Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Was it for the greater good? Match report.

Critics of Arsene Wenger often accuse him of having a utopian view of football which can never realistically be put into action. They point to events like our defeat to Chelsea and argue that this is evidence, that playing beautiful passing football does not work as it is 'powder-puff' and the bigger teams can simply bully Arsenal.

But after Sunday, perhaps they will suggest that in reality he actually has a utilitarian view of football. After all, pre-match it made no sense that Cesc was on the bench. If he was fit, he should start; if he was injured, there was no point in him being on the bench. Whilst undoubtedly it was his sprint to get there for the second goal that made him feel his hamstring, presumably Cesc didn't start as he wasn't 100% fit. So this means Wenger threw him on, presuming that any recurrence of the hamstring strain was worth us winning the match.

In other words, it was done for the 'greater good'. A clearly utilitarian footballing philosophy. But as an ethical system, utilitarianism is interested in effects: so to tell whether Cesc's injury was worth it, it is necessary to look at both the short and the long-term.

This alludes to a very important point: it is hugely disingenuous to argue that without Cesc we would not have won the game. Sure, we weren't brilliant but we weren't awful a la first-half against Liverpool. Diaby was playing really well and we didn't look like conceding a goal. I grant you, it didn't look like we would win 3-0; but I would have fancied us to grab a goal and defend well. Winning so comprehensively against a big side may have given us extra momentum, but who knows - its possible we could have won 3-0 without Cesc. Regular readers will know of my infatuation with Denilson, but injury aside, if he had stayed on he had scored an equally good free-kick the previous week.

There is absolutely no argument that Cesc's cameo was a brilliant performance that changed the game, galvanized our team, and guaranteed us three points. But, particularly now we will be missing Song and Denilson, having Cesc fit is of extra importance. And the bottom line is that he is missing. The case in point, is that its all very well we beat Villa, but our team was playing solidly and may have gone on to win. On the other hand, who is to say that we won't be dreadful tonight and need some inspiration from our captain. Next up, we have Portsmouth, Bolton (twice), and Everton. These are all teams fighting relegation, even if Everton are better than that. So ten points is a minimum requirement and we'd hope to take twelve.

Of course, this is all conjecture. There's every possibility that we'll cope fine without Cesc and that would be just ideal. But in the cold light of the day, when the euphoria from a brilliant victory a few days ago has evaporated, it is difficult not to question the manager's decision. Undoubtedly it created a great football match and a brilliant victory; but as the title to this post says, it came at a certain cost.

Was it for the greater good? Well, it certainly has galvanised the fans - having beaten a good team handsomely, there is hope that we really could go on and win the League. We are also most certainly the form team and have momentum carrying us forward: this post is not downbeat, I accept we are in excellent position at the moment, it is just that it could changed. There is also no guarantee that any poor results we pick up over the next few weeks would have been changed by Cesc.

But what we do know, is that second-half the stadium was rocking and everyone was delighted. When the fans are happy, it is more conducive to them singing loudly and spurring on the team. Ultimately, Wenger was vindicated by Cesc's performance. But that was merely on the day.

At Fratton Park, we have a very mediocre record with several draws down the years. To make the victory against Villa mean something, we have to win tonight. That, is the bottom line. Here's hoping.

Keep the faith,

PS: No praise for Theo but if he managed to play a good ball like that again tonight I may be eating humble pie. I'm not worried yet...

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