In times of crisis – and I can use that term because according to the media, Arsenal is a club in crisis – you need your senior personnel to step up to the mark, to take responsibility on the pitch. This week has seen a recurring theme from two of the most senior pros at the club, Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta. The two have spoken of the need for the squad to step up to the plate, to stand up and be counted, to man up, call it what you will. I’d just put it more simplistically: get back to winning ways on a consistent basis. The existing personnel can do more than that. If the manager decides to stick or twist, that is not down to them. They just have to do the business on the pitch.
After that cliché-ridden opening, thankfully the pair were more lucid and perceptive in their understanding of current woes. Arsenal have always schooled the players well in their media output, to accept responsibility in platitudes. Rosicky and Arteta’s combined experience was evident as they observed what was wrong but fundamentally it boils down to confidence. Or rather, the lack of it. The hesitancy on the pitch has been clear, three touches instead of two, short passes going astray. In isolation those traits are not so much of a problem but combined with a lack of creative vision and movement, they lead to dead ends in the final third of the pitch.
Despite being unbeaten for the best part of a month, the performances were unconvincing. The results are more important than the performances but you expected that the latter would follow on from the former but it never came. Arteta’s assessment that the players are fatigued echo those of his manager but the player gave a more accurate insight: mental tiredness. It explains the misconception that the squad was physically tired, the implication of Arsène’s more vague term.
You have to admire Arteta’s honesty about how the squad feels. Perhaps this is the carthartic moment in the season, the purging of emotion from the squad, the equivalent of 1997s infamous squad meeting following defeat at home to Blackburn Rovers. You sense that this a more cerebral version but the notion of the squad being eager to learn what is wrong themselves is crucial to a sustained recovery. The journey of self-discovery will tell them more about themselves and each other, than any lecture or hairdryer treatment from the manager or coaching staff.
Interestingly both Rosicky and Arteta put the squad in the forefront of the antagonistic atmosphere surrounding the club. Whilst I disagree with Oliver Holt‘s notion of some honour code, it is good that the team has stood up and accepted that this is not all down to the manager. It isn’t all down to the team as well; the club has to accept responsibility as a whole for decisions taken away from the pitch that have contributed to the malaise. The media are eager to exploit this for their own commercial gain. Too many, for example, read the headline and opening reported comments of Tom Fox in the Daily Heil. Fox was not incorrect since he spoke from a marketing perspective. Observations about it exposed nothing more than agendas to damn the club no matter what. There was nothing wrong in what he said; separation of pitch and commercial activities has to happen. Like the church and state there is an interdependency on both no matter what distance is placed between them.
Elsewhere, Bacary Sagna‘s contract has stalled, Theo’s not talking to Arsenal who are not talking to either of them because they are too busy talking to Wilfred Zaha, Crystal Palace and goodness knows who else about deals. Ultimately, I would be disappointed if either Sagna or Walcott left. Despite claims to the contrary, Sagna is the best right back at the club; he has produced consistently during his years at Arsenal and that is something Jenkinson is making good progress towards but to cast the Frenchman aside now would be folly. For the club whilst there is a footballing decision to take, at some point they have to force stability, to pay more on some occasions just to bring some semblance of normality to proceedings in order to quell talk of being purely a selling club.
Finally, there is a certain irony in Mikael Silvestre moving into alcohol production at the end of his playing career; he certainly drove me to drink on the occasions he played in the Arsenal first XI.