There was a time when a friendly against Brazil would have England fans salavating but then again, there was a time when it would have been played on a Saturday afternoon in June, giving it some sort of prestige and sunny weather. Mind you that was before interrnational friendlies were not abused by the national coaches. Arsène will no doubt be going into this short break in a better mood following Lukas Podolski’s late winner on Saturday, cursing its intervention with work to do on the training ground, tempering that with relief that none of his charges are beyond the borders of continental Europe. Most will be home Wednesday night with the club counting the cost on Thursday. Wait, no, Robin van Persie has left and will no doubt develop a mysterious injury that leaves him incapable of travelling but miraculously well enough for United’s next win, sorry, home game.
Gervinho will be making his way back to Arsenal following the Ivory Coast’s elimination from the superfluous African Cup of Nations at the hand of Nigeria. For the second successive Winter, Wenger will need to work on his striker’s mindset with pictures of his despair flashed around the world. Bringing the competition into line with the rest of football’s global calendar was an aim of Sepp Blatter but not with tournaments being held in consecutive seasons; he did nothing to stop it, aware of his own culpability in the folly. Not that it brings any comfort to the vanquished and therein is the problem.
I am not convinced that the same problems will exist this time around. Both tournaments have ended in failure for the Ivorians but this time it was at an earlier stage, presumably quicker to heal than last January when Gervinho returned with his confidence shattered following his decisive miss in the penalty shootout which handed the trophy to Zambia. The manager will be acutely aware of this, previous experience with this tournament has not been entirely happy with Kolo Toure’s season shattered several years before.
There has already been a slew of criticism of Gervinho but it is counter-productive on so many levels. He is not everyone’s striker of choice and his performance levels can be erratic, more inconsistent than others. However, he is an Arsenal player and no matter what you may think of him, the manager thinks higher of him and will be looking to get him back into the fold as quickly as possible. To undermine that serves no purpose, especially since even if there is to be any change, it cannot be made until the end of the season. The collateral damage of such abuse is the critic‘s health. Despitw what some will tell you, constructive criticism is not an issue, it’s welcomed, it is an opinion worth hearing even if you don’t agree. Abuse says more about the nature and character of the abuser than anything else.
Which tenuously leads us onto Arsène’s comments following the despatch of Stoke City. Television might have skated over Michael Owen’s misdemeanour’s but the print media has not been so forgiving, with pressure growing on the Football Association to act retrospectively following the former Golden Boy’s petulant kick. I doubt it will happen with the referee no doubt reporting to his paymasters that it was six of one, half a dozen of the other. The flaw in this system is highlighted that no further action can be taken against Ryan Shawcross for his challenge which was worthy of a red card. Such tackling might well be welcomed as stereotypically English but the player loses more since the technical ability of international football is deemed beyond him. Perhaps he is happy with such a lack of ambition on his part; international football is certainly better off without him.
Arsène believes that the performance shows Arsenal cannot be intimidated physically, or at least not so easily. There is an element of truth in that, some of the players have grown used to Stoke, Blackburn, Bolton and their ilk kicking their way to points. Others such as Mertesacker and Podolski earned their corn in a physically demanding league, not quite so agricultural but nonetheless no place for the squeamish. Cazorla might have wondered if he was appearing in a sporting remake of Honey, I Shrunk The Kids at The Britannia but no doubt that passed quickly when he realised that Stoke were scared to kick him when it got to the final third of the pitch.
It always struck me that the claim that Arsenal didn’t like it up ‘em was more of a media infatuation with the good old-fashioned English game. How the underdog could give the big boys a bloody nose. If you look back, Arsenal only genuinely had problems with one team and that was Bolton, whom they failed to beat three times out of 14 meetings between 1997 and 2007 in the Premier League. Five of the other eleven were drawn and six wins; the underlying result was a title-costing 2 – 2 draw, throwing away a two-goal lead.
Blackburn capitulated frequently, winning just 6 of 28 Premier League fixtures during Wenger’s reign. What’s more, they failed to score in a dozen and conceded three or more on eleven occasions. It wasn’t so much a myth as a complete fallacy that Arsenal could not handle physical teams. The problem is that like many notions perpetuated by the media, it took hold and became recieved wisdom.
Arsenal don’t need to worry about visiting Stoke. Looking at their results at home to the top clubs, they hand out bloody noses in terms of results now and then but the reality is that in the ten Premier League meetings, they have won twice and drawn the same number. United and Chelsea have not lost, drawing one and two of their EPL matches over the same period, City have drawn four, lost one whilst Tottenham is drawn two, lost three. Our record is not as good as others, not as bad either.
The suggestion Arsenal cannot handle the physical teams just doesn’t bear scrutiny.