I’m not much of a one for a post mortem. I’ll watch Adrian Clarke’s breakdown on the official site and that’s usually enough picking over the bones for me. I did however enjoy a chat with our Kelly, PA’s very own representative in Alabama, after the Everton match. It wasn’t so much a discussion about the match itself as a reflection on matters arising. Specifically the fickle nature of football supporters in general and Arsenal supporters in particular. I like Kelly, I like the way she supports. Whereas I specialize in a sort of lugubrious stoicism, Kelly is fierce and tigerish in defence of our players. Neither friend nor foe is safe if they are foolish enough to step over the line into unfair or ill conceived criticism. Many of us have felt the heat, smelt the scorched cloth of our smouldering collars after a poorly constructed comment to the detriment of one of Arsenal’s finest.
She was holding forth Sunday evening on the way people like to write off a player one minute then laud them as the second coming of Ferenc Puskás the next. Take Per. We all know what a wonderful assured presence he has been for us, what a huge part of our success last season. After being rested for the Everton match, and following that über tackle by our new Brazilian beauty people were suddenly consigning the master of the interception to the nearest skip along with the old mattress and bags of dog shit. As Kelly was quick to point out one costly error from the wonder kid and of course it’ll be about face everybody, all is forgiven, please come back Per and save us from Wenger’s latest defensive flop.
What occurred to me after this exchange was first and foremost that Kelly had it exactly right. We’ve seen it with so many players over the years, just look at the way Santi was written off earlier this season and now is indispensable, first name on the sheet, player of the season material. Aaron went through hell a couple of years ago and truth be told when he isn’t banging in the goals every week people often still fail to see how much his ball retention, intelligent positional play, energy and passing bring to the team. Until we lose an important game without him, then the pendulum swings back the other way again.
My second response to our conversation concerned Gabriel. Now don’t misunderstand me, I think he had a very good game. Overall. He wasn’t my man of the match, that was Ospina. Everyone else contributed to a solid team performance while our keeper had a game of individual brilliance. But Gabriel had a shaky start and grew in confidence and really looked the part by the end. However. Just think what would have happened if Ospina hadn’t displayed such phenomenally quick thinking after Lukaku nicked the ball off the boy from Brazil. People would have rushed to judgement it’s as simple as that. In parenthesis, while we’re talking about Lukaku I have to say that there is a player not wearing an Arsenal shirt who I genuinely admire, and you know how seldom I say that. Not only could he have ruined our new boy’s league début in the seventeenth minute by choosing to tangle with Ospina he had another opportunity later when Gabriel produced that fabulous tackle to go to ground and maybe con a penalty or two out of the ref. I admire him for doing neither and felt his all round play deserved a goal on Sunday.
Which brings us back to the thrust of this post. Gabriel’s involvement in both incidents would have been identical and yet a different outcome, through other people’s actions, would have seen him hung drawn and quartered for conceding either goals or penalties or perhaps both. Football matches and our perceptions of players often hinge on the outcomes of events regardless of what the player actually does right or wrong. Look at Mesut’s superb run in the eighty first minute. He controls Ox’s pass and chips the keeper for the consummate finish to make it two nil and earn the adulation of all Arsenal fans everywhere. Except that, through no fault of our Deutscher Maestro, Phil Jaglieka’s despairing lunge somehow puts his knee into the path of the ball with just sufficient impact to send it spinning out of play. So instead it goes down as a miss or a poor finish.
This attitude often translates to our perception of the whole team. I loathe the mentality that suggests the score determines the quality of the performance. I cannot understand how people can be so gormless as to subscribe to it. Teams often win when they should have lost and vice versa. Players have goal bound shots stopped by bad luck, inspired defending or keeping without suddenly becoming poor finishers. How Olivier Giroud even got his head on the ball when Jagielka’s left boot was swinging up towards his beautiful Roman hooter is beyond me, never mind that he actually managed to head it towards Tim Howard’s goal but he put his life (or at least his smouldering good looks) on the line to do it and yet the immediate response wasn’t respect for his courage but abuse at another missed chance.
Inconstant, judgemental, unfair and fickle. Never mind, let’s put it behind us and look forward to this evening’s entertainment. The boys make the short coach journey across town to Loftus Road to face Queens Park Rangers. We are at that point in the season where it doesn’t really matter who we play home or away, the points at the top of the table are so tight that we have simply got to keep winning and trust Man City to keep slipping up. Some people are getting excited at the battle taking place between us Liverpool and Man United for third place. Not me. Those other riff raff are below us in the table. I only look at the team directly in front of Arsenal and hope we can catch and overtake them. That is it and all about it. How else do you climb higher up the table? By staying ahead of the team beneath you? Nope. Bad maths that.
Having just said it doesn’t matter who the opposition is, it happens to be QPR so I suppose I ought to give you my usual in depth analysis. We are still second in the current form table and Rangers are eighteenth. So that’s that then. No need to worry about tonight’s result. Foregone conclusion. Move on nothing more to read here. Except of course for one rather significant fly in that particularly over confident ointment. QPR are in the mire of a relegation dog fight, an unseemly scrap with several other teams all convinced they can escape the noose. Their survival in the hallowed money sea of top flight English footy is at stake and they can’t be expected to go quietly. Some sides may fold with resigned despair when their season looks like it’s headed down the toilet but others rage against the dying of the light. Recent results may suggest that QPR already have one foot in the slough of despond but it may not be so, they might start their fightback at any moment, and as such we must be prepared for dogged resistance. Human nature dictates that people often strive their hardest when they’re backed into a corner.
I do believe we have enough spirit and bloody mindedness in our own squad to match anyone in the guts and determination department and of course our players possess skill and invention by the bucket load, so I remain as cautiously optimistic as ever. We saw the boys playing it a little bit safe on Sunday, the manager being experienced enough to know how to set up his team after a setback. Tonight I expect them to build on the blocks laid against Everton and go at QPR with a little more verve. Having said that if the men in blue and white elect to defend in depth then we may have to be patient. Patient, consistent, sensible and fair. Now that’s four better words for Arsenal fans, right?