The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Arsenal 1-0 Wigan: Turn Left

Ah, choices, choices. It’s a staple of sci-fi and fantasy shows to have at some point in their run the “what if?” episode where a slightly different choice is made at some point and consequently the world we know is totally different. This game may have been the sporting equivalent, as Arsenal absolutely bossed the proceedings for 65 minutes and might have had 3 or more on the board, until Amr Zaki came on in the 66th; from there on, it was at best even traffic and Wigan looked vastly more dangerous than previously. This could have easily ended up at anything from 4-1 to 1-2. By the end Almunia made a nice save and generally helped hold things together and the points were held in my view deservedly, but this game should be taken as another positive step in the road back to contention, not evidence that all ills are cured.

One thing that should be noted was that this was a good game for several figures and units who have come in for criticism from fans which has definitely included me. Alexandre Song was totally solid in the midfield, holding his areas, making tackles and provided a wonderful flick-on for Adebayor’s goal. It might have been his best game all year, maybe his best ever for the club. Adebayor himself looked much more the player of last season, taking his first chance well, getting other shots on target, and generally showing the effort and motor which made him so important in the past. At his best he’s a solid poacher and an underrated defensive forward who harasses and protects the midfield by forcing early errors. Denilson as well was very good indeed; few if any bad giveaways, crisp passing, probably should have scored on a shot that just hit the wrong side of the post. For most of the game as well the defense looked solid. Yes it was against Zakiless Wigan, but for stretches of this season I would not have put money on them to look stable and confident even against this Hesky-led rabble. And it must be said, Almunia was good- he made some good saves and some solid controls of the ball late on when Wigan were pressing, and if he didn’t have much to do for long stretched early on, he still did it well overall. I can only imagine this performance will be a boost of confidence for all those players, and rightly deserved it will be too. Well done, boys.

And I wish we could leave it here but as always with Arsenal of late, there’s controversy, which unsurprisingly involves Arsene and Eboue. They key quote about Eboue being subbed off as a sub is “It was a difficult decision but he had completely lost his confidence. He couldn’t keep the ball any more and had become a danger. I just didn’t want the 90 minutes’ work to go to waste. The fans contributed. He’s a sensitive boy who wants to do well and he cares about the club (…) The same fans will applaud him when he does well.”

I’d like to not read this as deliberately contemptuous of fans, but who really knows anymore. The issue is however, that it’s ridiculous to expect fans not to notice or pay attention to a player who is both playing in an actively bad manner and who has built up over the years such a terrible reputation as a cheat, a diver, a thug, and someone who simply does not seem to respect the game or his fellow professionals. This isn’t Bendtner, 20 years old and barely on his way as a professional; Eboue is 25, in his 4th year of playing regularly for the team, has had extended periods as a regular, and has built up his reputation over time. It’s even more ridiculous for a manager who pulls down millions of pounds a year partly to instill confidence and build resilient sides to throw a player coming off a knee injury out there in a high-pressure game, then pull him off and publicly name him as a danger to victory, and then claim that this is in any part the fault of fans reacting to the exact same things happening before their eyes which caused Arsene to pull the player off in the first place. I realize that he came on as an injury sub for Nasri, but Aaron Ramsey and Carlos Vela were also available and while they may be young, at least they have knees which work.

This was a good victory, and nothing should take away from that. But as we look to the future, I don’t think it’s irrational for fans to not ever want to hear about “a sensative boy” who played poorly because he couldn’t handle having his awful play noticed for what it was. I think we’re all tired of hearing about all the sensitivities of players who are supposed to be world-class title contenders. This in particular isn’t a young player vs. experienced player issue, since I don’t think anyone would accuse Cesc, Denilson, Nasri or others of mental weakness, and I do think many would accuse, say, William Gallas; but it takes on some elements of that debate since a lot of the urge for experienced players is an urge for players who are up for the challenge and can be counted on to play a hard 90 minutes week in and week out. There are a lot of such players at Arsenal right now starting with the captain, but there’s also a few who aren’t, and between those few dominating the press of late and a season full of late collapses, fans are, I think understandably, edgy and impatient. If you ask fans to support a player even when he’s playing as badly as Eboue was, you’re asking them to trust that it will all come good in the end and that best effort is being given. There’s been a lot of that asking and not enough showing in recent years, and this was one of those times when that lack of trust shines through.

Meanwhile on Arsenal blogs and comments threads the debate rages between those who say “fans are cunts” and those who say “Eboue is a bag of shit.” and so it goes.

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December 6, 2008 - Posted by | The Arsenal

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