Great Expectations

Remember yesterday when I said that I hoped we would have some real Arsenal news to discuss today? That seems optimistically naïve now… the silence, she continues..

I guess in truth we are still three days away from the game against Sunderland and the players that have been away on international duty don’t return to the club until today so team and injury news is pretty thin on the ground right now.

One man who has been talking is Andrey Arshavin, the little Russian has been telling Arsenal fans that they should expect more from him. When I first saw the headline yesterday afternoon I must admit I thought he was on a wind-up because frankly we’ve been expecting a lot more from him for a couple of years now and any extension of the expectation level would surely be no good to our already fragile state of supportive mind.

It seems that with the European Championships starting to creep into view the diminutive midfielder has realised he needs to up his game. Having been so disappointed by his nations failure to reach the last World Cup the Russian captain may have realised that this could well be his last chance to lead the mother land to victory in a major finals, he’ll be 31 by the time the tournament comes around and most likely knows as well as we do that by the time the 2014 World Cup arrives he could be out of the international picture or at least demoted to a mere squad player, no longer the wearer of the Sbornaya armband.

If you think we Gooners may have got on the former Zenit players back at times it’s nothing compared to the stick he has taken from Russian fans, pundits and former players – Viktor Ponedelnik, one of the heroes of the USSR’s 1960 European Championships victory, has more than once called for Arshavin to be stripped of the captaincy stating – “Arshavin is a nominal figure… He play’s on his own – we should say good-bye”

Sovetsky Sport columnist Yuri Tsybanev has suggested that Dick Advocatt, the Dutch coach of the Russian team, is picking the player on reputation alone while former USSR defender Yevgeny Lovchev has gone so far as to suggest that Gunners boss Arsene Wenger talks Arshavin up for no other reason than to make sure his value doesn’t drop… I think we know that is pretty far-fetched, we’ll never get anywhere near the reported £15m we paid Zenitchiki back in 2009. Even if  the reported interest from big spending Russian Premier League side Anzi Makhachkala is true surely they wouldn’t be prepared to pay that much? *They probably would actually.

We shouldn’t belittle the weight of expectation the Russian nation places on its football teams shoulders and in particular those of Andrey Arshavin. He is more than a footballer to his country, he is an ambassador and an icon who should, it is felt, be leading the side and indeed the nation to victory. It is no exaggeration to say that he is the Soviet David Beckham but in a country of 142 million people Arshavin’s status across the federation makes old Golden Balls look like a gurning milk man who enjoyed five minutes of fame on the ironically titled Britain’s Got Talent.

While we let Beck’s dazzle world leaders and foreign dignitaries on occasion Andrey is  bestowed a far more politicised role back home. It’s possible that the heartfelt speech he delivered and which helped Russia clinch the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Zurich last year brought the player to tears not just because of his genuine belief in the immediate impact and cultural legacy the tournament will have on his country but also because of the level of expectation placed upon him, he wasn’t just a well-known footballer there to do the celebrity schmoozing he was expected to bag the biggest show of them all.

None of this is an excuse for his sometimes lifeless Arsenal performances but it certainly must all have some kind of impact. Lets hope that he is determined enough to take up the challenges laid down to him and that his performances can indeed improve for both club and country starting with  Sunderland this weekend. I’ll admit that at times I’ve had my doubts about the true ability of the man who scored those four goals at Anfield, we’ve seen that vision drive and determination all to rarely during his time at the club and I, and I’m sure every other Gooner, would love to see him fulfill that early promise and become a catalyst of this current Arsenal side – we could certainly do with it right now and what better way for the player himself to prepare for the Euro’s.

In other, perhaps more vanity type, news I’m delighted to be part of the Arsenal.com ‘Talking Heads’ section once again and you can read my thoughts on the game by clicking this link and visiting the site.

Big Dave is here tomorrow so be sure to check out his very interesting look at those player contracts that are running down.

Thanks for reading.

Paul

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Fighting Back

It’s difficult to believe that any club fighting its way to wining the league championship would ever take the opinion that everyone is against them but during the 1990/91 old Division One season that is exactly what George Graham instilled in his players – A solid belief that no one wanted to see the Arsenal crowned league champions for the second time in three seasons, that the national press were against them because “Nothing ever comes out of Highbury“, the Football Association were against them having fined the club £50,00 and two precious points for their part in the brawl that took place at Old Trafford in the October of that campaign. George even went so far as to suggest that the fans were not fully behind the team and in his famous teamtalk at London Colney he reiterated to his players the importance of getting the fans on their side, he even assured the squad that he would play his part in this, that he would get the fans backing the team during their title run in.

Having been at an age where the politics of football held little to no interest for me I can’t honestly say I vividly remember a feeling that we were coming under attack from all sides back then but from the ten thousand times I watched my VHS copy of the season review aptly titled ‘Champions‘ that defiance and felling that it was ‘us against them’ has always stuck with me.

I think it’s safe to say that we’re unlikely to be crowned Premier League Champions this season and while the club have certainly helped stir the fans current irritation with price increases, transfer impotence, the teams poor form etc in recent months (I don’t want to go into too much detail less I defeat my own purpose here) and as a collective we do certainly have a belief that the written press and outlets such as Sky Sports News are against us. That they’re ready and willing to pick up the tiniest of sticks and prod poke and beat us with them. But more often than not we’re assured by our perceived detractors that this simply isn’t true and we’re paranoid (Usually at the foot of an article laying into our inability to do anything but the opposite of all they implore us as a club to do).

This week I’ve enjoyed what to me looks like the clubs attempts at a resistance…

It began with CEO Ivan Gazidis speaking at a Sports Industry Group breakfast at the start of the week.Ivan spoke not only of owner Stan Kroenke’s full involvement with club matters and the muted Americans apparent plans to share his thoughts with fans and media alike when next on English soil, he also spoke of his backing for the boss in the wake of last weekends defeat at Ewood Park. The South African/British chief exec rounded on Wenger’s critics assuring them that the Frenchman is – “As focused on delivering success as ever. He didn’t suddenly become a bad manager, that’s nonsense

We all know that as a public speaker Ivan is somewhat silver-tongued, it’s a natural environment for the former Deputy commissioner of the MLS. W also know that behind the scenes he is frustrated by the hammering the club is getting from all directions and whilst he may have similar views to the rest of us when it comes to expenditure on playing staff and some of Wenger’s methods he is, professionally at least, a company man and wouldn’t be earning his crust if he didn’t attempt to dampen the fire and get the clubs PR reputation back on track. It may have been an odd thing to say but I quite liked his defence of Wenger when he said – “He’s not broken. To see him portrayed as some kind of idiot is damaging to the game“.

Maybe it’s not what Ivan meant but for us all to now round on Wenger and portray him as some kind of fool in the way that Steve Howard would (and does) after all he achieved in the game is somewhat shortsighted and in an age where anyone and everyone in a position of responsibility at football clubs is only a poor performance away from the dole queue it is important for the game that those with the reputation and longevity of Wenger, Ferguson and the like is giving lesser mortals less than a cat in hells chance of getting anywhere near the types of career those two have had.

Ivan’s backing seemed to stiffen the lips and harden the resolve of our boss and our players. After the clubs Carling Cup victory over Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday night Arsene himself came out with some of the old fighting talk, dismissing suggestions that he had received a so-called vote of confidence and that speculation surrounding his longterm future at the helm of the Gunners was foolhardy, he told his inquisitors: “My record? I have just managed 14 years at this club and I have kept them 14 years in the Champions League and I wish it lasts another 14 years

Maybe it was the heat of the interview battle and the line of enquiry from those who talk a good game of club management without ever have come any closer to doing so then a game of Championship Manager, but Arsene did himself a kind of disservice forgetting that he has now been manager of this great club for fifteen years. However he knew how long he had been schooling footballers, when asked if he had plans to add a defensive coach to his staff the gaffer quipped “I’ve just completed 32 years of coaching – I don’t want to answer this kind of question

Then is now doubt that the club was going on the defensive in the media at a time when we’ve been unable to do so on the pitch. It was all very batten down the hatches and keep the enemy at the gates, but it wasn’t overly doing much to win over the fans.That coup de grace came yesterday.

On Wednesday morning The Sun newspaper ran a story on it’s back page which suggested that the perceived poor attendance at the Emirates on Tuesday night was the fans making it known to Wenger, Gazidis, Kroeke and the world that they were unhappy. Coupled with an almost full page picture of empty Emirates seats “journalist” Charlie Wyett mocked the attendance figure of 46,539 for a league cup third round fixture against a side that is three divisions below us. True it was the lowest attendance the clubs new home has ever seen but the paper seemed unwilling to level this against other attendance figures such as Manchester City’s paltry 44,026 at the United Stadium last week for their first ever UEFA champions League game against Italian side Napoli. They didn’t mention that more fans had attended our fixture on a Tuesday night then were in attendance for Tottenham’s Premier league win over Liverpool on Sunday lunch time.

Now Wyett & Co were content to dismiss our attendance figure as little more than laughable and yesterday the club stuck two fingers up at them with the release of not only a thank you to the fans for their support at the game but also the attendance figures for every Carling Cup game played this week and a selection of last weekends Premier League games to.

This was the clubs best bit of PR in a long time and it was fantastic. It certainly got the backing of the fans and has produced a little of that ‘us against them’ spirit.

Wenger has told his players that it is their responsibility to lead the crowd not the other way home and I hope we see that in our game against Bolton Wanderers tomorrow afternoon and that the fight back starts here.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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