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.