Arsenal – ‘Great Pretenders’ or genuine ‘Title Contenders’ – Do we have the ‘Guts?’

Do we have the guts - Giroud does

Do we have the guts – Giroud does

Steven Howard in today’s Sun continues with his critical note about our prospects to win the Title. He calls us “The Great Pretenders”. It makes for a good headline but in fairness to him he makes a point that is on the minds of all of us. Have we got the inner strength? Can we stay focused and brave as the final laps come into view? Does squeaky bum time start earlier for our team than other title contenders? The answer is We Do Not Know but let’s remember that we came back twice during the match to equalise and then went ahead. Two years ago we would have folded. So we are work-in-progress. We are better than we have been but can we show the mental resolve and stay strong and continue to fight? You are brave to answer “Yes” but I do. We came back at Anfield and we came back against Hull in the Cup Final after going two down. Where critics have a point is that we do get nervous. I mean the players get tense and so do we supporters also get tense and you can feel it at the matches.  However we have seen out a number of slender leads this season.

By the way Steve Howard was the reporter who gave us this headline in December 2014 – Don’t this lot realise they must axe Wenger

As I often remind myself I have never coached any football team so what are my credentials for giving an opinion? Zilch. Well intentioned amateurs rarely know the essence of football management but it does not stop us from expressing an opinion. About tactics I know very little but one thing I observed at Anfield was the second ball challenge. Under pressure a defence clears a ball. It is what happens next that is so important. Winning the knock down. Taking possession of the ball and either clearing it with a hoof or playing it out. To win second balls we need to be effective at winning 40/60 balls and that is mental aggression, determination and physical bravery. And if there is one doubt I have it is in this area. Maybe Theo overran himself for their first goal but all over the pitch there are battles to be fought for the second ball by every player. We have to win the challenges more than the opponents and when we have possession we have to make correct decisions under real pressure about booting it upfield to clear our lines or passing it as we move upfield.  But win the majority of challenges. Have we the physical presence to do that – is that what you see in Ozil and Theo and the Ox? Have we enough guts?

Paul Davis - A fighter in Copenhagen

Paul Davis – A fighter in Copenhagen

As we fought to contain Liverpool in the last 20 minutes my mind flashed back to the win against Parma in 1994. We were under the cosh from the 17th minute but held out and it was not just the back four or Seaman. My heroes that night were two under-sung players – Kevin Campbell and Paul Davis. So often they managed to hold up the ball, slip a pass, recover possession and deny Parma the ball. It also relieved the pressure on the defence. They were wonderful that night especially the slightly built Davis. Those are the qualities I have in mind. Show that application and we can make Mr Howard eat his words.

A cautionary note about making a big signing at this stage of the season. I say this because Piers Morgan – always looking for the headline moment – castigates Wenger for not flashing a £100m for Lewandowski today. Again the past can help us. Man City were odds on to win the title in 1972. They lashed out big money for Rodney Marsh. He didn’t fit. The team could not adjust to his strengths. They lost their way and in a thrilling end to the season Clough’s Derby County came through to win against Leeds and Liverpool as well as Man City. Another example was Keegan flashing the cash for Asprilla at Newcastle. Asprilla was a great player and scored wonderful goals (he played for Parma against us at Copenhagen but was blunted that night by the excellence of our back four). The point is that Newcastle had to change tactics mid-season to accommodate the new arrival and it did not work and their title challenge filtered away. So what is my point? Be wary of big signings in the middle of the season. Stick to the Larry King show Piers.



I was really taken aback by the animosity, not to say hatred, that was piled on against Arteta at Anfield. By all means have a view on a substitution and it is the big decision for any coach. It does take up time and it does upset the rhythm of the opponents but it can also upset the continuity of the team. You win some and you lose some. But Liverpool’s winner had three moments – first the pass from Henderson, second the head down from Benteke, third the follow up from Allen. So far as I could see Arteta was not at fault with failing to close down Henderson or challenging Benteke or tracking back with Allan. But the bile? It goes back to my point about Jon Sammels who was hounded out of Highbury. Sometimes the crowd – or the mob within the crowd – can hate big time. Disappointment Yes by all means, but Hatred No. Reserve that for Fascists and bullies not for players who have served the Club so well.

Lay of MA8

Lay of MA8

Has Cech got away lightly with their first goal? Did he have the option of palming the shot away to the corner flag instead of to the incoming forward? Remember that great save by David Seaman in the final minutes of the semi-final against Sheffield United when he palmed away Brown’s header. No two shots are the same and maybe the ball came at Cech too hard but none of the critics had anything to say about it. Maybe he can be cleared of responsibility but there is a danger that we treat him as a God and as being above suspicion.

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Fabianski the Flapper was at it again. There was a poor clearance leading to a goal for Sunderland. A shame as he was a great character and did much to help the Club at a critical time – shoot out against Wigan?. But he was always a little mad. Remember his dash at the end of the Hull final to dispossess Blake? Thankfully Gibbs managed to get back and usher the ball out of play. Those with more years than me will remember the name Charlie Preedy who played in the 1930 FA Cup Final win over Huddersfield town. He unsettled his defence with sudden challenges outside the area and was eventually replaced by Frank Moss who went onto play for Arsenal during their hat trick of title wins. You have to be a little dull and undemonstrative to be a top keeper – Jennings and Seaman come to mind. Bob Wilson might disagree.

Mohamed Elneny, says the Sun today, has completed his transfer “subject to the completion of regulatory processes”. Does this mean just paperwork or is there still a question mark over his permit? He sounds right for us and the quotes from him are all positive and he is reputed to be a “toughy” but is he another 5’ 8” player?


Graham Perry

Arsenal Circular

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One Response to Arsenal – ‘Great Pretenders’ or genuine ‘Title Contenders’ – Do we have the ‘Guts?’

  1. Victor Thompson January 15, 2016 at 8:24 pm #


    It is a joy to read your recollections of past incidents at Arsenal. I look forward to more of them.

    I am sorry to read that Arteta suffered hate and vitriol from Arsenal supporters. I hadn`t realised that that had happened but it doesn`t surprise me. I don`t blame him because he cannot pick himself nor can he change the effect of advancing years. Moreover he has been a great servant of Arsenal and ( as I understand it ) he is looking forward to joining the coaching staff. I for one wish him well in that respect but I also wish that Arsene would protect him from such vile treatment and stop picking him. He deserves to leave the arena with the reputation he earned when he played with distinction for so long. How can any true supporter hate a man who gave his very best for Arsenal?

    Arsene is in danger of doing the same to himself. He is undoubtedly a genius and like you, I am not a football manager/coach so I do not have the effrontery to say that I know more about the game than he does. I wouldn`t have been capable of assembling the squad of players he has at his disposal and I am sure that he has done many things for the club and the players that none of us have heard about. Many such deeds would have been on a personal level because it is clear that his players adore him.

    What frustrates me so much is that in his overwhelming desire to win, he constantly takes negative actions to try to protect the result of his teams endeavours by making substitutions on a “what we have we hold” basis. He did it against Liverpool and it cost us the win. Unfortunately, whilst Arteta was not directly involved in the equalising goal for Liverpool, he did not contribute anything to the retention of our lead. I don`t hate him for that. I knew when he came on that he would not be capable of influencing the match.

    If it is possible to hate someone, Alex Ferguson is probably the best example of a person who I came to know through the media of football. He was arrogant. he had no redeeming features that any human being would have to make you like him but he was worshipped by Man Utd. supporters. He was single minded and he would never have thrown away two points by bringing on subs to protect a lead with 10 minutes to go when his team were clearly in control.

    I wish that Arsene had genuine belief in his players. He moulds them. He picks them, and often he has to find a jewel amongst them to compose the team he believes will play his type of football. He has done so without the resources that Ferguson had and I am in awe of his achievements but why, when he has produced a team which is generally regarded as good enough to win the championship, does he not have the confidence in them to complete the task? Does anyone really believe that we would not have won the match if he had left the team alone and let them finish what they had so bravely earned?

    As a football supporter, my team represents me when I see them play. My hopes and dreams are encapsulated in their efforts on the pitch. I am proud of them when they fight to win games and I am ecstatic when they play the kind of football they produced when they defeated Man Utd. 3-0 this year. I have Arsene Wenger to thank for that.

    I would not want to speak on behalf of anyone else, but I am sure that any supporter who follows The Arsenal has wanted to see the rewards that minor clubs like Chelsea and Man City take for granted now. We don`t have their millions but we play our football – Arsene`s football; and we all understand that he has created a style which we are all proud of. We are now on the verge ( as we have before ) of winning the premiership and I really don`t want to see our dreams turn to ashes once again. I believe that Arsene has a plan and the plan is aimed at winning the premiership but I also believe that he suffers from insecurity. That is why he tinkers with the team as he did against Liverpool.

    Please Arsene, when your team have done what you intend and have the game won, do not undermine the players who have got you there and replace them with others simply to protect what they have earned. Of course they may be tired. They are entitled to be, but with 10 minutes to go, I do not believe that any one of them would want to come off. Have the conviction to let them carry on for those 10 ( or even 5 ) minutes! Heroes are born from moments like that. No one will remember a draw but everyone would have remembered that when Liverpool gave it all they had, on a wicked winters night, our guys outfought and outplayed them and came away with three points. In my view, your decision robbed them of that.

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