Archive for November 10th, 2008

Fabulous, Frustrating, Fantasy Football

Add comment November 10th, 2008

Nasri blasts in his and Arsenal's second

Arsenal 2 – 1 Manchester United (Nasri 22, 48, Rafael 89) Highlights here

Ugly football does not exist for any reason other than neccessity.  Whatever the media might have you believe, a team like Stoke is designed not on the back of some kind of home-spun, ‘English’ integrity.  The line-up and tactics that Stoke and others employ are merely a consequence of the fact that there are not enough top quality footballers to allow every team to play with the same kind of aesthetic excellence those lucky enough to be at the Emirates Stadium witnessed yesterday.

Alex Ferguson called it “fantasy football”, and for once I’d be inclined to agree with his purple-facèdness.  It was one of the most exciting games I can remember watching in person.  Seeing Fabregas and Nasri taking on Rooney, Ronaldo and Berbatov was an artistic duel to capture anyone’s imagination.  It was the kind of game which must attract new fans to football, and remind those whose lives have long been intertwined with the sport just why they love it so much.

The game was an extraordinary spectacle, and whilst I fully believe that our committment and class warranted the three points, I will admit that on another day it could have been very different.  There were so many chances that this could very easily have been another 4-4.

Whilst the performance was spectacular, it was the result that was of paramount importance.  After draws against Spurs and Fenerbahce sandwiched the defeat at Stoke, questions were rightly being asked of this team’s capacity to deliver success in the short-term.  A win against United was as strong a response as we could have envisaged.  Whilst we showed the odd defensive lapse, Manuel Almunia (and later Lukasz Fabianski) were both commanding and decisive.  Sagna and Clichy were their usual outstanding selves, whilst Mikael Silvestre’s partnership with William Gallas continues to show promise.

Silvestre is not the long-term solution to our defensive woes, but he does show the value of signing the odd experienced player: unlike some members of our squad, playing for Arsenal does not represent a stepping stone to a ‘bigger’ club.  Being what Arsene doubtless considers the ‘wrong’ side of thirty, he cherishes every minute he gets to play at this level, and is subsequently as keen to prove his value as any teenager.  Alongside him, Gallas looks significantly more comfortable, and Saturday marked one of the maligned captain’s finer performances in an Arsenal shirt.

Our front six had an average age of just 20, but their youthful exuberance proved too much for Manchester United, particularly the rapidly ageing Gary Neville – another subject of criticism, Denilson, was particularly outstanding.  Every time the play broke down he was there to pick up the second ball and start another intricate passing move.  Whilst he and Cesc don’t function particularly well in a 4-4-2, the extra body of Diaby seems to allow them both to flourish.  Bendtner and Walcott worked hard and were a threat on the break, but special credit must go to the scorer of both goals: Samir Nasri.  With five goals in just twelve games, and a creative instinct to boot, he looks like a fantastic signing.  It’s remarkable to think that he is still only 21.  Whilst the second was undoubtedly a better strike, both goals showed an awareness of the neccessity to take chances early and authoritively – a lesson Aleksandr Hleb never learnt.


Fantastic though Saturday was, one game does not answer the many questions posed by defeats against Fulham, Hull, and Stoke.  We will always have a chance against the big teams because, for the most part, they come out and look to play football.  Not only does that make for an entertaining spectacle, but it also affords us the neccessary space to conduct the kind of elegant passing move that led to Nasri’s superb second.

With our topsy-turvy form this season, it has often been said that all Arsenal fans can hope for is to win the next game.  Until a significant run of form is established, that doesn’t change.  This victory, however enjoyable, can only have true worth in the context of our season if it acts as a catalyst for change. 

What it ought to give us is belief.   The defeat at Fulham, in only our second match of the season, infected the squad with a seed of doubt that has since festered and eaten at the fragile confidence of our young players.  By triumphing in adversity yesterday, they may well have delivered an antidote to that doubt.

Right from kick-off (setting aside a nervy six minutes of stoppage time), there wasn’t a soul in that stadium who did not believe in Arsenal’s quality.  The fans believed – the support was vocal and vociferous, and the cheers that met every successful pass or crunching tackle only served to invest the team with a desire to give yet more.  The players believed – they never shirked the physical battle, and had the confidence to play the passing game at which they excel despite both the occasion and the opposition.  And on the touchline stood Arsene Wenger – a man who has never stopped believing, and whose faith has been questioned, criticised, and occasionally ridiculed. 

Fans, team and manager are football’s Holy Trinity (and if we worship Arsenal, then Arsene is the father, the team: his son, and the fans: a rather rowdy holy ghost).  The three share an interdependent faith.  On Saturday, every party fulfilled their share of the bargain.  If we are to experience such glorious occasions again this season, that has to continue.

With faith restored, the path forward is clearer.  Fans, players, and manager alike must recognise that their performance levels must not alter, whether it’s Manchester United, Middlesbrough, or Macclesfield.  On Saturday we witnessed the scale of our potential.  Any further slip-ups will feel all the more frustrating in light of that.  We have set the standard.  Now, together, we must live up to it.

I talk like this is news, whereas perhaps we’ve merely forgotten something that is critical to Arsenal’s entire philosophy.  Our club motto:

Victoria Concordia Crescit

Victory Through Harmony

 A sentiment, I’d suggest, worth bearing in mind. 

Have a good week.

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