Off the Mark: Arsenal are living in the past, and it’s catching up to them

Repetition, as anyone currently making their way through the 714 distinctive pages of David Peace’s novel ‘Red or Dead’ about the legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly will testify, can be very important in football.

Shankly dragged Liverpool up from being an average second division team to the summit of the English and European game through sheer hard work, repeating the same processes again and again until they became second nature. Until they became perfect.

Sticking to your guns and your principles has to be admired of course, but what if the very nature of your environment and your game is shifting around you? Refusing to move with the times is downright negligent.

Which brings us to Arsenal.

This isn’t supposed to be yet another overreaction to the Gunners’ 3-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa on the opening day of the Premier League season – a result which the young, vibrant Villa really haven’t been given enough credit for – but rather a forensic examination of the goings on at a club who for so long were admired as the standard-bearers of the English game.

But if the Gunners were really doing things ‘the right way’ then would they be taking a threadbare squad to Turkey for tonight’s crucial Champions League qualifier against Fenerbahce? A match that surely has to be considered as the most vital of their season given the importance they base on reaching the group stages of European football’s premier competition?

Arsene Wenger prides himself on his Champions League record at Arsenal. He may never have won it, but at least he is always there. Always rubbing shoulders with the elite.

Falling out of that bracket would potentially have huge consequences for the club, but on the plus side it might see them re-evaluate a cautious and often bizarre transfer policy.

This report from the Daily Mail lays bare the somewhat staggering complications that go on behind the scenes when the Gunners’ recruitment policy has been discussed, with the club seemingly following a system devised by an economic formula.

It is one in which the saving of money is paramount, so much so that Wenger has seemingly been reluctant to play Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for longer than 20 minutes per match as that would trigger an appearance fee payable to the England man’s former club Southampton.

That is how deep this old-fashioned belief is rooted in the Arsenal manager, but the depressing thing for Gunners fans is that Wenger looked like he was ready to change his ways this summer.

The cack-handed way that the Gunners pursued Luis Suarez from Liverpool might have ended up making them look somewhat foolish, but they weren’t entirely to blame for that. They were clearly given overtures from Suarez’s camp that a bid of over £40m – a cheap price for the Uruguayan despite his obvious flaws – would have got their man.

That it didn’t is only likely to make Wenger even more cautious, and to trust the word of agents even less in the future.

The Frenchman’s claim that there aren’t many players good enough to play for Arsenal was made to look foolish at the weekend when his goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny struggled against Villa, whilst Asmir Begovic – who had been heavily linked with the Gunners this summer – was performing heroics for Stoke at Anfield.

Similarly, are the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Luiz Gustavo, Bernard and Suarez not good enough for Arsenal either? Are they not worth spending extra cash – cash that the club insist they have – on?

The low bid slapped down on Newcastle’s table for Yohan Cabaye suggests that the Gunners aren’t going to change their tune any time soon, but Wenger needs to learn that in some cases it is fine to deviate from the track a little.

As Jamie Carragher observed on Sky’s Monday Night Football, the only people overspending at Arsenal at the moment are the supporters, and if anyone deserves an end to the repetition it’s them.

Fail to deliver that, and Wenger might find that his principles are the only friends he has left.


Saints to go marching on

These are exciting times at Southampton, who not only possess England’s new centre-forward but one capped nine times for Italy too.

Pablo Osvaldo – who averaged a goal every other game at Roma – joins Rickie Lambert at St Mary’s, and suddenly there aren’t as many dissenting voices over last season’s sacking of Nigel Adkins as there once were.

The appointment of Mauricio Pochettino was supposed to take the club forward, and it seems as though that’s exactly what it’s doing.

The win at West Brom last weekend was a fine start to the season, and the Saints can certainly spring into a top-half finish.


Technology crosses the line

Yes we know that the television companies were keen to play with their new toy, but was there really a need to bring out the goalline technology so soon on Saturday?

We could all see with our own eyes that shots from Jordan Henderson and Fabian Delph at Anfield and the Emirates respectively had struck the post and bounced out, but thankfully things were a little less clear with Branislav Ivanovic’s header at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

That wasn’t a goal either.

The first technology assisted strike will have to wait.


Posted on 21 Aug 2013, in Off the Mark and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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