Tony Adams comments during an interview certainly sparked some reactions yesterday, some were definitely more driven by the sub-editorial influence over the headlines than the words of the former captain. His observations about defending were out of kilter, almost as if his notes are from last season on this point,
They don’t defend as a team now. The problem for me in the last seven years is the defensive vulnerabilities as a team — the goalkeeper, the back four, even the central midfield players, the mentality of the team.
It is the first sentence that does not fit with this season’s efforts; it has been clear in the Premier League that the whole team is defending hence the solitary goal conceded last weekend. The full backs are being offered more protection, particularly on the left hand side with Podolski’s work rate shaming those who preceded him. Equally, the thoughtful play of Arteta has provided a diligently operated barrier to the centre of the defence. It is a different beast to last season but the thrust of his point about the preceding seven years cannot be argued with; Adams is observing nothing which was not already known.
So why did his comments cause uproar? Adams has as much right as anyone to offer his opinion on the club, as any supporter does. As one of most successful captains in the club’s history, why should he not be listened to? Is it because he has offered a contrary opinion to those held closely to your heart or is hearing these words from a legend too discomforting?
Arsenal supporters are notoriously tetchy over criticism of the club. Some find that hard to understand, overlooking the fact that a lot of the criticism comes in venomous barbs. It is that delivery which has brought about an instinctively defensive posture and reaction. A lack of respect for the manager, coaching staff and players is too frequent, all too often a hiding place for ill-conceived ideas.
The lack of respect is highlighted in the treatment of Pat Rice, a successful and loyal servant to the club. You would never have thought that with the abuse thrown at him in the final seasons as he became a convenient scapegoat for those too scared to demand the manager’s removal. The same people are demanding respect for Adams views when faced with disparaging reactions from those who think differently. Neither attitude is correct; two wrongs do not make a right or any basis for discussion of the points made.
Reactions are polarised by the perceived and real criticism of the team from pundits, the observations from former players too discomforting. Where is their loyalty comes the cry! But Arsenal are not unique in being an easy target from the pundit sofa. If you look around the web, you will find the disproportionate responses from supporters of all clubs to words of former idols. That is the media agenda; that is the reflection of today’s society; that is the reflection of society historically. Good news or nice words rarely sell and when they do, never in the same volumes as their negative counterparts.
In short, Arsenal are fair game and the recent seasons lend themselves to the angle that the media use. But Arsenal are not being singled out, we’re the same as everyone else. You just notice it more.
One man who enjoyed the news this week was Vito Mannone, the news of Wojciech Szczesny’s injury that is. Rumours abounded that the Pole would be out for three weeks, Physioroom ominously had no return date and the club were silent. Please form an orderly queue for your conspiracy theories.
The Italian has made the most of his chance this season; moments of indecision have been evident in the run of clean sheets. Whilst he has a long way to go to establishing himself as first choice custodian, Mannone deserves credit for only being beaten from the penalty spot. It is situation that he acknowledges and in that sense his attitude is spot on; he knows he has much to learn, he knows he has to convince the manager that he is the long-term solution to this short-term problem.
Alas for Mannone, he has yet to convince supporters. We remember the run in the side previously, that game against Fulham but also the others when things did not go quite so well. It is undeniable that he has improved since then, the spell at Hull has done wonders for his confidence and self-belief in that sense. Abilities too. But there is a long way to go.
The same situation existed when Szczesny broke into the side but there is a crucial difference. For all of his faults, the Pole has the confidence that you expect from the first choice goalkeeper, the arrogance needed to bully the defence or opposition. But youth sometimes pushes this too far, to twelve on The Bendtner Scale. His game is continuing to develop and you can see a year-on-year improvement; he still has work to do but you see little complacency in that sense. Too often his self-confidence is mistaken for that.
You hope that this is a genuine injury. More will no doubt become clear at this week’s pre-match press conference but the last thing Arsenal need is more instability in this department. We have had years of a lack of confidence in goalkeepers, manifesting Jens Lehmann returning from retirement. For a club of Arsenal’s stature to be in that state of affairs is baffling. I have no doubt Szczesny will return, perhaps humbler but not too much so. Mannone? It is good for the Pole to know that there is competition for his spot and good for the club to have a reliable reserve to put that pressure on him.