ZimPaul has an African perspective on The Arsenal:
Arsenal this season offers, I hope, a ride of courage, desire and adventure. Those who prefer a soap opera of clichés – heroic English tackling, perfect goalkeepers and hard-nut midfielders – are going to be frustrated. Three stories have dominated pre-season: the mind-numbing chant of Cesc to Barca; keeper; defence. Solve it all by buying … blah, blah, blah. Let’s toss these ingredients into the pot and see what we have.
I was resigned to Fabregas leaving; I was wrong. He is staying because Arsenal finds themselves in a financial and contractual fortress that’s taken years to construct. Cesc says he’s a professional and committed to Arsenal, flattered by the awkward lunges of his childhood club with a “well, who wouldn’t want to play with them?” sort of shrug. Given his origins, he’s a got a point and it doesn’t matter, for now. Wenger says he remains captain.
It’s an immense development after uncertain months. It’s not just that Fabregas is that good; it’s that he represents the first fruits of a compelling youth policy nurtured so thanklessly and doggedly, now positioned to influence the club, football and England for years to come. I imagine that Cesc’s desire, ‘the look in his eyes’ and Wenger’s astute management of his creative combustion will fuel our team.
I am neither ecstatic nor glum about Almunia as our main keeper. Fabianski is in with a shout, and two mighty talents challenging but nothing has changed. Arsene toyed with the idea of a new keeper, and couldn’t find one with a proven record who was any better than Almunia or Fabianski and reasoned from that standpoint. I think we will be surprised to discover that Arsene probably made the right decision not to panic.
As for our defence, it has never been about purchasing shiny bio-mechanical replacements for Gallas and Campbell, but about building a coherent system of defence around a style of attacking play. RvP likened us to Barcelona. I do think, from what little I’ve seen, that Kos is every bit the replacement for Gallas and that Djourou will outplay the Campbell of last season but we are one short.
As Arsenal fans, we are drip-fed a media-saturated debate that lives and breathes the quintessential symbol of English manhood, Manchester United. They are a caricature of sorts much like Liverpool were. Wenger retorts: decide what you want, a swollen national ego or the world’s best league? It is a profound and provocatively far-reaching statement, an Arsenal-centric view for which the media does not care.
If pundits talked about Arsenal’s positive attributes, without caveats and spoke about the enticing energy around the young players, their style, technical ability and the club’s financial humility, bleak attitudes would fade. But they do not. We are framed always in terms of something that is not Arsenal. And so it comes out like this, take one team that lacks spine, make a sauce with Cesc to Barca, add keeper, defence, stir by buying: as the only things that might taste good to us.
The biggest story of this pre-season, of the last 5 years, and I propose the last 13 years and the next 5 years to boot, is the flowering of youth. It started with Cesc, and in years to come I think he will understand how his role was so much more than ‘just a great player’. I won’t list them, look at the website.
I mention Gibbs, Bendtner, Diaby, Walcott, Ramsey, Denilson and Wilshere as younger players, groomed at Arsenal or who came in young and unproven. They will announce themselves in coming seasons. But who knows which ones – it might be also Eastmond, Frimpong, Randall, JET or Nordveit. When Gibbs, about to become an English certainty, donned an Arsenal first team shirt I confess I had never seen him play. Weren’t we all amazed?
Quite how the media has not realised what is happening at Arsenal is beyond me.
The second biggest story is the foresight of Arsenal’s Emirates move and how the financial ‘lock-down’ anticipated the coming financial turbulence which has rocked the ownership and player structure of major European clubs. It is now being grudgingly emulated by some English clubs. Why is this not the news? This year’s transfer movement says it all.
But there are real challenges that media has pounced on. The first is defence, our Achilles heel. It’s taking longer to resolve than we hoped. Those who think Wenger doesn’t appreciate this are deluded. However, to think that any old monster defender from any playing system provides an answer is ludicrously unArsenal. The problem is more simple and nuanced: to instil an effective defensive system – with the right players – into an attacking one? People say we are fragile at set-pieces, so is every team.
The painful goals are those conceded with defensive naiveté. The best teams play us by counter-attack and then press home the psychological advantage. 41 goals conceded is 11 too many to take a title. But which 11 should we not have conceded last season? Every keeper will make 4 or 5 clangers a season, it’s not those. Every team will concede at set-pieces. For me, it is awareness of the danger of fast counter-attack first and careless attention outside the box second that cost us 11 goals and 4 pivotal matches at decisive moments.
The second is that we were close to, but lost the title last year which signals psychological frailty. The truth is the most obvious, that young players do not have mental stamina of their older counterparts. When Evra taunted us that we lack ‘players of character’ he was, in a cruel way, right. But yesterday is not today, players mature through hard knocks, they learn from adversity.
The most critical intangible of any campaign, the one where I do recognise SAF is the psychology of winning. Do we have it? If we do, we will win the title. I’m tempted to say that if Diaby has it for more than half a season we will win the title anyway.
The third is that we do want a trophy now. The players want it, need it. The project needs it. Success does breed success. But it must not play on our minds. You produce brilliance when you do not fear failure. This is what I want: a season where the players do not fear what people think and papers say, and so play unfettered, with a mesmerising passion and crazy self-belief that has pundits open-mouthed.
I want Arsenal untamed, free-style, no second-guessing ourselves but doing what we do best, the art of the impossible. Memories are my trophy. Arsenal, make memories for me! And if I don’t get this trophy, I will be disappointed. So should you. Silverware is just an alluring veneer of shiny metal you toss in the cabinet. I am talking about keeping it real.
This Arsenal is there, almost. Is this what Wenger means when he says “we are close”? You can see it flow so easily in Robin van Persie, the footballer and the man who more than any, even Cesc, personifies the hardest art of all – to ‘express yourself’. I recognise it in Rosicky, Eboue and Clichy, in Denilson (to digress a second because Denilson is the player most usually pointed at as not good enough for Arsenal, remember a free kick that Wenger later said he had no idea that Denilson might take), in Nasri, Arshavin and increasingly Walcott, in Gibbs, Vermaelen and now Chamakh – each with roles to play in a team system, each with their way of expressing spontaneity.
Midfield and attack? I think it will become the stuff of legend these coming seasons. The simple fact of football is that you win in every way by scoring more goals than the opposition, not by conceding less; the difference is more subtle than we admit. Attack on, Arsenal, is what I say, but watch your back.