Footballers don’t ever really say much. They can’t. We put them on a collective pedestal and as such expect them to conduct themselves as thoughtless automatons because God forbid there be any sliver of humanity that breaks through all that media training.
That’s why if anyone does ever say anything even remotely resembling personality, it’s seen as some sort of incredible feat. Allowing us to see behind the curtain as though none of us can ever comprehend putting the round thing in the netted area. This is why nobody bothers saying anything of any substance because it’s almost impossible. The countless hours training, repetition upon repetition then it all comes down to a fortunate bounce. One moment in which they’ve all trained for their entire lives but can’t possibly prepare for. That’s why we end up with cliches and entire interviews filled with nothing but hot air. We say we want to know but when someone actually tries to explain it, we bemoan it as meaningless numbers. If the answer isn’t something simple (and usually involving the word “passion”) then it’s a tree falling in the woods and Geoff Shreeves isn’t there to catch a soundbyte.
First of all, I need say right out upfront that this is neither a criticism of Troy Deeney nor is it a straight up defence of Arsenal. The fact that I’m even having to write that second part of the sentence shows how bizzare this whole scenario is. But I think before we universally praise someone for doing something that should be common practice, I think we should at least have a look at what he’s actually saying.
Arsenal are an easy target. The easiest. They really don’t help themselves and regardless of anything written here, they have issues that continue to plague them and make them fodder for such things. That’s the problem with narrative. Once it’s established, it doesn’t matter how many times you buck the trend (in Arsenal’s case it never seems to be that many), as soon as it goes the other way all the hard work is undone. Not only that, any kind of real analysis of what went wrong is tossed aside with the old adage of “same old Arsenal”.
To put the emphasis on specifically how Watford equalised is both wrong and lazy. If Arsenal were good enough, it wouldn’t have been an issue both before and afterward. Bemoan the decision all you want in the stands, just don’t use it as an excuse. It’s through this lens that the final third of the game is viewed. As if 100% of the time if that penalty isn’t given Arsenal will have gone on to win. That’s not how football works.
On the flipside of the coin, to simply say this is one side comically reverting to type is also shallow thinking. They didn’t show enough bottle. They didn’t battle hard enough. They battled hard enough for two thirds of the match. Arsenal had the lead for much more of the match than Watford, where was this supposed lack of battle then? Or were Watford not “giving it their all” during those moments? It’s absurd. For Arsene Wenger’s side this is something that should be of even more concern. Putting this down to a widespread, already well established fragility lets certain players (and decisions) off the hook.
Which all brings us back around to the post game comments. Trying not to take them out of context, here they are in full.
“Whenever I play Arsenal (and this is just a personal opinion) I go up and I think, let me whack the first one. Let’s see who wants it. And I come on today jumped up with Mertesaker – I didn’t really have to jump actually – nod it down, the crowd gets up, we’ve got somebody who can win it, they all just backed off. So for me as a player, I just go.. happy days… because that’s my strength. So if you’re gonna let me do my strength against you, you’re going to have a tough afternoon”
From here, Martin Keown talks about players from past Arsenal sides, which while emotive is as relevant as talking about Frank Stapleton. He then makes a ridiculous assertion about Wenger watching Barcelona with his Sunday dinner and giving up on any further coaching. Back to the quote however. There’s nothing wrong with the assertion and the belief in of itself, more so the idea that any lack of physicality is a weakness rather than a choice. Double this up with something he later goes on to say.
“Personally. I know I’m not technically gifted like they are. I’m not as quick… I’m… But that’s.. if you wanna fight with me, I’m gonna beat you all day. So if you wanna come into my world you and do that you can do that can do that but you’ve got to be at a level that your excellence of keeping the ball, being faster getting in right positions are all ten out of tens because my equaliser is I’m big I’m strong, I do all the ugly stuff you don’t wanna do and I’m gonna make it horrible for you.”
Deeney’s insight and self belief is laudable but what’s also being said here is much bigger than simply “typical Arsenal lol”. This entire statement is why Arsenal approached the game as they did. Why Mertesacker is backing off. At some point in every football match you have to proverbially earn the right to play the game you want to play but that doesn’t mean that you spend ninety minutes fighting. Get bogged down too much in a trench like mentality and it becomes even harder to win the game than it was initially.
The whole point is that you should have the players that can get the job done without the constant need to wrestle for dominance. Those ten out of ten players that Deeney refers to – players which Arsenal have(?) – should have been able to put the game out of sight before the equaliser or have enough to impose their quality once again afterwards. Don’t play into the opposition hands if you can avoid it.
It’s great hearing players speak their minds. Wish it happened more often. But if all we’re going to do in response to it is twist their words to suit our already entrenched biases then what’s the point of it?