A little perspective…
Let’s get straight to the point: Sunday was disappointing, demoralising, and every other negative adjective you can think of. Seven days earlier, we played a game that defied the statistics, shamed the haters and lost some unfortunate souls a bit of money. How did we then lose to a team against whom we’ve had such a great record at home in the recent past? This was West Ham at home, it wasn’t supposed to be a complicated matter (all due respect to the Hammers, the Emirates hasn’t been a friendly place for some time). How did we mess this one up? Surely now there’s just no chance we’ll challenge for the league, let alone win the thing…and so forth, and so on.
While I share the disappointment of losing the first match of the season, I do feel that Arsenal fans are losing – or are not giving any room for – much perspective here. It’s all a bit Aston Villa 3-1 all over again isn’t it? That day, fans attacked the manager, claiming he doesn’t know what he’s doing (it’s not as if the same fans have ever managed a football team themselves) and demanding him to “SPEND SPEND SPEND!!” This time around, perhaps the two FA Cups we’ve won since may have spared Wenger the direct, aggressive harassment, but it hasn’t quite stopped fans from being unreasonable. I believe it’s completely possible to be disappointed without being irrational, albeit a difficult task given the emotions involved.
One of the main complaints coming out of Sunday’s loss has been transfers, and I fail to see how losing to that match against West Ham has anything to do with the lack of new signings. As we know, the only senior addition we’ve made is Petr Čech from Chelsea. There are constant calls for a new centre-back, defensive midfielder, centre-forward and winger, because with those signings, “we’ll win the league!” It’s quite amazing how people say that so matter-of-factly, with such certainty. Anyway, I disagree with the reasoning around lack of signings, and it’s simple. When the starting line-up was announced, how many of us looked at those names and the set-up and thought we would struggle to win the game? I’d bet it’s close to zero. Why? Because the players who wore red and white on Sunday at the Emirates should have been good enough to win against West Ham. I’d go as far as saying even some their team mates on the bench who didn’t make the first eleven, had they started instead, would also have been widely expected to possess enough to win that match.
So why, after losing the game, are we so quick to rush to buying, buying, buying? When you look at it with a bit more perspective, you can see that rationale doesn’t make sense. One day if we lose a critical player to injury, and his replacement comes up short, we might be more justified to use this as a valid reason to criticise. But, given that we have a fairly strong squad at the moment where even our back up players have shown that they can be relied upon when needed, even that criticism would be more a product of hindsight than any wisdom or better judgement on our part.
By the way, let’s not even entertain the Giroud bashing – I see the Frenchman is once again getting stick. Our game in the middle of the park was dire. When you have midfielders passing the ball out to touch, how do you expect the same players to provide any decent service to the man up front? The team overall did not play well. Pointing at the one player who was not the reason we conceded 2 goals is nonsensical.
If it wasn’t lack of activity in the transfer market, then what was it? The boss had a few things to say, which were obviously not popular with everyone. He mentioned his own frustration: “A big part of it was not to concede, even if we played for a 0-0. The way we conceded the goal just before half-time, with experience we have in our team, is difficult to understand.…We didn’t always respect the basics…Our passing was not incisive enough.” From this, it’s clear that part of the memo was to defend resolutely, and the poor passing, which is down to the players, also let him down (look, Arsène Wenger just said he’d have played for a goalless draw if needs be – the shock and horror). He also spoke of West Ham being sharper and more match-prepared given the competitive football they’ve already played in their unsuccessful Europa League ventures. Some people were citing that we had a good preseason so West Ham’s games don’t place them at much of an advantage. Honestly, the BAT and Emirates Cup may come with a trophy and medals at the end, but they are practically pre-season friendlies. West Ham effectively started their season early with competitive European matches, so they are more match fit than most other teams and the fatigue might catch up with them later on in the season. It’s not an excuse, but it does play a role especially when combined with other factors.
Wenger also added that the players may have been a bit nervous and rushed things too much. It’s difficult to understand why there’d be that much anxiety for a game of this level, especially after the morale boosting win 7 days prior against a much more difficult opponent. I’m no expert at reading players’ moods, but Arsène Wenger works with them every day so there must be something he saw that most of us wouldn’t be able to? There’s an argument that it’s the manager’s job to motivate the players and get them mentally ready if they are low on confidence, which is a fair assessment, and many times journalists and fans alike have tried to get him to admit culpability when things go wrong. I don’t understand the persistence because no manager worth his salt will ever openly come out and say, “of course that loss was my fault” – flashbacks of Jacqui Oatley trying to corner Wenger into blaming anyone, anything, for the draw vs. Hull. If anything, the Mourinho’s of this world simply play the deflection game, so well that journos are permanently hypnotised by it. So, perhaps Wenger’s response here is as close as we’ll get to a manager placing the fault at his own feet.
After a loss like this, there is often a lot of unnecessary panic, talk of diving into the transfer market straight away and a lot of blame gets thrown around. What I think is the most important thing is accepting the result, and moving ahead with the same optimism we’ve had. Wenger’s own words on Sunday come to mind: “A successful season is down to how you respond to disappointments. It’s never a clear motorway and we have to respond quickly.” Unfortunately, these are not words that are popular with us emotion-driven fans, but this is a truth we need to stick with. It’s a long journey to May 2016, and we will probably find more things to be disappointed about ten months from now. The team still has what it takes to make this a successful season. Let’s all keep calm and support The Arsenal.
I first encountered Arsenal when I got exposed to English football around 2004 (that champagne football sold it for me), but only learnt of the Invincible season much later on. I used to think the club is named after Arsene – a bit silly in retrospect. Appreciate the perspective and stories of older Gooners who’ve supported the club longer than I’ve been alive. Market researcher with a keen interest in photography (David Price and Stuart McFarlane have the best job in the world).
Oh, almost bought a Man United shirt as a youngster because I saw a friend of mine, who was the cool kid, wearing one. So glad I didn’t go down that road!