Arsenal: Title Doubters Are Wrong But We Should Fear Our Weakened Squad v Spurs
I typed ‘writing off Arsenal’ into Google and got 38,900,000 results.
Yet two events during our post-Christmas fixtures were hugely instructive for me - the 63rd minute at West Ham, and 36th minute at Newcastle United.
With the Irons 1-0 up, Carlton Cole missing a chance moments before and the home crowd roaring on their team, Arsenal’s player of the season so far, Aaron Ramsey, pulls up on a run immediately signalling his thigh has ‘gone’.
Similarly, in the North East, Olivier Giroud makes a poor tackle on Tiote, appearing to injure himself. A passionate, hostile St James’s Park bellows for a card. The Frenchman wearily hauls himself off the deck only for the ref to book him, as the crowd is split between cheering the sanction and abusing the referee for being so lenient.
Both moments would have been the cue for certain Gunners teams and players of the recent past to dust off the white flag, muttering something about it ‘not being our day’.
What separates the various Wenger sides throughout his tenure is not talent, flair or technique but character.
What happened next during both games in shrugging off adversity and steeling themselves to victory in difficult circumstances proved this Arsenal vintage has character in abundance - both individually and collectively - to go with the panache and ability all Wenger sides possess.
Picking up six points out of six from hostile environments, and another three late on against a determined Cardiff side proves there is an espirit de corps emerging at Arsenal once again.
The late, late show against Cardiff also prompted thoughts of momentous seasons’ past – let’s hope so at any rate.
I am actually very pleased Bendtner scored - why wouldn’t I be? I have been a season ticket holder for three decades and have nearly as many away credits as Arsene Wenger.
Yet it still doesn’t change my opinion that he is no more than a third choice striker, who will hopefully become a fourth choice one if Wenger decides to strengthen the forward line this month.
It was a shame he got injured after he scored the vital goal, joining the mysterious Sanogo on the roll-call of injured Arsenal strikers - but if it forces Arsene’s hand into adding to the squad a top level replacement then so be it.
Niall Quinn scored a vital goal against Everton in April 1989 in the run-in to the never-to-be-forgotten 1988-89 title triumph – yet no one back then would have said he was anything other than a reserve striker, who incidentally netted a single league goal that season.
One Arsenal man who would have loved the character shown in adversity was the famous Herbert Chapman - even if I’m not entirely sure what he would have made of a certain Nicklas Bendtner.
He believed deeply in the team ethos and never-say-die spirit that came to represent The Arsenal.
Patrick Barclay’s impressively well-researched new tome on the man who was the catalyst for making Arsenal Football World a worldwide name in the 1930s: ‘The Life and Times of Herbert Chapman’, is a must read for all Gunners fans and students of footballing history.
If you can face visiting the shops again after the excesses of Christmas then your first port of call must be a bookshop that stocks this magnificent read.
Chapman tragically died of pneumonia on 6 January 1934 – nearly 80 years to the day Arsenal play Spurs in the FA Cup third round this Saturday. I think it would be fitting if there was a minutes silence to the great man – who don’t forget also had links to Spurs as a player.
The FA Cup might have lost some of the grandeur it had when some of us of a certain vintage were growing up. Spurs fans may have also had other things on their mind too, such as a new manager, a more direct 4-4-2 formation and the recall of a certain ex-Highbury centre forward. However, now the fixture is upon us I can’t wait – even if I am fearful of the weakened side we may well field.
Arsenal are normally quite good at remembering one of their own, but I haven’t heard of any plans to mark the date unfortunately - so whether you’re red and white or lilywhite why don’t you take a moment out of your match-day to pay your respects to the man from humble Kiveton Park who changed the face of football.
Chapman would have been happy with the character, commitment and skill shown by the current team over the holiday period.
Not to mention the hundreds and thousands of articles and pundits prematurely ‘writing off Arsenal’ on Google…
Happy New Year.
Apart from being a regular contributor to Sabotage, Layth has written for When Saturday Comes, World Soccer Magazine, Four-Four-Two, The Gooner, The London Evening Standard, The Sunday People, In Bed With Maradona, The Football Pink, The Inside Left etc etc.
Follow Layth on Twitter @laythy29