Well, if it’s good enough for Arsène to talk about philosophers… I missed the press conferences. Did he mention anything about Greeks and gifts or that the hotel was a bit spartan? Enough.
Tonight’s encounter was probably the least attractive fixture in the group from ITVs point of view but the combination of Manchester City’s hopeless failure – we can laugh having been through the same problems – and the malaise which is seeping through the squad have focussed the broadcasting minds wonderfully. How long before Keane, Chiles and whomever else is involved mention club in crisis? I’m going for inside 2 minutes into the programme. Late to the party following their failure to have any sort of broadcasting rights to Premier League football, I am sure that they will want to make the most of this opportunity.
Arsène touched on this yesterday. To an extent, he is right, it is fashionable to knock Arsenal in the media because it gets page views, sell copy, brings in advertising pounds. There is nothing new in that, it will be the same whether Arsenal win or lose again. To apply that to supporters is not correct, in either sense. Yes, Arsène people are emotional but that is the real world, it’s nothing new save for your reign. This is without a shadow of a doubt the most testing season because previously there has always been a strong sense of hope, that things could be turned around. Now I sense that is not there, so you must too.
Just because people are questioning you and your methods doesn’t mean that they want you to fail, I’ve never seen a situation like this at a top flight club where despite the failings, few actually want the manager to leave.
A lot of the questioning is borne of frustration, the same feelings that the manager has, feelings betrayed by the manager’s demeanour and body language. Whilst nervousness from the stands can transmit to the pitch, a brooding, prowling, scowling touchline presence is going to feed negatively to the stands; it’s a vicious circle. More than anything though, I don’t think that a genuine belief exists in the squad. We agree they are a talented group of players but no-one is stepping forward to take responsibility for performances. Yes, there is an element of new players but we are now in the fourth month of the season, they have to have gelled by now; something is very wrong if a lack of understanding is the problem. It’s an excuse that I’ve heard which just does not bear scrutiny. If that is true, tonight’s match is doomed before it starts.
The manager noted that everything about the club is in fine fettle, the structure, the financials, the tea ladies. Which is all well and good except the most important thing isn’t; the results, the performances. Up to now, Arsenal have got away with it. To be tenth and within two wins of the top four is testament to that. But it can’t go on, it just can’t. As fortuitous as the five point gap is, that can quickly turn to double figures so whilst the manager is right to downplay the sense of doom, it is deflecting attention away from genuine concerns. To be honest, you don’t expect the manager to do anything less, to divert pressure onto himself. What you do expect is a response, from himself and the players on the pitch. This is supposedly a fairly smooth run of games, nothing too strenuous and perhaps four of the next five games being away from home will help somewhat, but the intensity of feelings is only going to get stronger if they are not four wins.
Starting tonight would be good. It is reminiscent of previous trips to Greece, certainly in the Champions League where rarely is anything of note dependent upon the outcome. Looking at this season’s competition, there is little to choose between finishing top or second. Finish first and the joys of Milan, Juventus, Real Madrid, or Valencia await, tricky fixtures all. Finish second and trips to Shaktar, Dortmund or Barcelona await. Both positions in the group offer tough and relatively easier draws in the next round. It doesn’t matter at this stage of the season either, the domestic form is of more importance long before that.
The team I expect tonight is
Szczesny; Jenkinson, Squillaci, Vermaelen, Meade; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Coquelin, Arshavin, Rosicky; Chamakh
A little bit stronger than a League Cup side but not by much. Arsenal’s result travels to Greece have been poor yet they were, I think, the first English club to beat Panathinaikos on their own ground with arguably a much weaker team than tonights. Maybe history will repeat itself or we’ll be third time lucky having lost the last two visits to Piraeus.
Enjoy the match wherever you watch it. ’til Tomorrow.