View From The North Bank: Arsenal 1 United 2
I find myself in the unwelcome position of trying to write a match report when what happened on the pitch actually seems less significant than some of the nonsense that went on off of it. I’ll come to that in due course but firstly, I should at least talk about the Football for a bit.
My recollection of events on the field is somewhat clouded by disappointment and the fact that I only saw everything once, in real time, at the ground. I didn’t watch Match of The Day 2; call me picky but I didn’t enjoy watching my team being beaten the first time so I certainly didn’t want to pick over the gory details with Colin fucking Murray.
I thought Rosicky played well. He looked dangerous and his dribbling really hurt United at times. His set up for Van Persie’s glaring miss was excellent. Rosicky has looked good whenever he’s played this season – although defensively he switches off at times – but, like so many others, has been constantly disrupted by niggling injuries. Our midfield has looked fluent at times this season but the luxury of rotation to keep them fresh has been denied by the number of players we’ve had out.
Secondly, the team are nowhere near as good without Arteta, an integral cog. And I think it’s no coincidence that Song has struggled in the last two games without the consistent Spaniard.
I highlighted the problem with our defence last week. I stand by the view that no other team in the country would have coped with the disruption we’ve had back there. Yesterday, our key central defender was culpable for both goals; largely because he’s a central defender rushed back from injury and not a fully fit full back. Vermaelen should have contested Valencia’s opener better and, although Arshavin is a convenient scapegoat, the Belgian shouldn’t have let the Russian end up as the last defender for the second goal.
The thorny issue of Arshavin moves us on to his introduction at the cost of Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was consistently dangerous on his full league debut. I won’t lie, I was very disappointed when he went off but Wenger’s post-match justification about the 18-year-old suffering from cramp seems reasonable.
Wenger actually deserves a lot of credit for being brave enough to pick Oxlade-Chamberlain from the start. The safe option would’ve been to pick Arshavin and then bring the youngster on with 20 minutes left. Wenger also reacted well to the roasting that Djourou was getting by bringing on Nico Yennaris who added to his confident showing against Leeds with another positive display in very difficult circumstances.
The response of some fans to the substitution of Oxlade-Chamberlain was understandable on one level. He’d looked dangerous and had just created a goal. By all means have a groan at his departure but, at a time when the game was swinging in our favour, the focus should go back on the team and encouraging the new player on. Ask questions about whether it was the right decision after the game. You could argue the negative reaction of some fans changed the tide against us almost as much as he ill-judged decision from Wenger to bring the Ox off.
Booing your own player, whether directly or indirectly, is never justified. The majority of boos were directed at Wenger, but there were some definitely aimed at Arshavin too. He may be in poor form, he may no longer be happy at the club, he may be less of a threat than the lad he replaced but he was wearing our shirt. I have never, ever, seen a player improve after getting a negative reception from his own fans.
I’d have thought we’d learnt our lesson with Eboue. We responded to that moment of mass hysteria by transforming Eboue into a cult hero. Sadly some of us are too frenzied to realise the damage booing did last time and that poisoning the atmosphere in a game we were actually beginning to take control of might not be a good idea.
To make the situation worse we had a few chants of “Spend some fucking money” with five or 10 minutes left to play. Was that really the most opportune moment to demand activity in the transfer market? Was Wenger expected to sign a player to throw on as a late sub? We were still pushing to get something out of a very tight game yet some of our fans had made their minds up already.
That particular chant really grates on me. It is the most basic reaction to a very complicated problem. That chant displays a profound misunderstanding of the issues that mean spending cash is not as straightforward as you’d like it to be and is not the cure all solution to the problems we face.
Spending money is not an end in itself. It has to be spent wisely. Popular opinion has it that we have £40m+ to spend on players. Should we just spend the cash to satisfy some disgruntled punters, like Liverpool have done, even if the quality players that we really want aren’t available? What happens if you spend £10m, £15m, £20m on a panic signing now and he fails? That’s a massive chunk of money taken away that could be spent on a player we really want when he becomes available, most likely in the summer as no top class player wants to move in January unless they’ve been frozen out by their manager.
Wenger has repeatedly said that the transfer market is not like a supermarket. You don’t just turn up somewhere with a pocket full of £50 notes and ask for a full back and a striker. Players have to be available, affordable and better than what you have. If that sounds like an excuse then so be it. This is not a straight forward issue that can be easily solved just because we’d like it to be.
Press reports will tell you that the ground turned against Wenger yesterday but I don’t believe that to be true; it doesn’t tally with the evidence I saw first hand. Fans were angry about Oxlade-Chamberlain going off but when other chants went up and two brainless idiots on the North East corner put up banners demanding Wenger’s dismissal and the arrival of Usmanov, there was a big response from the North Lower who told them in no uncertain terms what we thought of them.
Had we not lost yesterday to the current Champions of England, which wasn’t inconceivable, those banners would have stayed neatly folded under their seats. We are in a very strange time for football at the moment, one where – it seems to me – some fans actively want their team to fail in order to prove a misguided point.
At the moment we are in a difficult place and as Arsenal supporters we’re not really used to looking this far up the table. We need to fight our way out of it but we have far more chance of doing that with a unified support, at least when the game is on, than we do with all the in-fighting and moaning that goes on. It is incredibly frustrating to see Manchester City, fuelled by their oil money, come from nowhere to the top of the league but what can we realistically do about that? We were the best team in the country not so long ago but we have to realise that those periods of dominance don’t last forever. They never last forever – look throughout the history of he game.
Ultimately I’m most disappointed that we lost to United after all the effort that was expended yesterday. Especially after the dismal, nervous first half. As a fan the defeat itself should be the biggest concern, not all the other stuff that gets in the way of what it means to be a Gooner.
Keep The Faith.