I rarely watch Arsene’s pressers, you know. It has nothing to do with a particular result, I just find it easier to read a transcript. Lately I can hardly do even that, for reasons you probably understand.
Yesterday I was at uni from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. and only got home around 7 p.m. But I saw the outrage on social media, the outrage aimed at the comments Arsene made during a regular pre-game presser and this got me thinking. So today I sat down, found the presser on Arsenal Player and watched it.
And you know what? I more worried about the football-related bits Arsene replied to than I am about his comments on fans’ disenchantment. That’s not to say I’m indifferent to the latter, far from it. The press conference as a whole was worrying, but the football pieces of it bugged me more. I’ll play by the rules, however, and start with Arsene’s comments on fans. Credit to Arseblog for the transcript.
On the character of the team being questioned:
“I tell you something, this team has character and attitude. Some people who question them, I know them well, have less character than this team has. Because I saw them play and know them closely. They should not question the character of these players because they are exceptional characters”.
I don’t know who exactly Arsene had in mind when pointing the finger of blame and I’m not going to play the guess game. What I do know, however, is that I’m deeply worried about the mental fortitude of the team. There were too many occasions this season when the players just looked to have given up mid-game. And the last couple of weeks have seen the indifference levels reach peak heights. United, Swansea, Palace, Sunderland – four games inside one month when the players looked like they couldn’t be arsed about the outcome in the slightest. May I remind you we played United after Leicester, still very much in the title race. If the players couldn’t be arsed to put in some effort while fighting for the top spot…So please Arsene, stop giving the “mental strength” line. This particular group of individuals looks very, very far from being mentally strong.
On the reaction to the team’s failings:
“Look, there are some group of people who try to manipulate our fans and do that well. I believe apart from an agenda, a personal agenda and big ego, there’s not a lot behind it. That’s what I think, basically”.
I live in Russia. I don’t go to games. I don’t watch MoD. I don’t listen to English commentary during games. I don’t listen to pundits. Indeed, Twitter is my biggest link to the Arsenal world.
I’m trying to say here that, while there very well might be some individuals who are being brainwashed and tricked into believing something, I’m not one of them. And yet I’m still disappointed with this season, very disappointed indeed.
There is an agenda against Arsenal, most notably a media one. But it has always been the case. As George Graham once said “”It’s fine that people hate us, it’s part of our history”. Not that I’m okay with that, but I’ve come to accept it over the years. Indeed I have experienced quite a few enjoyable moments fighting against this agenda with fellow Gunners by my side. Mostly over the vast expanses of the Internet, naturally.
But now the fans in their overwhelming majority are disappointed and this has little to do with someone having an agenda. It’s linked with results and performances and another season going down the drain. Wenger should understand that.
On the planned protests despite the team being consistent over 20 years:
“We have to put things a little bit in perspective and see how the club’s evolution has gone over the years. I believe it was not always easy. The quality of the work we’ve done at the club has got us in a strong position where the expectation level is very high. The frustration is very high as well when we do not get what we want”.
Basically Wenger answered the question he was asked, but both the reporter and Arsene failed to mention the protests aren’t linked with the team making CL spots for 20 years in a row. They are linked with the current season and the failure to deliver. It is especially frustrating in a campaign where United, Chelsea, Liverpool and even City are playing well under-par.
That the protesters link current failures with the manager, the board and the owner is natural. These people are the common denominators. They are responsible for the team’s well-being and they should shoulder the blame when things go south.
And now the footballing bits.
On playing in a difficult climate which affected the performances:
“We lost the championship at home against the lower teams, but we played sometimes at home in a very difficult climate. We have to realise that away from home we are championship winners. At home, against the smaller teams, we dropped the points. We are top of the league in the top teams”.
I gather the atmosphere at the Emirates is not the best among the English grounds and it would be foolish to say this doesn’t affect the performances. Imagine going to the place of your work/study knowing anything less than perfection will get you a public dressing down. Unpleasant, isn’t it?
However there’s no escaping the fact the current toxic atmosphere is linked to the performances and the overall sense of disappointment. Fans are ready to get behind the team, generally. They will forgive one bad result, or even a run of results and still get behind the team. Everyone understands you can’t win every game and always play well. Less successful periods will happen every season.
But this season it’s been the other way around. We have delivered in spells, on the whole we have been crap, especially after the turn of the year. Fans are people too. They grow tired, apathetic. They badly want their team to be successful. This year they’ve been let down big time. It’s natural reaction to feel disappointed.
However the bit about “we are champions away from home” is so factually wrong it’s worrying. We have amassed 30 points away from home and 34 at home and we have played one more away game. This also casts some doubt on the “difficult climate” statement. If it was so important, why have we performed better at home?
On the current form:
“I would say the quality of our game has come back to a very good level. I watch the games every day and you can look at the numbers in the league, the chances created. We have gone through a difficult spell, but I think the quality of the game has come back in the last month and a half.
We have very strong numbers. We didn’t make the maximum in our home results against the lower-table teams. But we analysed that quite well and we know it’s not down to the quality of our game.”
Run that by me again? The quality of our game is back to a good level? Is drawing West Ham, Palace and Sunderland now considered a good level?
Compared to the run we had before that, we have indeed improved. But the run we had before is simply a pile of goo. We have won 3 league games out of 10 since January 1st till mid-March. 3 out of 10! We have garnered 13 points during this period, it’s the 13th result in the league. 12 teams did better than us in these 10 weeks, Leicester picked up 21 points despite losing to us.
We are not back to a good level. Right now we are on a barely acceptable level. And saying dropped points aren’t linked with our performances… Jesus Christ. I know we’ve been wasteful in front of goal this campaign, but we have also been crap for the better part of it. Some of our performances didn’t deserve to be rewarded with anything and most of these happened from January till March.
The last word
I don’t know what Wenger wanted to achieve with these comments. Maybe it was a rallying cry, an attempt to shake the players out of their come. The famous siege mentality. “Everyone’s against us, come on, lads, let’s show them”.
However he must understand two things: how the media will take his comments and how the fans will take them. Because pressers aren’t only for the journos, they are also a chance for the fans to gain insight into the manager’s thinking. So if he’s unprepared for his words to be taken at face value, he was very wrong indeed to give such a presser, because most people take words at face value.
And you know why? Because words is a means of conveying one’s thoughts (shocked, aren’t you?) There might be a hidden meaning, the need to read between the lines sometimes, however most of the time what you say will still be taken at face value. Unless there’s reason to believe you were actually trying to say something else.
I’ve seen no indication that might have been the case yesterday.