Tony Pulis. There I said it. I know George hates it when we use foul language on his blog. There are outlets which won’t promote Positively Arsenal if it employs such revolting epithets and we are all about the numbers here as you well know. The advertising revenue alone keeps us in swimming pools and pearls and we must not piss off our sponsors.
However there comes a time when difficult issues must be faced and the Pulis is one of those issues. It wasn’t always so. Back in his playing days he was part of the Bristol Rovers golden generation along with ‘Jockey’ Wilson, Devon White and Ian Holloway and I applauded like a Stoke fan every crunching tackle, every score settled.
Of course he blotted his copy book by going on to manage at Ashton Gate, a move which ensured he was despised by both the blue and red halves of the city. After a long and celebrated stint in the Potteries he has now wound up at West Bromwich Albion and thither the mighty Arsenal must travel today and secure a much needed three points.
You might recall I mentioned a young man of my acquaintance who travelled up to London town for the recent FA Cup tie. I saw him last night and asked about his Emirates experience and his face split into a huge grin as he recalled a wonderful day out. He showed me his latest Arsenal shirt and then we got down to the nitty gritty. ‘How was the match?’ I enquired. His answer, refreshing in its honesty, neatly summed up much of our season, ‘We were rubbish in the first half’ he replied ‘but then we were great and won five nil’.
Not so complicated this football lark, is it?
The problem we often experience when anticipating a match is not knowing which version of Arsène Wenger’s project will show up on the day. The tentative, nervous, pass it about at the back under ever increasing pressure until they give up and let the keeper hoof it forward edition, or the free flowing, inventive, confident, improvisational theatre of full blooded Wengerball. Sometimes we even get both in the same game.
People say it’s infuriating, I see it as an intriguing example of the huge role mental confidence and relaxation plays at the highest level in any sport. Andy Murray gave an interview where he said that losing in the Wimbledon final to Federer was the ultimate piece in his jigsaw to becoming a top player. Defeat in the game he’d always seen as the pinnacle of potential achievement meant he’d experienced the worst. With that out of the way there was nothing left to fear, and he could play with a freedom from which he’d previously been inhibited. He wasn’t a better or worse player he just got his head right.
You could see in Aaron’s finish last weekend how important it was for him to find the net. A couple of chances had gone awry, the kind of chances he was dispatching with aplomb in his best season for us, and even though his goal was essentially a tap in he really needed it and whacked the ball into the net with a cathartic flourish. Will it open the floodgates? Time will tell.
Aaron, like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cannot be judged on this or recent seasons because both players are endlessly coming back from injuries. That or just about to get injured. It has been a frustrating time for them and I’m sure we all wish them a long sustained spell of good health and a proper chance to show what they are capable of.
Let’s hope Pulis and his boys don’t set out to further the injury woes of any of our players. It would be nice to see a sporting contest. The casual observer might deduce from our recent results that Arsenal is there for the taking, and this could, I suppose encourage in West Brom an adventurous spirit. I’d welcome this as the old attritional warfare against deep set defensive tactics is never easy on the eye. In any sport you cannot attack without creating vulnerabilities in defence so it might open the game up were they to sense blood.
I don’t actually believe Mr P will make the mistake of taking our results at face value. There has been some wonderful football among the dross and he will know that on our day we can demolish any side. The question he’ll be asking is very similar to the one I posed earlier. Which Arsenal side will show up at the Hawthorns today? Don’t be surprised if it’s a mix of both. To achieve one of the three hallowed places beneath champions elect Chelsea will call for some determined hard work as much as for fast moving, eye catching football. I’ll take a one nil win and some backs to the wall defending if it sets us on the right track for the run in. Of course I have the advantage of not travelling all the way to B71 and forking out for match tickets so I can be a little more relaxed about the nature of the performance.
If you are going I hope you enjoy a sizzling treat of speedy, confident Arsenal at its best and a result to match. If like me you will be at work from this morning right through to tomorrow lunchtime then I hope you avoid hearing the score and somehow navigate to the match on Arsenal Player without their giving the game away. They love to do that to us. Pages of headlines telling what happened before actually arriving at the match highlights and even then the video itself often displays a still clip from late in the game with the score clearly visible next to the time. It grinds my gears I don’t mind telling you.
See? Who says we’re afraid to criticise the club?