gibbs fitness. Miquel has promise but more centrally than as a full back. I understand the manager’s bluff; he is defending his squad, promoting the view that it is big enough and more to the point, good enough. The latter, through a succession of injuries and lack of confidence, is debatable. The players do not suddenly become bad overnight no matter what sage may opine that they do but personally, I have advocated two signings this winter; a left back and a good central option as back-up for Robin van Persie. I have already conceded the first but Marouane Chamakh is out of form, which is a fact. Why is almost irrelevant, simply that something needs to be done to cover the final months of the season.
The cost is already being felt. Not through goals but a lack of options on the bench. I am not going to revisit last Sunday’s reaction specifically but there is a definite sense that the trust in the manager’s judgement is waning. Yet it is still only a very vocal minority who want him replaced. Largely, it seems that a change of ideas is desired. A change of attitude. Less stubborness. A change of some sort. A change.
I contend that this is not going to happen. Arsène’s strength as a manager is also his weakness; stubborness and an unyielding public belief in his players. The latter is part of the PR game and that nuance is often overlooked by the stated desire for change. Quite simply, what is said on the training pitch and in the dressing room, stays there and does not find its way in any detail to the back pages. In that, you can see a relatively united squad. Malcontents are often the source of such leaks and there rarely is anything of the sort from the Arsenal dressing room. It does not mean that they are too nice, simply that they believe in, and respect, each other. A good sign surely.
And that is one that can be built on. The overwhelming negativity of that substitution has been taken as the general feeling within the stadium. That, we know, is not true. Largely The Emirates is supportive of the manager; dissension to one decision does not break the foundations. Arsène observed,
I always believe the fans’ reaction depends on us. It is the team that has to get the fans behind them, and the fans have to be proud of the team. The vibes have to come from us. Part of our job is to live with those emotional reactions. It is maybe becoming a bit more common in the modern world and you cannot ignore it, but you should not give it too much importance.
I will live forever for the values I think are right in football. One or two lost games or one or two bad reactions will not change that.
Football is a game of emotions which leads to an irrational logic taking hold at times, not just when things are bad either. Fragility of confidence on the pitch is reflected by those off it strikes me that is no different to how it was at Highbury. Collective groans there could be more damaging such was the proximity to the pitch. The manager sought to deflect away from the unsaid part of the bargain. The crowd lifting the players, something which must happen.
It is said that the players ought not to need lifting, they are playing for Arsenal. That confers the support we have for the club onto them. For the most part, they are not supporters. They play for the club, for each other, for professional and personal pride; to win. They will, when their time is up, for the most part want the club to do well, wanting the best. But right now, as much as we require a lift in our spirits from them, they need to know that the crowd is with them. A nice thought for tomorrow when we are at the ground.
My cup weekend starts today at The King Power Stadium. If you are not going anywhere, pop over to Arsenal On This Day for cup memories of a time when a Town had yet to become a City.