When I started trying to write in this blog I was given a piece of advice from someone in whom I place an awful lot of trust. ‘The key to being good in the media is to ensure you don’t get embroiled in every single little piece of comment and opinion,’ he said. ‘Don’t spend the day listening to the talkshows. Don’t read every single paper. Keep your opinions fresh and make your own paper and talkshows’
Of course, I have to be across news stories like never before because everybody is talking about that, but you can get distracted by the noise of football and it can start to warp your thinking.
And the past week has been full of those types of storms in football news. On Sunday we were talking about diving yet again after Santi Cazorla against West Brom. On Monday the headlines were all about Mario Balotelli and his performance the day before against Manchester United, when other players were much worse than him.
It was that or the issue of netting at games because Rio Ferdinand had been struck with a coin in that Manchester derby. Then we moved on to Bradford beating Arsenal and the fact that Arsene Wenger has to go … again, the same story every single years since our drought of victory seven years ago. On Thursday, racism reared its ugly head again, with the verdict on the Serbian FA.
The speed at which the football media operate today is like a blender that is constantly having food chucked into it and chopped into a thousand pieces but never has any end product. There’s never any substance at the end of the process. Or it’s like a sausage machine that just churns out more mincemeat rather than sausages.
But the reality inside the changing room is often totally different to the furore on the outside. I’m not sure which the public want: the frenzy of the media or a reflection of the serenity of the dressing room; or a bit of both. But it has got to the point where we almost need two distinct media: one that deal with the actual match and one that deal with the issues surrounding it.
Football has become a soap opera, which, of course, is partly why the Premier League has become so extraordinarily popular and is one reason why it is beamed around the world. But the actual football can get lost in the drama. For some people the main act can become the sideshow.
And so incredible statements come out like: ‘Arsenal will never win the league again.’ Now I’m not going to sit here and say to myself to forget that and still thinking that we are sharp and consistent. But this is the fact, They’ve lost a lot of quality in the past three years and they haven’t replaced it, like for like. There seem to be some management failures in the number of players who end up with just one year on their contract but I doubt that’s Arsene Wenger’s fault. And they definitely need a bit of the attitude of the 2005 FA Cup final team, the last trophy they won. Without Thierry Henry that day they struggled but there was such a resilience about those players that they were prepared to win ugly and beat Manchester United on penalties.
But for George Graham, someone who has a greater knowledge of Arsenal than I will ever have, to be quoted as saying they will never win the league again leaves me stunned. I’ll be amazed if Arsenal Football Club never win another title. Honestly, I’d be just as surprised if tomorrow wasn’t Monday. It’s like saying Liverpool will never win another title. Of course they will. It’s a fact. Fifteen years ago who would have said that Chelsea or Manchester City would win a title? Things change. They move on.
When I look back at the history of Arsenal, the club went 45 years before they won their first league title. And after dominating in the Thirties and then after the war, they went 18 years between 1953 and 1971 without a league title. And then another 18 years before the next title, which came under George Graham, in 1989. Arsenal are not a club like Real Madrid, Benfica or Celtic who should expect to win the title every year. They never have been.
When Roberto Di Matteo was sacked three weeks ago, the same people who were saying they despised the madness of Chelsea are now saying that we need a change at Arsenal. What do we want? We just want a news story. We want more food in the blender.
There’s nothing to say that if you change Arsene Wenger you’re going to be more successful. There’s nothing to say that if you spend hundreds of million, like Liverpool did, you’re going to win the league, you will just win Mickey Mouse one, and as a manager leaves your club in crisis.
Manchester City and Chelsea have done superbly in recent years and between them have won four out of the last eight Premier League titles. But it has cost the best part of £2billion between them to do it. Are we saying Arsenal should do that?
Arsenal are on the right track. They run the club in a sensible way. When I watch the game, I watch good players, good football and you can sense the history of the place, a beautiful stadium with huge capacity that no every club has. There is a drop in quality, especially in forward positions. They were the best attacking team I have ever watched, with many Notable player like Bergkamp and Henry , or many unloyal player that has moved winning trophies in another clubs. And we do always hope we will be sharp and running for Premier League title race.
But we should be applauding the fact a club have had a manager for 16 years in a world in which divorce rates get ever higher, in which loyalty isn’t valued and in which everyone demands everything instantly.
Sensible football people should be defending Arsene Wenger and fighting for him to build another great Arsenal team. And we certainly shouldn’t be sat here saying: ‘Arsenal will never win another title.’ To me, that seems absurdly reactive.