Crime and Punishment; the title of Dostoyevski’s classic fits to current era Arsenal rather well. Nodding sagely, some will think instantly of the manager; others such as myself, the players. ‘How the Mighty Have Fallen’ is another title to consider.
The phenomenon of fans turning on players is nothing new. At every level of the game since it was first invented, the scapegoat has always existed. From the kid who was always left as last pick in the playground to Emmanuel Eboue, the crowd always finds one – sometimes more – to barrack.
At the moment, the ‘victim’ is Alexis. Not in the ground but on social media. In the name of treachery, his star is diminished and his importance to the team is downgraded. Yesterday’s hero is today’s fallen angel, cast into the pits of Hell for daring to leave.
Scoring a goal every other game (on average) can’t save him from his critics, who decree that statistics prove his negative impact on the team. ‘He’s not as good as everyone says,’ so the line goes before finishing off with, ‘because he gives the ball away too often’. An annoying habit but nobody has come up with a statistic yet on how many goals that has cost us. Even so, it still doesn’t make him a bad player because we always look first to goals scored with strikers.
The most damning criticism is saved for his attitude. Frustration is deemed petulance, smiling at a miss is worse: treachery. Fortunately, we’re a nation of lip readers and can tell that the latter was genuinely wishing ill on the team; revenge for keeping him as an unwilling prisoner for the final year of his contract. As for showing emotion at performances, well, damn you Alexis and your wanting to win.
Numbed By The Effect
That’s not to say other players don’t want to win, they simply manage their emotions better. He wears his heart on his sleeve, others have theirs sitting in a Chesterfield High Wing Back chair, wearing a smoking jacket, in front of a roaring fire, all nice and cosy with a pipe and glass of port to hand, watching live coverage of the AFL Grand Final. That’s the way some people are and they reap the reward of being seen as a nice person.
Contrast this with Mesut Özil’s fate. Inexplicably, he too is cast as a bad player. Lazy, still “nicking a living”. I think the German is a great player just a bit of a luxury at Arsenal. If you’ve got a midfield like Bayern’s or play for Real Madrid where you more or less win every game by turning up, he’s fantastic. He needs other midfielders to do the leg work while he pitches in with the creativity. Give him a strong defence to play in front of and he’ll give you three points with assists.
And that’s why he is a luxury at Arsenal. We don’t have a strong defence; it’s inconsistent at best. We don’t have a strong midfield which recycles possession dynamically. If we hit 70%+ possession, a lot of it has gone sideways as we struggle to break down the banks of four and five.
But he’s leaving as well yet the criticism is muted, his PR people manage his image well, aside from the recent poor misjudgment on social media.
Compare and contrast the two but there’s no doubt that players who signed for Arsène are leaving because of him as well.
A Shot in the Dark
Arsène, it’s claimed, is punishing the former by dropping him from the Premier League side and playing him in the lesser tournaments of the Carabao Cup. Just to spite himself, you see.
Even for a manager who can be as wilfully perverse in his thinking, Arsène would be taking banter to a whole new level by dropping one and not the other. That it’s even being given discussion time in the media is just baffling.
We saw at Stamford Bridge that there are genuine tactical reasons why both should be left out of the starting line-up. When you want real discipline in a performance, neither player is going to give you the work-rate. That was a welcome moment of flexibility in the manager’s thinking and the ‘fall out’ since is just window dressing.
The lessons of another punishing defeat at Anfield are learned and expect to see a line-up at City, United and Tottenham which mirrors the one which took the field at Stamford Bridge.
It’s a step in the right direction. Reconstructing the squad is the next task, one which suits a back three without needing square pegs rammed into round holes. Replacing Alexis and Özil won’t be cheap next summer but do we need like-for-like? I think not. We need the money to be spent wisely on positions where gaps exist or will appear.
The centre of defence and at right back, where cover is almost non-existent. Spending €100m on Thomas Lemar makes for great headlines but with other expenditure needed, can Arsenal afford it? I haven’t looked hard to see if Arsène’s prophecy of players entering the final year of their contracts is showing any signs of beginning to come true anywhere other than with us.
Light a Bitter Fuse
It’s a situation complicated by the manager’s own future. If we’re looking for signs that lessons are being learned, then deciding his future next summer is the first step; one way or another. I know what I’d choose and I’ve got a feeling it’s not what Stan is thinking.
However, Ivan’s already rusted credibility is facing a make-or-break moment with this renewal. We know the manager’s version of being a “catalyst for change” is being a ‘catalyst for more of the same’ so a persuasive case must be made to Kroenke Sr for that change to happen.
Two years is a ‘nothing’ deal; it’s a timspan which only puts the problem off to another day because you haven’t got a plan in place to replace a key member of staff. Ivan’s admitted that with the bizarre statement that there aren’t any better manager’s than the Frenchman.
We’re on the verge of a seismic change at Arsenal with next summer being a potentially tumultuous one. Will we manage that pro-actively or stumble through? Will Alexis even make it to next summer as an Arsenal player or is the talk of a January sale going to come true?
I can see the financial sense in that; £20m contribution to the coffers is better than nothing but from a footballing perspective? It’s a decision which would haunt us, I think. Then again, we seem to be heading toward another banter era at Arsenal so nothing would surprise me.
Finally, we’ve reached 2007 in the Times of our Lives series on Dad’s Jukebox.