There are few sportswriters around at the moment for whom I have much time. Hugh McIlvanney is one that I do and in this morning’s Sunday Times, he encapsulated the problems of talking about Arsenal in one paragraph:
WHEN Arsène Wenger’s position at Arsenal is debated, clear reasoning has a struggle to intrude on reverence. The Frenchman’s achievements with the north London club are among the mightiest by a manager in the history of English football, a contribution to the game represented as much in how his best teams played as in the many prizes they won. But it is a ridiculous flouting of the realities of competitive sport to suggest, as people who should know better often do, that increasingly distant glories make any questioning of the Wenger regime’s right to a future an unthinkable proposition.
It is a piece that will irk many but the reality is that whilst Wenger is held culpable for recent seasons, the board and Stan Kroenke are deemed more responsible. That ties into the comments on 5 Live this morning of Messrs Wilson, McLintock and Graham. McIlvanney and the former players all highlight one point where the club has tailed off in recent seasons, namely the purchasing of lesser known players who are moulded into stars. As George Graham put it, “Arsène needs to find his magic hat“.
Uncomfortable as that might be, it is a common theme is some of the punditry on offer, Gary Neville treads a similar path being critical of the replacements for The Invincibles, rightly observing that the players are not as good. That is not a hollow analysis but overlooks one crucial aspect in that that squad – like the 1998/99 United Treble winners – had all of the football planets in alignment and the gods on their side, to compliment their talents. They were once in a generation squads for their clubs. Whilst some come close, it will be a while before their achievements are matched. Someone will go 50 games unbeaten at some point, someone will win all three domestic trophies and the Champions League. It just strikes me that those things happen eventually; maybe not in my lifetime but probably in my childrens.
Football is cylical and as Neville points out Arsenal will win titles again, not this season for certain which rankles given the start made. However, too often anything attempting to discuss or argue about Wenger, the squad or club itself, is lost in abuse. Over-reaction to media commentary often overlooks the most crucial aspect, money. The papers want it from advertisers and will ask for opinion that divides or accentuates the negative. They get page views – to a lesser extent, paper sales – brought on by anger, an emotion which ensures that they maximise revenues.
The talk of player contracts is incessant. Someone observed on Twitter that there were something like 14 contract negotiations being worked on at the moment. Walcott and Sagna were the two high-profile deals, probably because the players have not agreed new terms. Those such as Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere have been conducted relatively smoothly and as such, are not newsworthy. Good news doesn’t sell. I chuckled when I read the comment yesterday that Ramsey can’t be any good since nobody has tried to sign him. That is now the benchmark; no transfer gossip therefore he’s useless.
Wilshere has reiterated points made by others, namely the players are as responsible for the current predicament as the manager. There was a refreshing naivety in the hope of winning the title which will take more than a win or two for the gap to close. Wilshere recalled the words of Fabregas and van Persie by proclaiming his loyalty to the manager; the knife came out when he put in his transfer request by stating he would love to captain Arsenal. When the signing of this contract is confirmed, I’ll be happy. The words are good but then Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna are good at the platitudes, not so quick with the pen.
The timing was interesting and he did not shy away from answering the questions posed about defeat to Bradford. Obviously nothing controversial was said but the honesty with which he approached the reaction of supporters is something which should be noted,
When you hear boos going around the stadium after a defeat, what do you say to each other as players?
We understand the fans’ frustration. They pay their money. If we are not performing, they can boo. We should not be losing games at home with the team we have. We were disappointed we lost the Swansea game and the fans deserved to boo us.
Talk about being out of step. Jack, don’t you know that isn’t allowed? Fans reaction is another area that provokes a holier-than-thou attitude. I’ll reiterate again: I don’t agree with it but I won’t condemn those who do boo, it’s about reacting honestly with your emotions at that moment in time.
Elsewhere, the expected PR fluff from Alisher Usmanov emerged in the Telegraph where his team proved to have read every opinion going on Arsenal from the interweb and put them into one puff-piece.