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Guided By Voices

It`s hardly been the most glorious of weeks to be an Arsenal fan. Something of an understatement I`m sure you will agree. Despite the navel gazing amongst us at the moment, it is perhaps somewhat surprising that the bigger picture does not look too bad. Two points off the pace at the top of the Premiership with the chance to go top in our early kick off at Villa Park on Saturday, qualification from the group stage of the Champions League for the eleventh consecutive season still very much within our grasp and into the Quarter Finals of the League Cup. Of course, this time last week we were hoping for more, but we are still in a position where we master our own destiny in all competitions. However, defeat at Villa Park on Saturday would spell freefall; we are in a delicate position. It is simply not a time for piteous reflection; it`s a time for leaders, a time to step up.

Our captain and talisman is likely to be missing for a little while now. Personally, I hope the manager gives him all the time he needs to cure this problem once and for all rather than patching him up and pushing him over the limit. Wenger has spoken about Fabregas` caution with his hamstrings inhibiting his form. Well Tuesday night showed that that caution was well founded, it does nobody any good to have this lugubriously hanging Cesc like the sword of Damocles. If he needs 10 weeks, give him 10 weeks and let`s be rid of this problem. Of course, his absence leaves a chasm, both as a player and as a leader. I think Cesc is one of the only true voices on the pitch. (At the end of the first half against Spurs, I saw him persistently motioning his midfielders to calm down and play possession). Arsenal look like a team that lacks direction on the pitch. I have written recently about our lack of appreciation of in game fluctuations, they don`t appreciate when to adapt to their opponents challenge. They don`t seem to be aware that it`s not necessary to have six forwards when you`re two goals up. This is where we need an anchor man, to tug the rope and let his charges know when to calm down, when to clear their lines, where the weak links lie in the opposition. Now Cesc is out, we really need someone to step forward, grow a larynx and take charge of the wheel.

Cesc and Theo Walcott gave an interview to Football Focus two weekends ago. The questions they were asked revolved thematically around the dressing room and the sort of characters Arsenal employ. The interviewer asked, perhaps knowingly, "Who`s the one that thumps their fists and screams and shouts in the dressing room." Both laughed and replied in unison, "No, we don`t do that at Arsenal." This tallies with something Cesc said in an interview with Fourfourtwo a couple of years ago. Don`t get me wrong, I don`t think our ills will be cured by a pump of the fist and a grimacing gurn, but I can give two pertinent examples of what I am talking about. If you watch footage of Jens Lehmann`s penalty save versus Villarreal (yes, I`ve watched it about 5,000 times too), you see that when Sol Campbell toe pokes the rebound clear and Lehmann collects the ball into his grasp, a giddy Kolo Toure skips over to congratulate him. At this point, Jens looks furiously at Toure and barks at him to bloody well clear off and concentrate on the game. Or when we played Liverpool at the Grove for the first time. I recall Gilberto pulling Toure to one side and pointing towards the Liverpool centre halves. For about five minutes, presumably on Gilberto`s instruction, Gilberto slotted into centre half and Toure propelled into midfield, carrying the ball forwards with gusto. Less than ten minutes later, Toure had used his pace to break through the Liverpool defence and bury a well taken finish. Gilberto had spotted a lack of pace at centre half for Liverpool and figured that Toure was in a better position to expose this weakness than he was.

Now Gilberto did not necessarily have to bark this instruction with an acid tongued, froth mouthed rant. But it is this perceptiveness and communication that Arsenal will require now to steady some mid air turbulence. There are characters in the side capable of it too. Who could forget our equaliser against Hull City in the F.A. Cup two years ago, when a huddle of Arsenal players planned a dance and a cuddle next to the corner flag, until Arshavin cracked the whip and angrily ordered the players back to the centre circle to start the fight for the winning goal? Fabregas` absence will probably mean more game time for Tomas Rosicky, who I would identify as one of the players intelligent enough to take this kind of command. But he needs to communicate the fruits of his football brain to others. Gael Clichy is the longest serving member of the team and as such, needs to find his voice box. Sebastien Squillaci has been around the block and is the sort of no nonsense defender we have missed for a while. Wenger described him as a quiet leader back at the beginning of October. Perhaps it is time he became a more vocal leader too.

Samir Nasri is visibly growing in the team and he will also more than likely be charged with undertaking Cesc`s role in the team. It is a chance Nasri will relish; he is in some good form and will be given a run in his favoured position. In filling Cesc`s void, he will need to foster the ability to dictate the pace of games. This is a skill that only the top performers master. Paul Scholes, Essien and Cesc are the only current players I can think of that manage it on a consistent basis. Nasri will need to step up too and turn excellent cameos into constant, 90 minute wheel turns. There doesn`t appear to be a lack of bonhomie in the team. With more peripheral, divisive characters such as Gallas and Adebayor now glibly dotted on the horizon, the squad harmony looks, on the outside at least, to be in good fettle. But now is a time for some movers and shakers to appear from the pack, appreciate alterations in a game`s pattern and instruct his team mates to adapt to them appropriately. When interviewed by Julien Temple about his school days, John Lydon described himself as "a very shy, church mouse like figure." That was until illness confined him to a coma in his infancy, he explains how he emerged from that coma a more fiery character. It`s time for Arsenal to step out of their coma; it`s time to see some anti heroes.LD.

P.S. Having penned this article, I have literally, just come across this article from Martin Keown. Weird.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Thursday November 25 2010

Time: 9:54AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
LD, great article. I hope Wenger and the team are of the same mind. One only has to look at the effect the absence of John Terry and Essien has had on Chelsea to understand the importance of leadership on the field. Cesc has been out of sorts and I think this has been reflected in the team's lack of cohesion. Who can step up to the plate? Well, with the team rotating (through injury and suspensions) faster than Gavin Henderson on Strictly its difficult one to guess. Does Nasri have the maturity? His spat with Gallas doesn't suggest so. I also tend to go with the opinion that defenders and defensive midfielders make better captains, which limits the field even further. Pity about Vermalen. I think he'd make a superb leader.
Wyn Mills
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25/11/2010 10:18:00

Wenger has always said all the players on the field are captains. We know that's his philosophy. Its something he might have brought back with him from Japan. Maybe. I don't know. What I do believe is not all players can lead, just as we know not every member of Joe Public is a manager. That needs to be dealt with honestly by the manager so that players are aware who has the authority to bark the commands. Otherwise all you have is a different form of chaos.
Wyn Mills
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25/11/2010 10:38:00

could it be a case of no one wanting to yell at their mates? I noted a couple of games ago Fabianski of all people marshaling the defense following a corner, urging people to pressure the clearance...
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25/11/2010 10:49:00

Culd have a point, perhaps Gallas had the advantage of being something of an outsider when marshalling his defence. I also agree that having "a team of captains" is all very well, but every eam needs some alpha males. Once they establish themselves, you tend to find the quieter ones find their voices too and feel more confident.
Little Dutch
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25/11/2010 11:01:00

really good read this. Wait til next year, new signings never usually make a big impact in team captain stakes for a couple of years at least, so wait to see if any of them come through as leaders
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25/11/2010 11:39:00

Fantastic theory, but out of the likely XI that'll start on Saturday - I genuinely don't see one leader amongst them apart from maybe one of the Centre Halves. We just need to hope that Villa aren't too energetic and don't play long balls over the top or basically do any of the basics well.
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25/11/2010 13:10:00

Our away record seems to suggest we're not exactly soft, nor are we as thoroughly tactical naive as our supporters try to make out. It's just a case of having that intelligence to realise that you don't always have to play exactly the same way in every single game for 90 minutes for the whole season.
Little Dutch
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25/11/2010 13:14:00

I'm not sure we have enough members of this team to rise to become true leaders, I think we'll have to acquire those kinds of players. Gallas was potentially one, but obviously something didn't gel with the team. Look at the difference Campbell made for us last season in his few games. The only real leaders I can see from our current squad are Vermaelen, Cesc, Rosicky and possibly RvP (if fit!). I still think something about our formation and the way we're set up is to do with the numbers of goals we concede, which is the crux of the problem.
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25/11/2010 13:59:00

Sol Campbell would have been perfect right now.
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25/11/2010 14:04:00

Maybe he would have been useful, but let's not get too misty eyed, he did play pretty much every game during ur implosion in April and also played 90 minutes of a 5-1 defeat last weekend. It needs to be a bit more collective than that. Sol's performance at WHL should be a good template, but we need some of the more established players that have been inside the club for a while to take some command now.
Little Dutch
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25/11/2010 14:21:00

Great stuff. I have been thinking along the same lines for a little while now. Of course it isn't just about being vocal. If it's bollox it's still bollox even if you shout it loudly. The person giving the instructions has to have the intelligence and experience to see the pictures and the ability and authority to communicate what needs to be done. You could see that Gilberto had the intelligence and experience for example and we got to learn that he had the personality. With the current team we can see thatplayers like Nasri might have the personality but maybe not yet the match experience. You can see that Squillaci has the experience but what do we know about his personality? In a sense it shouldn't matter. If the leaders are in the team then you'd expect they would make their presence felt whether they had the captain's armband or not. But maybe someone has to have this authority thrust on them to make them step forward confidently. Rosicky doesn't seem to be first choice often enough to take the role - maybe this could be the making of Arshavin. You're right though - someone needs to take command and quickly.
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25/11/2010 14:23:00

Disagree on a couple of points. A defeat at Villa park does not mean free-fall. We've seen worse and still managed to claw back to 4th place ever so often. Similarly, a string of hard earned victories does not mean that we have turned a corner either. As for the leaders, I really think we need atleast one Roy Keane type.. some of these lads cannot hear the less vocal ones we have at Arsenal.
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25/11/2010 14:42:00

Sol Campbell in his pomp perhaps, and with a better midfield in front of him. I must say I'd be interested to see more of Djourou in Song's position. Better tackler and all round distributor of the ball for me. I also like what he's said in the press recently...not hiding like some of the other players. That's a good sign.
Wyn Mills
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25/11/2010 14:48:00

There has to be a certain individual responsibility as well to fulfil the role that has been outlined to them by the manager prior to the match. A call or signal from the sideline should be all that’s required to adapt to the required system based on the changing situation and the captain is there to re-enforce that on the field of play. Of course, I assume that Pat and Arsene are adapting to match fluctuations, but it doesn’t appear to be particularly obvious unless the players are ignoring the instructions or they simply don’t have the intelligence to carry them out. There is a point of failure somewhere as the same events are repeating themselves again and again illustrated by the image of our defenders scurrying back and falling over in the wake of an opponent’s counter-attack. I don’t think that this deficiency is necessarily down to lack of leaders on the pitch, it is a fundamental flaw in our style of play.
Sir Henry
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25/11/2010 14:51:00

Why's that a good sign i'd rather they all said sweet fanny adams.
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25/11/2010 15:01:00

Well my take on it is its shows he has a voice. Its not just a mealy mouthed apology, more a recognition of the weaknesses in the team and a realisation of what failure really means to the club. When players talk about what it means to the club rather than themselves I see it as a good sign.
Wyn Mills
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25/11/2010 16:24:00

I don't buy Wenger's theory of 11 captains. It is not natural, it doesn't work in any path of life. Every army needs its general, every kitchen its chef, every company its CEO... They can't all be boss. the same applies to football. Every successful team in any sport has always had a central figure or even 2. But saying you have 11 of them dilutes the power of the leader.
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25/11/2010 16:49:00

I also don't buy the 11 captains on the pitch argument. I think it ultimately dilutes responsibility. But...The captain's armband seems to be passed around willy nilly these days. its a natural consequence of player rotation and a relatively young team perhaps.
Wyn Mills
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25/11/2010 17:31:00

Cesc is the skipper and team leader, a fact quite frequently re-iterated. In his absence, the role falls to RvP, Rosicky and Almunia, about in that order. I feel Wenger's allusion to 11 leaders was intended to suggest or create a semblance of maturity in each player so as to bring out the Man in them, especially during Cesc's absence. Alas! It doesn't seem to be working because there have been times the team could do with true leaders on the pitch. I'll look forward to seeing more voice guidance (shouting)-Fabianski is particularly effective here- and back patting, all around. Sometimes, it helps to remind erring teammates to keep the focus. The team can bounce back.
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25/11/2010 18:19:00

This is a problem that's existed since AW broke up the Invincibles & has been commented on so many times by pundits, former players, Arsenal supporters, blogs, etc., etc. AW has dismissed its importance all along, making the ridiculous "captains all over the pitch" comment. It's a problem that we all keep coming back to. It's always astonished me that AW thought he could build a new team by purging it of all experience-it's not brain surgery to grasp the importance of balance between youth and experience in a football team. I've never been able to understand how such an intelligent and experienced manager put so little importance on it. He seems to have belatedly recognized its importance given some of his comments about Sol's contribution last season.
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25/11/2010 22:08:00

Good article. I agree that Vermaelen looks like the natural inheritor of the Arsenal captaincy. Clichy doesn't look to be made of the right stuff, mentally. I like Sagna's solidity and no-nonsense approach, but he seems too quiet by nature. Van Persie has the right stuff, but he is unlikely to be on the pitch enough to be a proper option.
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25/11/2010 23:00:00

I guess to some extent this could be a consequence of trying to grow a team together in the way we have. Although many of the 'youths' have reached or are reaching physical maturity around 23 or so, despite the number of games they've played they may not have reached the level of maturity that enables them to feel that they have the right answers to take up the right recovery positions in differing game situations. Or if they do they don't yet have the pyshological maturity the certainty of belief in their experience to communicate in definite enough terms what needs to be done. Wenger hasn't neglected experience altogether in this time. He brought Gallas and Silvestre into the squad. Rosicky and Arshavin are mature players. Eduardo, Hleb, Vermaelen, Sagna, Koscienly and Vermaelen were mid age players when they came in. You might imagine that Squillaci has the experience but you've got to be a pretty forceful character when you've just joined a new workgroup and are building relationships with your workmates to assume command from the start. Maybe we'll yet see that commanding character emerge from the pack and find the voices we need are in there somewhere.
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26/11/2010 00:11:00

In RvP, Sagna, Squillaci and Rosicky we still have sufficient captain material in the team. Nasri is not mature enough for the same role but one thing that has emerged about him this season is that he does not like to lose. Nasri is begining to impose his will on games and despite the absence of Cesc, we will still put out a strong side at Villa Park.
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26/11/2010 06:28:00

Sagna captain material?! Be-have. And Amos, 23/24 year olds doesn't denote "mid age players" in most people's books, i'm sure.
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26/11/2010 11:32:00

RVP and Rosicky not regular starters at the moment. That just leaves newcomer Squillaci. Does he know how to shout "Fecking get your ass back here"! in English? :0)
Wyn Mills
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26/11/2010 13:58:00

23 might seem a bit young but at one time it denoted the age at which players would be considered too old for the national junior sides. In any case none of the 'mid-age' players I listed were less than 24 and most well on their way to 25 at the time they joined us. Seems a bit of a silly point to make I suppose.
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29/11/2010 14:37:00


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