Stone Cold Friday: On The Right Track
OK, it’s Friday and having had to put up with me for the past few weeks, it’s his turn. He’s Darius…
Wednesday night provided one of the most bizarre footballing spectacles in recent times. It wasn’t just the fact that Mancini plonked an expensively assembled aircraft carrier in front of goal.
It was more like ‘The night of long knives’ right across the league. Wily old Woy looked a battered, bruised and beaten man; Chelsea couldn’t buy a win if they tried; Everton put the Spuds back in their cage; and Villa are staring at the prospect of match days out at unfamiliar lower league grounds.
Therein lies the story of Arsenal. We fervently debate the merits of Arsenal’s vision, philosophy and approach to football. We argue and counter-argue about the merits of organic growth vs. the merits of profligate cheque book management.
Our patience is tested as the inconsistency of development occasionally rears its ugly mug. Our alleged plight is misleadingly portrayed in the media and footballing circles as a club – wait for this – who can’t hack it; who don’t have what it takes; who are also-rans run by an egocentric foreigner obsessed about doing things his way.
Wednesday night provided some tangible answers and visible proof of the shifting paradigm in football with Arsenal in the box seat.
It’s so easy to point a finger at Man City for engaging in the world’s most expensive exercise in anti-football; and it’s so easy to suggest that the onus was on Arsenal to gun down HMS Blue Moon, City’s aircraft carrier in front of goal. But the more important issue here is the serious compliment that City paid to Arsenal.
Notwithstanding the fact that they had received a ruthless hiding from Arsenal at Eastlands; they had seen Chelsea being bitch slapped at the Emirates for trying to play football; and they had seen Arsenal annihilate Birmingham City at St. Andrews despite their use of violence and thuggery as an alternative tactic.
City knew that Arsenal would send them to the cleaners, and that has to be the best compliment from a team that has committed and spent the best part of a billion pounds in less than 3 years. If ever there was justification that Arsenal’s approach to team development and our transfer policy, then look no further.
Not getting all 3 points was frustrating, but there is a bigger picture here. It’s a picture that Arsenal has been drawing for the last 5 years or so. It is a picture that has been fraught with obstacles, challenges and disappointment. It has also been a picture that has kept Arsenal on a steady path of success.
We know it, we’ve believed in it. The managers in the Premier League who understand what Arsenal is trying to do are desperate to emulate us. It’s not just that times are hard and the kind of stupid money that has been spent on football is not available any more – they know that what Arsenal is doing makes business sense.
The rest are now warming up to the notion that Arsenal might actually be on to something. Wednesday night was a good indicator of how far this team has come. While we have sometimes been the architects of our own undoing, the context of the last few years has never been truly taken into account.
What has never been in doubt is the fact that we’re on the right track with lessons from previous campaigns being learnt. What Wenger is doing with squad rotation is a prime example of learning about the limits of players in previous seasons.
But there are many more indicators of success including our ability to retain our key players, the maturity the players are constantly showing, and let’s not forget the total football being applied with panache. And that’s just on the field. Off the field, Arsenal is perhaps the best run and best managed football club in the world; a necessary foundation for long term success.
In contrast, we’ve seen the capitulation of Liverpool last season, a trend that has seen them permanently claim a stake in mid-table mediocrity. Chelsea is fast following on the heels of Liverpool with the only surprise being that the cracks have taken this long to appear.
The red carpet that had been lined down the Kings Road for the procession of the media appointed Premier league champions only a month or two ago is fast being transported up the M62 to Manchester. They don’t learn, do they?
For even Man United are living on borrowed time, surviving on the fumes of their reputation and goodwill. They must be the luckiest bastards in town with the luck of the Irish buttering their side of the bread. But surely, luck will only take you so far before it kills you.
We simply have to keep doing what we’re doing. The team is playing well, and they’re enjoying their football. On occasion here, I’ve stated how important it is for supporters, especially in the stadium on match days, to stand up and be counted. The Chelsea game was amazing as the supporters became the proverbial 12th man, and true enough, some of the players expressed their gratitude on twitter.
I believe the next major hurdle in this journey is the Carling cup. We have debated long and hard on here about the merits of the league cup vs. focussing on the Champions League and the Premier League. The fact of the matter is that winning breed’s confidence and we need that confidence.
The Carling cup is well within our reach, but it’s by no means a guarantee. We will have to work hard and fight for it and we will not win it if we expect to turn up and roll Ipswich or the eventual finalists. The team will have to earn the right to win their first trophy. What’s more important though is that such a win is a milestone that will provide the mother of all psychological boosts to the team.
Meanwhile – the FA cup looms large and it’s a time to sit back and enjoy the football.