So we got screwed at the weekend.
An unholy alliance of Diego Costa, Mourinho, Mike Dean, and now the FA disciplinary process working together to royally shaft us.
Only Diego Costa is a new addition to an pre-existing pit of contemptible bile inducing scrotum shavings.
But, over the two games since I last wrote, Arsenal have flashed their soft underbelly to the world once more, and no amount of justified rage at once again being cheated in a big game changes that.
Most people who read my weekly column (anyone….anyone…?), know that I’m generally a glass half full guy, and somewhat blindly so when it comes to the chaps in red and white.
But without going all Piers Morgan, Myles Palmer or that nutcase from ‘Arsenal Truth’ (anyone claiming to disseminate ‘truth’ is farcical in my opinion) who only writes when we lose, it’s fair to say that the summer optimism bubble has popped, leaving a mild soapy odour in its wake.
All the long discussed squad deficiencies have been exposed, and it’s not even October.
I know that some of my fellow Daily Cannon writers are critical of Coquelin’s positioning and distribution, but with him on the bench in Zagreb, and his enforced substitution at Chelsea, we are suddenly left with no-one who can effectively win the ball back. This is doubly unfortunate, given that it is with quick turnover of possession that we are most effective. We now appear to be facing an Arteta /Flamster combo for a bit, which is what we were all afraid of.
The reluctance to pursue any forward options beyond the heroic mythical unicorn variety is looking increasingly suspect too with Theo alternating between deadly and invisible and Giroud’s goal against Palace seemingly precipitating some sort of temporary mental breakdown. Let’s hope Joel Campbell can pull some sort of performance out of himself against Spurs in the two bob cup, so at least we can see signs of another option.
Speaking of the league cup, the combination of early injuries, suspensions and sending all our most developed youngsters on loan leaves the rotation cupboard rather bare for that game. Quite how a club of Arsenal’s size and ambition can start the season with spare capacity in its regulation limited squad size is beyond me. Protecting harmony and spirit IS important, but when looking at the recent injury histories of a number of our players, so is depth.
This is of course, old ground to be going over.
It is the consistent impact of the double edged sword that is Arsene Wenger. If my glass is habitually half full, his optimism cup runneth over. As Lee Dixon has said, he is the best at creating ‘an environment’ conducive to success. When you have the right blend of personnel you end up with the ‘Invincibles’.
But as very eloquently explored in Amy Lawrence’s book, that was a collection of incredibly strong individuals, many of whom were at the top of their game. They had a combination of intelligence, passion, experience, obsession, bloody mindedness and self knowledge that is pretty rare.
This current squad has a core of truly excellent footballers, and in terms of talent alone are probably as good as any squad in the club’s history bar circa 1997-2005. But there are a few things missing.
While the old school Tony Adams, Roy Keane style of leadership may not fit in a multicultural squad of sophisticates in Arsene’s zen ideal, there is a clear lack of it in this squad. People who not only take responsibility but force others to do the same.
Mertesacker does his best, and one suspects Cech will increasingly do so as he is bedded in further. Jack, if ever fit, offers a certain amount of that too. But most of the rest of the squad are too young, too nice, too lacking in English or too caught up wrestling with their own issues to forcibly inspire others.
Probably the only person capable of stopping Gabriel getting sucked in by that sh**ehouse Costa was the man he was standing in for. Santi is a beautiful footballer, and when on form, makes us tick. But the fact that the paucity of candidates means he is credible choice for team captain in a game of the magnitude of Chelsea away, illustrates a lack of leadership in the squad better than any number of words I can write.
There is also the more prosaic ongoing issue of a lack of physical power. Without BFG and Giroud we are the smallest team in the division and probably in the English league system. Our spine is hardly imposing. This isn’t even the age old issue of being ‘bullied’, but just the practical issue of not being able to win the ball back as quickly or retain it under intense physical pressure. Even before Diego Costa and Mike Dean intervened, our midfield had started to be bossed by Chelsea.
Of course as Roy Keane, Lauren and the likes of Rocastle proved, you don’t need to be big to be ‘hard’. But is there a single player in the Arsenal squad we could describe in that way?
The Invincibles squad certainly fulfilled Tony Adams old axiom of ‘you need seven’, with only really Bobby Pires likely to edge away from the front lines in a ruckus. We would struggle to find our ‘seven’ from every player on the books, let alone the first 11. Coquelin, Flamini, Wilshere? Possibly Koscielny and Gabriel at a push? Then you are looking at Isaac Hayden and hoping there are some nutters in the youth set up.
It’s a shame that Frimpong’s passion and talent was undermined by his knees, his lack of intelligence and his stupid bloody ‘Dench’ obsession. His Twitter account certainly suggests he’d quite happily run through walls for Arsenal even now he’s playing in Russia.
The knock-on of this is not just that you might get out-muscled, but that referees, opposition players and snide cheats like Costa don’t treat the team with the requisite level of respect. In the still often primal and macho world of Premier League football (and it’s mediocre current bunch of officials), you need a greater ‘big ugly b*st*rd’ ratio than this team’s had in a long time. It’s not about steaming in, Old Trafford brawl-style, but just everyone feeling like most of the others have their back, and the opposition knowing it too.
I’m not suggesting that we should indulge in the kind of classless skulduggery that both Mourinho, and previously Ferguson, have specifically instructed their players in. But we could do with a bit more of what Jordan Henderson showed when Costa tried it on with him. He just stared him down, as if to say “I’m not going to react. But if I do, you aren’t leaving this pitch unaided”.
While not holding up Henderson as the kind of player we need, there is definitely an element of bite, determination and pride that is lacking from this team and it’s not easy to see where it will come from. We all know ‘a good big “un will beat a good little ‘un”, but unfortunately the price differential when it comes to such players is clear for all to see.
Perhaps Wenger needs to consider that bolstering the broader squad positions with a bit more blood and thunder might rub off on the team. Certainly in midfield and at centre-forward a little more aggression and physicality might be as useful as any greater ability.
Coquelin, Flamini and Wilshere aside, our front six is primarily comprised of technically adept nice-guys, and as most of those interviewed by Amy Lawrence for her book commented upon, you need some who, regardless of how well they get on, care more about winning than they do about getting on.
If you get enough of them, the culture changes.
Right now, Arsenal still aspire to being Barcelona-lite or Bayern-lite, which is incredibly laudable as an ambition, but I’m not convinced we can successful in the intensity of the English Premier League going so far down that road.
Not unless one of the kids coming through turns out to be a Messi, or a Muller, a homegrown genius who can win games out of nothing AND won’t depart for the first massive pay-check wafted their way by petro-dollars or the Spanish giants.