NOTE: This blog was written during Arsenal vs. Swansea
I remember vividly those lamentable hours I spent in my maths class. A perverse situation emerged in which my school judo teacher was also my maths teacher. As you might expect, algebra and martial arts weren't a match made in heaven. You'd sit there not knowing whether you'd have a sum thrown at you or literally be thrown on the floor. In this state of severe anxiety, I'd be forced to sit there looking like a threatened cat; my mind would switch to full defence mode as I sat incapable of creative thought or action.
I sense this same fear in players whilst I sit here watching my beloved Arsenal, who resemble more and more a team of soldiers back from a tour of Iraq suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I used to call this "Theo Walcott Syndrome", because every time the young winger/striker would get the ball in a potentially dangerous position, you'd bear witness to him freeze up anxiously and that foreboding Kill Bill music would start playing from when 'Black Mamba' Uma Thurman suffers traumatic flash backs. Invariably he would then proceed to sky a cross past every single player in a red shirt, or play a nothing pass to nobody in a bid to please every single conceivable football critic in the world. The predictable result was a complete lack of meaningful penetration, tepid water, an X Factor Christmas Number 1, and unfortunately this disorder seems to be spreading through the team.
In his book, On the Road, author Jack Kerouac describes people in life who have "it". That indescribable energy sourced from all that's good and exciting in the world and yet conveyed effortlessly through life's great characters. Thierry Henry had it... Gervinho does not.
I have no doubt that all of Arsenal's squad can probably balance a football on the ends of their penises and juggle it whilst playing a game of Fifa; they're without question technically gifted players. But they all seem presently to lack it. You can see it in the way that Arsenal time and time again pile forward after what seems an endless spell of possession, and fail to stab meaningfully in to the opposition's defence. They arrive at the edge of the 18-yard box and there's a sort of hostile stand off, not only with the oppositions defence, but with other Arsenal players themselves - none of whom seem willing to take responsibility and try something creative. They call it creating chances for a reason; because you need to take a chance to create one. Instead back we go to the defence, or even the goalkeeper, round and round the monopoly board without ever buying anything, all foreplay and no sex. We're so good at this we've even created our own commentary team cliché: "Arsenal are enjoying the majority of possession, but are still yet to score".
We've gotten away with this in the past because we had players like Patrick Viera, Cesc Fàbregas, or to a lesser extent Alex Song, who could pick out a timely wonder pass. We also had Dutch strikers who could make goals out of cereal boxes and toilet roll tube. Today, without similar HR readily available, I fear more classically functioning strikers like Podolski or Giroud will be left stranded with little to no service, and Gervinho is... well... Gervinho. Wilshere's been out of the game for a long time and there's no assurance he can deliver the same high standard we became so accustomed to, not for some time at least. This is equally applicable to Rosický , who in recent seasons has done nothing more than haunt the Emirates like the ghost of glories past with Andrei Arshavin. Arteta is a pretty player, but for me it's largely style over substance. Ramsey tries hard but his final end product is as consistent as a bipolar teenager's prescription. Cazorla is a saving grace, but he is but one man and endless frustrations with fellow teammates will slowly erode his confidence. Abou "we hope we can keep him fit" Diaby, is injured, as always.
The 'ghosts of glories past' are killing our team. Arsenal are stalling as they do so often, because they lack confidence. They're weighed down by the ever-looming spectre of 'The Invincibles' and the glory days still etched in our memories. For players, that contrived camera shot snide TV producers like to play before and after every Arsenal game - where the camera pans round the stadium's empty silverware spaces - is on loop in their minds 24/7; it must be utterly debilitating.
Yet Arsenal fans would do well to remember that comparative to rivals, 'their club' have a far more modest pool of resources. Additionally, the hyped expectations of present are due to the overachievements of the past. Mega money culture has stubbed us out of the Premier League elite, pure and simple. So when we nostalgically look back to the good old days leading up to 2005, we should consider how the situation has financially changed when bemoaning the comparative failures of now; the old rules no longer apply. And we should ask ourselves, do we want to be a club that shamelessly throws money at 'success' like an Oligarch throws £50 notes at a stripper? What do Arsenal fans - who predictably cry out for 'more spending' each season - actually believe in I wonder? As Ian Jack recently wrote, when Arsenal fans yelp "we want our Arsenal back" what do they even mean? We're currently owned by two questionable foreign tycoons and fans have absolutely no say in how the club is run, bar a token piecemeal admittance.
Arsenal's loyally capricious fans don't normally help things either, staying largely silent in their massive stadium even if the team's winning (an embarrassment), yet find the energy to passionately boo if they've been robbed a victory they feel entitled to, like spoiled children. Meanwhile the 'die hards' are either priced out of the ground or outnumbered by the passive, prawn sandwich munching, corporate box filling 'guests'.
If Arsenal want to get it back, they're going to have to start building their performances around the examples of gritty players like Carl Jenkinson. He played on Saturday as he always does; with complete commitment and newly acquired composure. Jenkinson possesses an organ that Arsenal are crucially lacking, and that, sadly, is heart - an increasingly rare find in a wider football culture that is fundamentally lacking a soul.