Wednesday, 30 October 2013

On nuance or why you don't need a strong opinion on everything

Modern society seems to have mutated into some crazy arena where not only are we expected to have a view on everything, but that view needs to be exceptionally strong, usually based on limited evidence and strong rhetoric. Let me put my cards on the table and concede that I've certainly been guilty of this at times.

It leads to a society where rather than saying "the referee made a mistake, easily done at that speed" you start saying things like "it was an absolutely outrageous decision to make, completely despicable and it highlights a culture in which match-fixing is rife and bias among referees is common" and people don't even find this particularly outlandish. I digress.

Carl Jenkinson's form for Arsenal has not been brilliant of late. This is partly true but the negative view of it has been exacerbated by people taking an overly positive view of his performances last season, leaving him further to fall. He made plenty of mistakes last season - he had a habit of passing the ball inside and nearly giving the ball away - but as they did not lead to goals, nobody really noticed.

Do I believe a 21-year-old going through a shaky patch is a big deal? No. For one thing, he's played eight times this season and last night was - as far as I can remember - the first time he's made a mistake which led to a goal. But more importantly, it's normal for young players to be inconsistent. This is nothing new.

But what I'm really getting at is that after loads of people called Jenkinson shit on Twitter, you then get the inevitable backlash of people saying he must be brilliant because he was given a new contract and Wenger trusts him.

Like with most things, the truth is somewhere in the middle: he's not good enough for the Arsenal first team at the moment but there's no reason to believe he couldn't be in the future.

It's similar with Thomas Vermaelen: the way people talk about him you'd think he's one of the worst players EVAH EVAH EVAH. Whereas in reality, he's not as good as Koscielny or Mertesacker but not a bad player. It's interesting that although ostensibly Koscielny played Mertesacker's position last night, Vermaelen is blamed for any defensive instability. As a wise man once said, hmmmm.

The truth is that having incredibly strong opinions just to stand out is rather silly. Most players have negatives but also some positives. That's why after extensive scouting they were bought by Arsenal.

Keep the faith.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Arsenal are the new Backstreet Boys

...In that they're back. Hopefully this time it's for good.

What I watched on Tuesday night was the finest performance from Arsenal in several seasons. No longer can the recent run simply be attributed to playing not particularly good teams. Napoli are a very good team who out-classed BVB on Matchday One but who were simply no match for Arsenal.

I saw some people claiming that Napoli struggled because they insisted on taking pot-shots from 25 yards but that was the outcome, rather than the symptom. Napoli were forced into taking long shots because of Arsenal's intelligent pressing and defensive shape. In football, when you have the ball you have three choices: run, pass or shoot. At the point the first two of those are repeatedly made impossible, you have to resort to shooting from distance. That this happened means Arsenal deserve a lot of credit.

And it's probably the best thing to watch about this current Arsenal team. People used to mock Arsenal fans for getting jittery when a team came back from 2-0 to 2-1 but it was precisely because Arsenal had a history of letting leads slip and never seemed especially comfortable trying to hold a lead rather than adding to it. From the back-end of last season onwards, Arsenal's defensive positioning and shape has been much better with the team genuinely defending as a team.

The tangible benefits of this are huge. Because even when you are slightly profligate in your attacking play - like against Napoli - if you're comfortable at the back, it doesn't tend to matter. Every time I see Arsenal defending a one-goal lead late on now, I'm very confident they'll hold it.

I've been made to look foolish in the past, but the signs are incredibly encouraging for this team. Finally, the shadow of the twin departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri has lifted. I no longer need to bemoan them leaving because the team can compete again. I said at the beginning of the season that the fixture list was very kind to Arsenal until November - but the team still needed to take advantage of that, and has. And whatever question marks remain over whether they can keep it up in the Premier League, it's six points from six in the elite competition in which Arsenal were supposedly 'dead'.

Keep the faith.