In an effort to full integrate with the Arsène Wenger regime, Big Per has spoken in the wake of yet another avoidable defeat, saying that the team mustn’t listen to what others say and only look at themselves after a performance like Saturday’s.
Hmm. Now where have I heard that before? Oh yes, it feels like it’s been every single Arsenal captain for the last ten years, as well as the chosen PR spokesperson – Clichy, Djorou, etc, etc – during that period too.
But let’s not forget that this is also the mantra of the main man himself: Arsène Wenger. It’s been used as one of his stock phrases so many times down the years that if it was on an Arsène Wenger Bingo card, the words would probably be starting to be unreadable by now, such is the fading of over usage that has occurred.
Arsène has been notorious for his ‘we don’t worry about the opposition’ approach to football games and whilst there have been instances in the past where we’ve seen that’s not the case – City away, Chelski away this season – it is clear to anyone who regularly watches his teams that this is the exception rather than the rule.
So Big Per’s comments shouldn’t surprise anyone really. He’s about to be given the keys to the walled garden that is Arsenal’s coaching set up and from where he’s sitting it probably makes sense to say something like that. If he was a member of the UK’s Conservative Political Party Cabinet he’d probably be telling reporters that “Theresa’s doing a great job” before scuttling off quicker than you can say “Brexit means Brexit”.
But as you know, I know, the whole world outside of the walled garden of Arsenal know, football has changed. Players, teams and most importantly managers, have all changed. Arsène Wenger is no pong the stand out ‘Professeur’ amongst a sea of tracksuit wearing ‘Arry’s, Pulis’ and Mick McCarthy’s.
Everyone studies the game these days. Everything is about the detail. Modern day sport is about fine margins, about marginal gains, about being able to spot a different approach than everybody else.
Arsène Wenger operates in a footballing bubble where the best player in every position means you should be able to beat your opponent. Then you just rely on the intelligence of the players to be able to adapt to the variables of a football match.
But here’s the thing: I don’t think footballers are as intelligent as they used to be. I think the advent of sports science, of data-driven performance, has led the big football clubs – and I’m talking about Premier League as a whole, not just the top six or seven – to analyse the game to within an inch of its life and then communicate to footballers in fine details about what they need to do on the pitch, where they need to be and how they need to move.
Just consider what Pep has done in his managerial career. He is very explicit in the detail with all of his players. Each has an instruction on actions they need to perform and if they don’t, that players gone, with a prime example being Yaya Toure at Barcelona.
But it’s not just Pep. We hear of Hose being a man of great details. Of Benitez being the same. All over the Premier League where you look at managers who are making successful careers – relative to the team and budget they are working on – you see how football is so very different from 15 years ago.
Yet we – through our manager – haven’t embraced it. Sure, we’ve bought a stats company and sure, by the sounds of it some players have been bought from those recommendations. But those players have also been marginalised and shipped out because they don’t fit the picture of what the manager wants. I was no fan of Gabriel but he seemed to work in a back three. Yet he was gone.
But transfers aren’t my main point. My main point is that in a league of fine details, of analysing and attempting to exploit ones opponent’s weaknesses, we are still hearing noises from within the club about not worrying about anyone else but ourselves. I don’t care that the context is slightly different between Big Per and when Arsène talks about opponents in upcoming games, the mentality remains the same and that mentality comes from the culture and mindset brought about by the manager and the coaching staff.
Are you not worried about that? Does that not concern you that we are being left behind more and more as every week goes by it feels?
And the most crushing thing of all is that we know we have a minimum of at least two seasons before any change could happen. Not even will happen, just could, although one man retiring won’t solve all the problems. We’re all aware of that by now.
But it could be the true ‘catalyst for change’ and right now, as things stand, isn’t that what we all want? Change? Something different? Rolling the dice for once?
I know I do.