One Of Us Speaks: Give Youth A Chance
Do you see what us bloggers go through. Big Al has been critically ill all week and he has still summoned the energy to write this week’s epistle. Oh, and ladies, no mocking the Man Flu bit. No, seriously, it’s a medically recognised condition. It is. Honest.
I’ve been pretty ropey this week, laid up in bed with the sniffles. I missed the buildup to Wednesday’s match, but watched all 90 minutes on my laptop, first in full screen with sound and then on small screen, on mute. By the end I was a little grateful to be ill – the game passed by in a gluey haze and, feeling numb already, I was too tired to worry or feel the need to vent. I checked the reaction on Twitter, considered closing my account again until I saw an interesting tweet by Daniel Abrahams, a “Football Psychology Consultant”.
“Take away victory and a footballer still has the pleasure of small improvements. He must always find small things to maintain confidence.”
I quite liked this idea. Generally players seem to hit their physical peak around their mid-20s. The whole time they’re playing first team football they’ll pick up pointers – everything from reading the game to responding to high-pressure situations. It says to me that as long as they’re below their mid-30s, when there’s a physical decline, they can learn from every match and take that improvement with them.
Maybe it’s why the old back five got so much out of Wenger’s arrival at the club – they had the benefit of years of experience and in terms of recovery and stamina were given a new lease of life through the manager’s off-field regimes. It meant they could continue to learn for a couple more years.
I thought Wenger struck exactly the right tone in his post-match comments. They were smart and calculated for the most part, but were spiced with anger as well. He called it a night “never to forget”. And if a player can learn something from every match then I imagine last night’s might be the equivalent of a vocational qualification of some kind. Surely a source of confidence for everyone involved, provided they’re honest enough to heed it.
Thinking over the games leading up to the match, it looks like Ramsey was being saved, to be unleashed against a midfield would be unable to cope with such exuberance. Like pretty much everything else on the night it didn’t work out that way. I know why the manager picks him; it’s his spirit, work-rate and selfless contribution to the collective. There’s also the sense that for all the untidiness in his game and inconsistent finishing he’s on the cusp of blossoming into a great player.
His potential is still undoubted. It could the case that the manager is handling him as you might an acoustic guitar or pair of leather boots. With time and use his quality should shine through, and all the bum notes and blisters will have been worth it.
I think it’s fair to compare him to Szczesny – they’re at the same age and are having to find their way as established professionals. I think many youngsters get by at first on the novelty of first team football, but when that wears off they need to find new sources of confidence to continue to improve. This will be the making of them as pros.
I would like to see Coquelin given a start alongside Song tomorrow; his performances this season have earned him a place in the manager’s plans. If the team is going to suffer after Wednesday then his energy might be the necessary tonic. And I think Gervinho’s return will make a difference. Say what you like about his finishing – our record with him in side this season bears out his contribution to our attack. He creates space with his movement and turn of pace, and draws defenders with his inimitable dribbling style.
Still, the players in the team last night need the opportunity to prove that they’re capable of better. If it was our worst night in Europe then their sense of pride should kick in.
It’s really only obliquely related to some of the stuff above, but there’s something interesting at the end of the highlights from the reserve match on Tuesday. Neil Banfield reflected on a good performance – one in which the youngsters harried an experienced Wolves lineup off the park. He said that Arsène had spoken to the staff recently and asked them to encourage sides to work harder at closing down higher up the pitch.
I’ve long given up the game of predicting which young players will make it. I think you can derive satisfaction from watching a reserve or youth side win matches without having to worry about how many will play for Arsenal in the future. But it bodes well that the club is trying to instill a culture of hard-work to complement the touch football.
Like it or not young players will get chances, especially in the fair play era, so it’s reassuring that all our midfielders and attackers will have defensive sensibilities ingrained in their make-up.
There’s a tangent explored on today’s Arsenal On This Day. ’til Tomorrow.