Perhaps it’s because my focus is largely directed on the World Snooker Championship now, but things seem strangely calm at Arsenal at the minute.
We are, for the first time in long time, heading into our final five fixtures all but secure in the top four. Just a maximum of four points are needed to secure our spot, and participation in the Champions League for next season.
Okay, the qualifiers for the Champions League.
Happily though, with us having a game in hand over Manchester United and a two point advantage, not to mention the fact that we’re also level on points with Manchester City and with a game in hand on them too, we can set our sights a little higher this year.
Let’s not forget, we have another cup final to look forward to as well.
Unfortunately, last week’s draw with Chelsea killed off whatever faint hopes people had of us nicking the title with a late season surge. However, if anyone genuinely thought that was going to happen, well, then I have a pyramid scheme you might be interested in…. no? Okay, fine.
The game itself, by all accounts a bore draw to go with the worst of them, did throw up a couple of interesting talking points, as follows:
- Thierry Henry’s assertion that a striker he described a few weeks ago as “the best in the league” is incapable of delivering the Premier League title.
- Jose Mourinho’s riposte to jeering Arsenal fans that 10 years without the title is boring.
Taken at face value, Thierry’s volte-face regarding his compatriot is surprising. After all, Giroud’s numbers this season, numbers that as I wrote a while back, represent an improvement on last season, which in turn represent an improvement on his first season with us, are impressive.
But I wonder if this most demanding of players has seen something from his position in the commentary box he doesn’t like. I wonder if Thierry looks at Giroud and sees a striker who is clearly highly competent, but falls short of the standards that Henry once set in the red and white. Or, to put it in a more contemporary context, is Giroud as good as the likes of Suarez, Aguero, or even someone like Rooney?
Getting right to the heart of it, is Giroud a striker who strikes fear into the heart of the centre backs he plays against?
I’m not sure.
Whilst Giroud is technically excellent and integral part of the Arsenal game – you just have to look at the difference when he is up top instead of Danny Welbeck to observe this – I don’t think a top quality centre back is going to be worried by him.
For one thing, Giroud doesn’t have the pace to worry the opposition. I don’t think John Terry, not the paciest guy in the world either, has ever been worried by him. I can imagine though, that Terry has been by Aguero and company, just as he would have been by Thierry 10-12 years back.
None of this is news really. I wrote in March, when looking at how we might line up next season, that I’d have Giroud in my team with the reservation that he may let you down at the top level. The problem for Arsenal is that they would likely have to spend silly money to replace, and improve upon, him.
This is the crux of the matter for me.
Do Arsenal want to carry on as they are, satisfied with Champions League football and last 16 exits? Or are they prepared to spend big money on a big player? The sort of player who might be able to create something on his own, who only needs one chance in a game? Does such a player even exist? If Arsenal could identify and close such a signing, it would be a hell of a statement going into next season.
That, I think, is all Thierry was saying – odd as it must have sounded.
Now for Jose…
It is certainly true that ten years without the Premier League title, well it’s eleven now, have been frustrating and, at times, annoying. However, in that time, we have won the FA Cup (twice), been to our first-ever Champions League final and been a constant presence in the top four.
To have done so whilst feeling the effects of building a new stadium, is not an achievement to sneer at.
Of course, Mourinho, the ultimate shock troop, wouldn’t understand that what Arsenal have tried to do is lay down an infrastructure that guarantees the club will be able to compete at the top end of the table for years to come – no matter how many oil barons and oligarchs pitch their tents in the Premier League.
When Arsène Wenger once observed “we live in the dictatorship of the now”, he could almost have been talking about Mourinho. Mourinho for whom the present is all. Not the past, not the future. Mourinho who first came to Chelsea in 2004 and was gone by September 2007, having created an atmosphere so poisonous that even this most tasteless of football clubs couldn’t stand him any longer.
Now, he’s back and, nearly two years on and however many millions of pounds later, he’s about to win the league title again, so feels well placed to call us boring.
I don’t know about you, but if ten years without a title is boring, then five years must have been at least half as boring. Particularly with so much money to spend.
That’s not even taking to account the fact that Chelsea went a whole fifty years without winning the league title once, can you imagine the boredom at the Bridge in that time? You won’t hear about that period though, with Chelsea’s official history book, or Pravda as it’s known to the rest of us, only starting from 2003.
I’ve said it before, but one of the worst things about Chelsea is that they take such pride in their ability to stifle, but they’re not doing anything more than George Graham once did at Arsenal.
The difference is, our defence was staffed by players from Stoke, Wimbledon and QPR and we didn’t have shedloads of money to spend, although we we did have the likes of Jensen and Morrow in midfield.
Clearly, it isn’t my place, or any Arsenal fan’s place, to tell Chelsea how to play their football but it baffles me that having spent so much money on the likes of Hazard, Fabregas and co. that they can’t play a little more expansively. Or that the Chelsea board would buy all these players and put someone for whom the word ‘adventurous‘ must be an eleven-letter swearword word in charge of them.
So, yes, it is ironic that it was the Arsenal fans calling Chelsea “boring“, but as Alan Davies observed on this week’s Tuesday Club, we’ve seen both sides of it. Despite the unrest of the last three or four years, I can only say that – with certain reservations – I am proud of the way we have tried to go about things in the last ten years.
It has, as I acknowledged earlier, been frustrating at times, but rarely has it been boring.
It will also make the future success of the club all the more sweeter for having been earned rather than gifted to us on an oligarch’s whim.