Monday, 13 June 2011

Arsenal's folly


A few months ago, somewhere in February, I had an interesting chat with an Arsenal fan. He raved on and on about how they were gunning- or is it feebly attempting- for a treble.... no quadruple the season just past. While he was engrossed in his rant, I guessed that he was one of three things; a recent convert to Arsenal Football Club, a super optimist, or he was suffering from severe insomnia. So I decided to “prophesy”. I told him that from my experience in seasons past, by the end of March, it would common speak by club folks that it was not yet time for the youngsters, and the next season would be “The Season”.  He of course called me names and said I’d eat my words. Needless to say, I starved! But having had these talks numerous times over the years, I no longer feel the need to say, “I told you so”

This conversation, however mundane, got me thinking. There are lots of common myths and falsehoods about this football club that have perpetuated over the years by a combination of what I assume would be the media, the club’s board, their fans and football pundits. I have to place these observations in a period spanning the last 5 years, just to be clear. I believe 5 years is a lifetime in football. I mean, 5 years ago Ronaldinho was the best player in the world, and the Azzuri were world champions!

Myth #1: Arsenal is a Big Club

This was first pointed out to me by a good friend of mine, life-long Gunner and soccer connoisseur, Mike. He’d never made more football sense! So, what constitutes being a so called Big Club in European football? If it’s profitability and being unsaddled with debts, then I agree Arsenal is a Big club. But that would mean a host of German Bundesliga sides are also big clubs because of their profit margins. And it would mean Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona and Madrid (until some shady business with the City Council) aren’t big clubs. So, going with the more common definition being clubs that perennially compete for titles at home, and in Europe; and actually get to take some home some trophies, you can see how this is a myth.

We are all aware of the six year drought. It’s actually seven considering the next opportunity for a trophy is somewhere towards the end of next season. Let’s take a sample, for argument’s sake, of the big clubs being the two Milan giants, Man Utd, Chelsea, Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munchen. Between 2006 and today, all these clubs have won at least two major trophies (please don’t start with The Emirates Cup), battled in numerous Champions league semis and finals and been domestic champions. It is instructive that with the exception of Utd, all these clubs have changed their managers at least twice when things stagnated, or weren’t going well. Meanwhile back at the Emirates, “in Arsene we trust”. You get the feeling nothing short of relegation can get “the professor” sacked. On a side note, it’s looking likely that the last two Arsenal players to hoist some silverware, Clichy and Fabregas are on their way out. So the last threads to success are being cut. Welcome to the tag Liverpool has had for the last two decades, history experts!

Myth #2: The team is too young, they need more experience

Yet another myth that is perpetuated by the notoriously parochial English media, and swallowed whole by the fans, looking for a way to justify the horror show. Being one who likes conclusions based on statistics, I looked up the numbers and they proved what I had long suspected! These are the 2010/11 season average squad ages for teams considered more experienced than the Gunners; Barcelona - 24.99, Real Madrid - 24.11 and Arsenal comes in at a “shocking” 25.44!  Man Utd’s squad, with Giggs, Gary Neville, Scholes, van der Saar and Michael Owen factored in still had an average of 26.8. Please spare me the age crap.

What a youngster!!

I also think it’s very silly to refer to people like Fabregas, Clichy and the like as “young players”. Football maturity is a measure of one’s experience at a certain level and not actual age. Cesc has played at the top level of English and European football for 8 years now. He doesn’t fit that bracket. Why is it that no one ever refers to Lionel Messi as a young player? The last time I checked he is age mates with Fabregas.

Myth #3: Arsenal plays good football

I have to credit my dad with helping me debunk this one. Sometimes, it’s good to get the opinion of someone who is on the outside, looking in. My dad is a part time football fan. He put me to task to explain why people claim Arsenal is a good team that plays good football. My reply was that no team in Europe that comes as close in style points to Barcelona, as Arsene’s men do. Since he’s watched Barca play on numerous occasions, he begged to differ. In his mind, good football must come with success. It’s like writing an exam in beautiful, calligraphic hand writing and failing it in spectacular fashion, over and over. I grudgingly agreed with him.

Many Arsenal folk claim their team plays like Barcelona, and on the surface it seems like a plausible argument. If you have a more discerning eye, you’ll see that this is a falsehood. Yes both teams have a good passing game. Barcelona has more control, they bass until they get a good enough opening, they are content to have the ball and frustrate their opponents, if they are already in the driving seat. Arsenal, on the other hand, just bomb forward regardless of the score, the magnitude of the game or the stubbornness of the defence. Barca has an innate tactical awareness that Arsenal wouldn’t dream of. I can think of many other disparities but most the important is that Barca are winners and this version of Arsenal just aren’t. And that was the old man’s point.

Parting shot

Barring a drastic change in attitude by the people who matter at this football, we all have to be realistic and stop this foolishness. If we want to classify Arsenal as a big team, we might as well include Valencia, Villarreal, Schalke, Leverkusen, Ajax... the list is endless. The truth of the matter is that this club is now in the second tier of European football and these are the typical markers: these teams are always in the running for top positions in their leagues; almost always guaranteed Champions league football where quarters are good, and semis wonderful surprises. And most importantly, these teams are good shopping grounds for the truly big clubs. The transfer market trends in the past couple of seasons bear me witness. Even RVP said in a recent interview in The Express, that Arsenal aren’t title contenders and their season goes the same way every year, frustrating! Enough said. 


1 comment:

  1. It takes sometime to get a new system working, so this is only the beginning. Barcelona had to endure 6 trophyless years as the class of the Xavi were honing their talents. Shankley had to suffer 7 years of arduous re-building (granted that it was in a different era). It is very difficult moving against the grain; the repeated failures will make one seem like a lone madman. Dedication to one's convictions, especially in the face of ubiquitous opposition, is the realm of the very brave. Wenger is very brave man. Of course, this doesn't imply that he is infallible: he has made mistakes and continues to make them. But the man must be given credit for willing to suffer for the cause rather than taking the easy road.