So Arsenal drop yet more points in games they should be winning.
This, aside from transfer matters, was the message for many observers, of the whole weekend.
And yet time and again, when Arsenal results are said to disappoint, my personal disappointment, (aside from the points that have been dropped), tends to rest heavily on the shoulders of two groups of people not actually involved in the loss of those points. And that combines with irritation with two other groups which, all in all, means that anything less than victory is going to be far more painful than really should be the case.
So what – or who – are the disappointments and what are the irritants?
First and foremost are groups – noisy ones, at that – of the club’s own fans, too many of whom anticipate cricket scores in our favour against supposedly ‘lesser’ opposition. By now, they really should know better.
One of the key features of a league such as the PL awash with money successfully shared (compared with, say, it’s Spanish equivalent) throughout the division is that there are now rarely any whipping boys or ‘rollover’ matches. And this is not a recent development – all games now have to be won; it’s no longer sufficient to merely turn up as was once the case. This is true for all clubs as conveniently demonstrated by both Manchester outfits already this season.
Given that this is not a new thing, the tendency for our own fans to erupt on social networks at the first hint of a setback, especially DURING games, is particularly disappointing. Whilst you might reasonably expect the fans of other clubs to talk nonsense about our club, when it’s our own fans doing it, it’s particularly regrettable.
The second group to disappoint – and this seems to be the case for most games these days including those not involving Arsenal – are the performances of the men in black.
Many accept they (the refs, the linesman/assistants and the ‘fourth’ official) are no longer fit for purpose and some of us are only waiting for the inevitable introduction of video technology to ride into town to save us all from the lottery that plays too big role in the outcome of far too many of today’s games. But it is not their inability to keep up with the play, to see through blatant (let alone thinly disguised) player gamesmanship or even the ill-advised current fashion to ‘manage’ as opposed to ‘referee’ games (ie, apply the rules) that generates disappointment in these game-weary eyes.
My fundamental problem with the officials is their failure to perform consistently.
Yesterday in two games we had the perfect illustration of this with Liverpool benefitting from the softest penalty award we are likely to see this side of Xmas (or, as some wag will inevitably suggest, until Liverpool next play again). Meanwhile, down in the Midlands, Cazorla is illegally ‘displaced’ in the penalty area, goes flying immediately in front of the ref as the game is allowed to continue ‘to flow’.
So one game is allowed to flow, thus benefitting the lesser talented side needing to take a more ‘muscular’ approach to the match, and the other game is governed – at least at one critical moment – with an iron-fist, to the benefit in an up-to-that-point even game, of a Liverpool side still working to achieve dominance. That Liverpool should benefit in this way is particularly galling for any observer familiar with the thuggish defensive practises of their own defensive lunatic Skrtel who is routinely permitted penalty box assaults without penalty (let alone free-kick, booking etc) for any and all set-plays – but maybe that’s another story, albeit a closely related one, in truth.
I understand that offside is hard to call correctly.
I get that throw-ins and corner decisions go wayward on an all too frequent basis.
At a stretch, I understand that to some referees, certain players get sent off thanks to embarrassing cases of mistaken identity.
But it is unacceptable on any level in the same competition for one ref to ‘let the game flow’ and for another to apply the rules to within an inch of the game’s life. That continental referees veer towards the latter suggests ours should follow suit if only to prepare players for life playing in European cup competitions/international games. Either way, standards need to be agreed and applied. Consistently.
So those are the disappointments, what of the irritations?
My primary irritation lies with those clubs who consistently turn with cup final-level performances one week against Arsenal, only to roll over a week later against the next scheduled opposition. We can reliably guess that Leicester will not prove as obdurate again this season unless they make it to a cup final. Or play Arsenal again. It must be said that Man u had to overcome this many times in years gone by when they were still a giant of a club – the phenomena of teams playing out of their skin in the full knowledge the eyes of the majority of the footballing world would be on them. So yes, Arsenal have to deal with this but I do wonder why those sides, capable of virtuoso performances one week, let it all slide the next. I genuinely feel sorry for their short-changed fans and, regardless, find this whole syndrome incredibly annoying. Especially when, as they usually seem to, their goalies turn into Gordon Banks for the day.
Why am I imagining they do this so much versus Arsenal? I can only guess that it’s something to do with our penchant for playing the game in the way it should be played – as a thrilling, attacking spectacle – that incentivises opponents to try to beat us by exploiting our gaps and by playing the heroic underdog card. They are entitled to, of course, but their fans must sometimes wonder …
My final irritation lies with, almost inevitably, the media and its reaction to any perceived Arsenal set back. Images on newspaper back pages of broken cannons, doom-laden studio analysis, apocalyptic radio phone-in debates are rarely truly matched when Citeh drop points, for example. Man u never seem to crash and burn in quite the same way as AFC in the eyes of the media and Liverpool are rarely hung out to dry, no matter how many times Steven ‘slippery’ Gerrard loses his footing, in quite the same way or with as much gusto as is reserved for Arsenal. There was a glee attached to the ramblings of Jamie Redknapp on yesterday’s Sky coverage that was fuelled rather than moderated by Ed Chamberlain, the Sky anchor, which just doesn’t happen in the wake of the unexpected defeats of other ‘big’ clubs.
Oh, that’s right, it was a draw yesterday, wasn’t it?
Who’d have known?