There are several types of football fans. The wannabe manager, the statistician, the severely optimistic, the completely opposite of that, and the ones almost slipping off the edge of their seat through uncontrollable tension, even when the score is 6-0 in favour of your side and you’re playing Derby at home. Then you have your thugs, the ones chanting unintelligible songs, that you know comprise of topics that are best left unspoken. Then there are ones who are unable to pronounce a simple foreign name, and it’s sad to see 55,000 Arsenal fans chant Sagna’s name erroneously every weekend.
And one common flaw in every breed of football fan is the judging of a player on first impressions and deciding his capability on that very instance, dismissing factors, such as the importance of the game, the integration with the team, the mentality of the player and communication with the bench and his fellow players, let alone the referee. The greatest players are those who stand up to the negativity, appearing to be a new creature to those blinded by the first impression, when in truth they are fully expressing themselves on the pitch. This can be said of several Arsenal players, who are one point or other along their Gunners’ career, were appearing to leave for mediocrity. Yet having persisted, Adebayor, Flamini, Almunia, Senderos and more recently Song now form vital pieces of the Arsenal squad.
“You know what the fellow said: In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Orson Welles (The Third Man 1949)
This is quote is correct even when using it as an analogy to the modern game. The corruption scandal in Italy ruined the reputation of several officials and players, yet the Azzurri won the most recent World Cup and a team debilitated by the subsequent punishments, in AC Milan, won the Champions League the following year. It is true, adversity breeds success. It may be ironic to now mention that a Swiss footballer has found success in adversity when his fellow countrymen did not experience either, but Senderos would beg to differ.
When Pires was mentioned for his duckesque running style, it was not the intention of this label to be derogatory to our former French genius, but when a certain Tony Adams had the weight of a term such as ‘Donkey’ thrown on his back, even the dim-witted realised was not with the same warmth. And having spent his club career trying to disassociate himself with this ‘nickname’, having won several trophies and developed into a brilliant captain and defender, this esteemed mantle was passed onto Philippe Senderos, who also coincidently inherited the no. 6 shirt.
A much more eloquent speaker than from whom he inherited the shirt, fluent in six languages and more promising than our former captain in his youth, he too was cursed from the stands for his running style and occasional slips. Rather than choosing to focus on his defensive attributes, so clearly portrayed in the record-breaking Champions League run and his recent appearances in the side, the so called ‘haters’ will pick on appearance and other inconsequential topics. The Swiss captain has provided balance in centre defence, complimenting Gallas well, with Toure perhaps too similar to the Arsenal captain. He appeared to regress last season, but once more has shown he only needs a run of games to blossom to his full potential. Yes, twice when he had the ball, he found Carrick, but else what could he do from a substitute point, with the team 3-0 down and with a man less?
Adecantscore, Adebarndoor…who you ask? Adebayor, that’s who. These are just some of the subtle insults by those first unimpressed with Kanu reincarnate, but a better all round footballer with much greater goal threat and capable of the outrageous, in a similar fashion to his idol, still will not deter Adebayor from progressing. Hung up to dry at Monaco, in a light portraying him to be the Joey Barton of Ligue 1, then suspended from the Togo national team for sticking to his principles about unpaid bonuses promised to the side. And more recently, a little tiff with Bendtner, it is true; Adebayor has been in the spotlight of controversy on many occasions, but even after our North London Rivals (probably) contemplated organising a open-top bus parade for a landmark in their insignificant history, Adebayor still scored goals.
Having worked tremendously hard on his finishing (with Boro Primorac after training), runs, heading, and fitness aspects of his game, he has become one of the feared strikers on the continent, a label usually true, when Madrid and their propaganda agency in Marca begin to formulate stories. Yet, there was a lack of support because obviously Henry played at a similar level when he first joined the club, and the short memories of supporters did nothing to help the Togolese attacker even after scoring on his debut. Yet he has shown every aspect of what a footballer should compromise. Drogba played in Ligue 2 at a similar age, look where he has ended up. Think what Adebayor can become. His desire to change the game against United was strong, but channelled into the wrong ideas, in diving for a penalty. He was unlucky against AC Milan.
As his Togolese team-mate progresses, Flamini too has shown the typical mental strength to progress from being close to leaving to displacing the current Brazil captain. Instantly compared with the then current captain Vieira upon his arrival from Marseille, Flamini always had the capacity to succeed, with good technique, tenacity and the urge to win at all costs. Having performing a brilliant job at full-back during the Champion’s league run, he was ruled out by injury. This blow compounded with a lack of appearances in his regular position caused our ‘Gattuso’ to question his future at Arsenal. It is not clear what caused the improvement in his game, but a new-found sense of calmness on the ball and brilliant positioning to allow him to express himself through his technique has resulted in one of the best pass completion percentages in the league, and more importantly a starting berth. Now, all there is to do is to sign a new contract, and that small matter of the goings-on on the football pitch. His notable action was to stop Nani showboating but the importance of his being fit is overall more important.
His worst time on the football pitch: the score read ‘Arsenal 2 Manchester United 4’ at Highbury, and ended his original run as first-choice ’keeper after displaying a lack of calmness and a tendency to rush out that added weight to John O’Shea’s ‘Mr. Versatile’ tag. Having fully adapted to the country and familiarised himself with his team-mates, Almunia is in the form of his life, with intense competition for Lehmann, neither keeper has a chance to relax. A requirement of our goalkeepers to be technically adept, Almunia is calmer in interceptions and plays as a sweeper when the defence breaks down. Having improved his distribution, he is now vital to the side’s footballing performance. And in light of Lehmann’s performance, in the best of a woeful bunch, the German once more proved his strong mentality. Almunia has now had to endure controversy about becoming a British citizen and representing this country, yet it has not affected his performances for the team.
In particular, Traore and Hoyte have let down Wenger, who has such faith in their ability, and now they must show the capacity to succeed as has been displayed at various points of their Arsenal careers by the aforementioned team-mates. These players are examples of a winning mentality that was missing at Old Trafford, with no one stepping up to the more urgent tempo. Perhaps, it was because of the more important tie on Wednesday but our downfall was clear upon looking at the full-back positions, with neither possessing a player of positional sense, calm and fighting character (Eboue chose to take that literally), and covering the centre-backs was apparently not on their agenda, who too were poor.
But as recent history shows, the FA Cup run has little effect on who is crowned as Premiership champions. Let us congratulate Manchester United and look forward to the next few games, hoping our injury situation improves somewhat. The side has been beaten comprehensively in every one of our defeats this season. There has always been a reaction, which on this case was evident on Wednesday. The excellent response against the Champions league holders reflected on the character of the side. The loss of Kolo Toure is a disappointment though.