View From The North Bank: Arsenal 3 Fulham 3
It can be a very peculiar business, supporting a Football team. As a neutral you generally want goals, slick passages of play, penalty kicks – missed or otherwise. When you’re watching your team, when the result really matters, I suspect most of us would trade a chunk of that action for three points.
On Saturday afternoon I found myself in that exact position. At 3-3, with both sides hunting down a late winner I thought “This is brilliant, what a game!”. I then corrected myself and thought “Still, I’d much rather the game had died when we were 2-0 up”.
Perhaps I could have enjoyed it under different circumstances however, the truth is that we are so accustomed to turning round and throwing away seemingly unassailable score lines that it’s almost impossible to feel comfortable as an Arsenal fan anymore.
To use Saturday as a starting point, the first half sums up the complex state of affairs at Arsenal. It all began so well. We started reasonably comfortably, moved into a two goal lead and, for a spell before their first goal, started playing some neat one touch stuff. One minute we were cruising, the next we were sinking.
The first goal we conceded was ridiculous and gave rise to an array of opinions on just who was to blame. Wenger was harangued by some on the North Bank for choosing zonal marking but to me that misses the point. If your defence freeze in the face of a reasonably simple ball into the box then it barely matters which system they are employing. Zonal or man to man there is still a need for someone to jump and head that away. Without wishing to excuse anyone I don’t see this as a result of poor quality players or even bad coaching, it’s the lack of confidence and assertive decision making that seems to lurk just below the surface.
As the ball sailed into Berbatov it went past Sagna and Koscielny, a player many rate as the best in his position in the league and another who was our best defender last season. Of course Mannone might have reacted better but even so the ball shouldn’t have got that far in the first place. It was the sort of goal you’d have had a go at your mates for if it happened on a Sunday morning park game.
The second goal was also poor, partly the product of another combination on our left side. Podolski and Vermaelen got their roles confused and allowed a man in behind to play a cross into the Arsenal box. The marking wasn’t great but then again, neither was the header that beat Mannone. Kacaniklic got his head round the ball and did well to get it on target but Mannone, as if fearing a shot on target, recoiled into his net looking to claw out an effort he should really have been on his toes ready to collect.
Whilst I think both of these goals could have been averted had we been playing with a touch more confidence it’s the second in particular that causes even the most acceptant fans to consider grievances with those off the pitch. For my money, this wasn’t a difficult save to make and I would expect even a Championship level keeper to get out to push that away. The problem is that the more points slip through the fingers of a clearly sub standard Goalkeeper the more questions are asked about why we didn’t address this problem in the summer.
I have no problem with Szczesny as a first choice however, as talented as Fabianski is he’s not suited to playing back up and actually wanted out in the summer. Mannone isn’t good enough and, if we’d had a decent offer, would have been out of the door long ago. It does leave you scratching your head as to why we left ourselves with no adequate back up to a still developing goalkeeper, however talented he is.
Personally, I find it hard to blame Wenger. He has his faults, of course he does, but how many of us actually believe that a manager of his experience wouldn’t have identified the need for a new Goalkeeper to supplement his ranks? He said himself that he was happy to let Mannone go which clearly indicates he wanted an improvement. This is where the black and white becomes grey. Were we trying to sign a new keeper and if so, why did we settle for no one?
Thinking about this sort of thing makes my brain hurt. This is ultimately why I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks. I don’t really know what to say anymore. It’s an often made point but we live in an era where we feel like we know the ins and outs of our Football club. I peruse the annual accounts, listen to the AGM and watch the players in training. Christ, I even know what radio station Carl Jenkinson listens to as he drives his Mercedes to London Colney.
Paradoxically, I also feel like I don’t really know anything of substance. Take the finances for example. Most people seem to think we have a fair stash of dough sitting around in the bank yet there are a range of opinions on why that goes unspent. From the simple excuse that the players we wanted weren’t available to the more conspiratorial idea that Stan Kroenke is saving it all up to line his own pockets. In truth, I’m fed up of reading people make judgements on either side. There are a only a handful of people who really know what’s going on behind closed doors so almost anyone who tells you how they see it is only expressing an opinion, more often than not guided by their own agenda.
Football is supposed to be an entertaining way to pass time but frankly, with all the extra stuff that goes with it – the amateur accountancy, the research into commercial partnerships or the gossiping about who’s fallen out with who – it doesn’t feel all that enjoyable at the moment. I’m not sure what the answer is. I’m certainly not going to stop going to Arsenal and, as much as I’d like to bury my head in the sand with regards to the off field stuff, I’m not going to do that either. As tiring as it might be it still pays to take an active interest in off field affairs.
Ultimately though, it might pay for us all to take a step back and at least try to enjoy the matches for what they are. There’s a whole world of other stuff that feeds into that 90 minutes but we’re losing sight of why we became infatuated with the club in the first place if every time a goal goes in we’re formulating our theories as to which off field decision led up to it. It’s not easy to be level headed when you see your team slipping and sliding but if you find yourself going to Football as a duty, armed with pre arranged lines of defence, then we’re beginning to miss the reason why we are all here in the first place.
Keep The Faith.