Monday, September 19, 2011

A Work in Need of Progress

After the draw last week in Champions League, I wrote about the need to adjust the expectations for this Arsenal team, how fans couldn't expect them to challenge for the Premier League this year and how this was a team that needed to be thought about in terms of potential for the future. The intended point was that while us Gunner supporters should root for the team this year, as well as comment and criticize about the state of the team, things should be framed within the context of this being a young team that needs to grow and gain experience before the most lofty of expectations could be considered. It was in no way meant as an excuse for the kind of embarrassing performance that we saw on Saturday against Blackburn.

This is the nature of punditry, as I am coming to realize. Much like politics, the little things are blown up to be bigger things and in general, it becomes a matter of matching your research to your thesis and not vice versa as it should be. Much of sports commentary in this day and age is about making as much noise as possible and presenting as polarizing an opinion as possible in order to draw attention and therefore popularity. Skip Bayless has made a living off of being a douche bag for years now, as has Colin Cowherd, though at least Cowherd has interesting opinions to go along with the doucheyness. Douchiness? I'm surprisingly unsure of how to spell that. Anyway, this type of style is probably best done in a humorous fashion because then, depending on the ability of the writer, the over-the-top criticism blends well with satire or being a hilarious dick. The guys at Kissing Suzy Kolber absolutely nail this with the Peter King takedowns (which itself was birthed by the brilliant Fire Joe Morgan) while posters like elpresidente from Boston Barstool get the dick part right but don't quite get to the funny. The general point here is that there isn't a lot of room for an expectation that a reader will look at an article or listen to a point and think "I don't necessarily agree with that idea, but I see what he's going for." It is much more likely that someone is liable to immediately attack a writer or commentator for one sentence in a five-hundred word piece in order to build the strawman that that critic will be honor-bound to rail against.

It is with this atmosphere in mind that I use this post to both clarify what I said before and showcase some (hopefully level-headed) criticism about this Arsenal squad. I did say that perhaps thinking the Gunners would be the champion of champions at the end of the year was a it premature, and I meant that. And I said, either in so many words or outright, that Arsenal wasn't one of the best teams in Europe any longer and wasn't going to compete for the title this year with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, and so on. However, this is still the team that finished fourth in the EPL last year and was in the top two until a season-ending tailspin. This is still the team that has qualified for the Champions League for 14 straight years. This is still Arsenal FC, dammit. So a fan would be entirely justified in being more than a little upset that this team gave up four goals against a Blackburn team that finished just 4 points away from relegation last season and had yet to win a match this season.

Granted, Arsenal had some bad luck. There were two own goals on deflections in this match and one of the other Blackburn goals was from an offside position (only slightly, admittedly, but it's at least worth mentioning). And if this was the first time anything like this had happened, you would shrug your shoulders, say "damn, that was a crazy one," and move on to the next match. But this was already established as a pattern and it reared its ugly head again. Arsenal had the early goal so that they were in the lead before the 15 minute mark. They had the halftime lead 2-1 so that all they had to do was stay ahead of an inferior team for one half of soccer. And they couldn't do it. Not only did they happen to give up those three(!) goals in the second half, but it was the way in which they did it. They did it by playing at less than 100%. They did it by ceding possession too often and making too many mistakes. They did it by lacking the killer instinct that every great team needs to have. And in the end, they paid for it. This isn't the kind of thing you can shrug off any longer. Robin Van Persie said after the match that it was frustrating that they weren't closing out these games that they needed to close out. And he's absolutely right. So since he's the captain, I would hope that he does something to try to change the attitude of his team. Because they can't keep doing this and expect to make the Champions League, and that would be a true failure of this team. As always, Go Gunners.

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