Realism, Optimism, Pessimism, Existentialism – The State Of The Gooner Nation

There’s little hard Arsenal news around this week. We’re all in a holding pattern waiting for the Champions League draw on Friday morning and our next League game on Saturday against the ‘Appy ‘Ammers. I thought I’d have a look at the State of the Gooner Nation today. What Arsčne would call a “tour d’horizon”.
In the stands I think we’ve become a little more mature this term, with less dummy-spitting during matches. The reaction to Nicklas Bendtner when he was substituted against Burnley having missed four gold-plated chances was what we want to see more of. He was applauded off, despite having had a stinker in front of goal. We all seemed to recognise that it wasn’t due to lack of effort on his part. He’d just had one of those afternoons.
Treating a player having a bad game like that tends to get its rewards. They’ll show a renewed determination to get it right next time. Get in a player’s ear and he’s highly unlikely to play better. It’s been a trait amongst a significant minority of the Gooner Nation since I was a kid. Then it was Jon Sammels, a fine player I thought who played a crucial part in our European Fairs Cup and Double winning teams at the dawn on the 1970s. Ray Kennedy, John Matthews, Pat Howard, Jeff Blockley, Lee Chapman, John Hawley, Gus Caesar, John Devine, Steve Gatting, Michael Thomas, Andy Linighan, Eddie McGoldrick, Gilles Grimandi, Gilberto, Pascal Cygan, Igors Stepanovs, Nelson Vivas, – they’re just a small sample of players who have spent time in the Arsenal doghouse. At the moment it’s Mikaël Silvestre.
At the controversial shareholders’ question and answer session with Arsčne Wenger at the end of last season he expressed the somewhat old-fashioned view – strange for such an enlightened man – that you couldn’t be a supporter if you criticised the team. As it happens I’m with him part of the way, but only part. I’ve never thought that living in a player’s ear whilst he’s on the park does any good. Completely the reverse. I understand we all get frustrated, me no less than any other Gooner. Giving a player the bird isn’t going to make him play better though. The ONLY time I’d give a player a hard time would be if I genuinely thought he wasn’t giving it his all. That we’re all entitled to expect, especially with the ticket prices we pay these days.
Absent a player playing poorly simply because he doesn’t care and is unprofessional enough to be giving less than his all, I think the reaction to a player playing poorly should be to try and lift him. This was clearly the intention of those singing Nicklas Bendtner’s name after his misses against Burnley and applauding him when he was taken off in the second half. It worked in spades. He rewarded us with a hat-trick against Porto and a vital winning goal in injury time against Hull City last Saturday. Let’s hope that’s a lesson learnt.
Generally, the Grove is starting to feel more and more like home. I’ve gotten over that feeling you get when you move home and everything seems alien and unfamiliar. I absolutely loved Highbury to bits. I knew every brick of the old place. I loved the unique architecture of the East and West stands. One of the most cherished Arsenal traditions is innovation however and our new home, whilst it lurches perilously close to upmarket airport in some aspects, is a fitting stage for us. It seems more and more like our house with every passing game. It’s benefitted enormously from the “Arsenalisation” process. The new training ground is also cutting edge. It’s received a series of rave reviews from players and is a real asset in attracting the very best from around the world.
Financially it’s highly unlikely we’re going to suffer the travails we see at Old Trafford, Anfield and Fratton Park. For as long as I’ve been watching Arsenal we’ve never gone mad with money. Long may that continue. The fruits of our conservative approach in not spending more than we can comfortably afford is paying off. Yes, of course we all want success and trophies, but if just spending money was the way forward Chelsea, Milan and Real Madrid wouldn’t be out of the Champions League. Money is a crucial factor, but so is stability and continuity in the manager’s office and amongst the playing squad. Having money is important, but so is spending it wisely and having patience.
I have my criticisms of Arsčne and the team. I’ve expressed them in this blog. It’s one of the mysteries of life why we seem unable to provide a real threat from corners. Likewise why we so relatively poor defending as a team and balls in the air into the box. We also lack a truly commanding, international class goalkeeper, although all the reports I’m getting from mates who support Brentford suggest that Wojciech Szczęsny may be the long-term answer. He’s had a series of blinders whilst on loan at Griffin Park this season. He also looked highly competent in his first team debut for us home to the Baggies in the Carling Cup this term. He’s already had his first cap for his native Poland against Canada in an international friendly. He won’t be 20 until next month however. That’s very young for a goalkeeper, technically the most complex position in the game. So far, so good for the young Pole however.
All in all I think we’ve matured as a team this season though. We’re winning games we would have lost or drawn last season. The unanswered question is whether we can kick on to the next level. We have been comprehensively dismantled by both Chelsea and Manchester United at home in the League this term. United also caned us at home last season in the semi-finals of the Champions League and Chelsea had us out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage courtesy of some horrible defending/goalkeeping, picking the wrong team, a horrible Wembley pitch and, let’s be honest, playing, better, more ruthless, experienced opposition.
This is the next level we need to reach with this side. I honestly don’t know whether we’ll do it or not. I sincerely hope so. Progress has been sufficient for me to believe Wenger should be allowed to continue. I do want to see some real progress in addressing our continuing tactical weaknesses though.
Off the field, my biggest long-term worry is the ownership issue. This has been covered extensively. There’s nothing new to say. I don’t see the situation resolving itself soon. I’m completely against any one person owning our club. It makes us far too vulnerable to the fortunes and whims of one person.
Overall though, we’re in better shape than many of our opponents. Let’s recognise our weaknesses but also build on our strengths. Friday will see us face one of Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, Girondins de Bordeaux, Olympique Lyonnais, FC Barcelona, Olympiakos, VfB Stuggart, Bayern Munich or Internazionale. I’d guess Olympiakos and VfB Stuggart will go out tonight, although I wouldn’t bank on it. Watching José Mourinho’s Inter do Chelsea at the Bridge last night was a treat.
My big hope is that we get drawn at home second on Friday, both in the quarter-finals and the semi-final pairings which will be drawn then too. We managed that last season though and it’s probably too much to hope we’ll manage it again. However we end up playing, it won’t be easy. It never is at this stage. Villarreal last season was easier than I thought it would be. After getting away with only a one goal deficit at Old Trafford in the semis the home leg was pretty horrible. Let’s hope we can use that memory to push us one stage further this season.
Keep the faith!

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