Return of the Work Ethic Please

The year is 2003:
We were the best team in the league. We knew it. We played in a way that was almost disrespectful to the game. Arrogance epitomised by Henry and Pires week after week. They knew they were superior. Sol get’s sent off v Man Utd and suddenly that confidence crumbled. We convinced ourselves that we could not win it and gave Fergie the league.
Very annoying. Next season the players came out and just worked harder to apply that talent. Result. Undefeated Champions. What won it for me was the required level of work ethic was restored and grew over the season driven by the anger of losing the league the year before. The body language screaming from the pitch transmitted a determination not to be denied. We always had talent, pace and intelligence but maybe we didn’t quite trust our strength of mentality. With the extra motivation a near miss can give you, it was a done deal.
We developed a balance emanating from the midfield. Pires, Freddie, Vieira and Gilberto. It had goals from wide positions, height, physicality, control, defensive awareness, tackling, pressing, energy and technique. It also had one vital component – experience. The Fab 4 arrived in Arsenal’s midfield – together at their peak.
We were very lucky. We know that now. Lots of us reminisce but it has to be time to look forward.
The year is 2009:
Again we have a talented team. Not as talented as 2004 and not as mature, but very promising. We have a youth core of British players waiting to change our history. Gibbs, Walcott, Wilshire and Ramsay all signed – all primed for a fantastic future. How the English press fawn over Gerrard and Carragher. What will they do when the new Fab 4 mature together at Arsenal? Maybe then we will be viewed as an English club once more and not the ‘devil foreign’ club that keeps trying to offer an alternative to the English roll up your sleeves passion based game. We saw that game in all its glory in the recent U21 tournament. I digress.
I find myself focussing on big games. Big games linger, big game defeats linger longer still. We know we are developing but how can we win those big games in the months that matter. For me a key issue is getting that work versus flair balance back in the side. The message has to get to the players that there is no shame in hard work. The same importance must be placed on what we do on the ball and what we do without the ball.
I keep hearing this word “Playerish” – a Wenger word, an Arsenal word. I hate it. What does it mean? This isn’t play time.
Football is a game of many styles, systems and cultures but I have never seen a winning team without balance. You cannot just walk out on to the pitch with players who have the flair side of their brain switched on but unable to multi task and engage the work side. We have had players in the past that have one tenth of the talent we watch today but I ask myself, is consistent application and effort  a pre-requisite to play for Arsenal today? The right to play has to be earned.
I want to keep players names out of this, but if ever a goal epitomised 2009 Arsenal it was Anelka’s goal against CFC at home. He was allowed to run, not pressed, tackled or fouled; he ran and smashed a in a goal untouched. It was so easy he barely celebrated. I was truly shocked. We have to add the ingredients into our game mentality to redress the balance between work and flair. Vermaelen is a player who has that Keown like visible competitive edge to his game. Not an inch is given easily. Thou shall not pass oozes from his demeanour. I have a feeling he will be very popular at Arsenal.
We want the team to feel what we feel, I’m sure they do, but do they show it enough? We have developed a team of faceless non characters who we don’t know or trust. It hit me when we bought Arshavin. Ok the boy can play but you know why he is so popular. He has character. He has connected with us. We know him and we feel we can trust him. He works, he smiles, he instructs, leads and you can see he really wants to win. We don’t trust Eboue, Adebeyor – its opinion but I could name many more.
I sense that many Arsenal fans just don’t know whether they trust what they are being sold as a football product any longer.
Has there ever been a club so surrounded by mixed messages about players – in turn this causes a division within that club. A gap has appeared between players, fans and now the manager and his philosophy. Adebeyor is a classic example. What was written in the press true or not, spawned so much mixed opinion that we killed the player or some would say the player killed himself. We didn’t trust him. We don’t trust some of the players’ motivation hence we cry out for honest toil.  We have so many players in that will they won’t they stage of development that you cannot guess how they will perform next season. But we don’t fully believe so we actually as fans are hampering their progress. We are torn between sticking or twisting. Cheque book or another teenager?
First thing that needs to change is the club has to be united both on and off the pitch and not just in words but actions. We as fans have a huge part to play; we are a powerful mass audience that in the Emirates has yet to truly wield that power of positive force.
I want Arsenal to be a final destination club not a stepping stone to Madrid, Milan’s or Barca. We so want to believe and trust but first the hard work, that will lead to big games going our way and then, only then will the ‘New Arsenal’ with a big club infrastructure emerge.
Time to redress the balance Arsene!

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