THE day after Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Arsenal last weekend I was perusing social media. As most people with a Twitter account are wont to do, I decided that the result was good enough to bask in the glory of our victory for a little bit longer. I read Neil’s match review, Andy’s player ratings and other bits and bobs that I could find online before listening to The Pink and the main show. I haven’t really felt in the mood to do that after a number of games since the turn of the year, so it was nice.
After a while my Twitter searching saw me stumble across a video of a clip from ArsenalFanTV. They’re one of a number of similar accounts that have sprung up thanks to the combination of social media and a need to get an instant reaction. The difference between ArsenalFanTV and many of the others, though, is that the Gunners version has become a bit of a laughing stock in certain quarters. Arsenal fans aren’t exactly known for their calm and rational responses to things, after all.
Now I’m not particularly inclined to slag these blokes off. They travel the length and breadth of the country, paying good money to watch Arsenal and they respond in the immediate aftermath of a football match in a similar way to how most of us do, only we don’t have a camera in our face. It’s clear from what they’re saying that they only want the best for their football club and it must be genuinely quite difficult to know what’s best for the Gunners moving forward. It’s easy to laugh at Arsene Wenger and his side’s constant search for the ‘Top Four Trophy’, but he’s given them a stability that few other clubs are lucky enough to boast.
As a side-note to what I’m going to go on to say, would you swap our last 10 years for Arsenal’s? Including the 2006-2007 season we’ve finished in the top four four times, lost in the Champions League final, lost in an FA Cup final and won a League Cup. The Gunners, on the other hand, have lost in two League Cup finals, won two FA Cups and finished in the top four every year. I can well understand the frustration of their fans, but consistency isn’t easy in such a competitive league. If they’re wondering how things might go when Wenger leaves they might want to have a look at post-Alex Ferguson Manchester United. They might bounce back, but I’d be amazed if they didn’t first have a drop off.
Anyway, I digress. Back to ArsenalFanTV and the presenter was interviewing one of the main cast of characters, an older bloke named Claude. It was something that Claude said that caught my attention. He was obviously annoyed about his team’s performance, but he acknowledged how well the Reds played. He said, “First of all, all credit to Liverpool they were magnificent today, brilliant. They were absolutely brilliant today and they deserved all three points.”
That in itself isn’t particularly surprising, of course. I thought Liverpool were excellent and absolutely did deserve all three points. So why did it catch my attention? Because he then went on to make a foul-mouthed rant at the expense of the manager, suggesting that Wenger has lost the dressing room and should have been sacked the following morning. When a fellow supporter suggested some of the blame should lie with the players Claude shouted him down, literally.
Again, none of that is to make fun of these lads. It was an emotional reaction to a disappointing result. In Claude’s defence he didn’t think it was purely the manager to blame, also saying that the board should go and that the players were a “joke”. What he never went back to, though, was the idea that Liverpool were “magnificent”. It’s that that I want to talk about.
Claude isn’t on his own on that front. So often when we look back at football matches we fail to acknowledge that there are 11 other players plus substitutes and a manager (and his backroom staff) trying to ruin the best laid plans of mice and men. Jürgen Klopp’s performance in the mini-league of top six clubs suggests that he knows how to set up his team to get results against the best sides, so is Arsenal’s failure actually all down to Wenger’s inability to set up his team to get something out of the game?
I’d like you to imagine something for a second. Imagine that Arsenal have a reputation for being weak against teams that set themselves up in a compact manner and that hit the ball long to a big, powerful striker. Imagine that whenever Arsenal played against teams that liked to play possession football they tore them to shreds. Finally, imagine that Sadio Mané had stormed out of training earlier in the week after having a bust-up with his teammates. If we then turned up to The Emirates and set-up in our usual way, might Klopp not have come in for some criticism regarding his choices? Would people not have said that Mané should have been dropped and that playing Divock Origi upfront would have made more sense?
Now the news of Alexis Sanchez’s alleged falling out didn’t emerge until earlier this week, but it perhaps explains Wenger’s decision to drop him. The Arsenal manager was reacting to information that others didn’t have, yes, but he was also trying to counteract Liverpool’s obvious strengths and if he hadn’t done that then he’d have been criticised for his failure to predict our obvious game plan, too.
There have definitely been times this season when Klopp has deserved the criticism that has gone his way, as have the players. Yet I wonder how often, in the cold light of day, we might have been able to give appreciation to the way the other team mitigated our strengths and targeted our weaknesses.
Moving forward, we’ll still react in the immediate aftermath of losses as we always have, but perhaps we’ll give a touch more thought to whether we failed to win because of what we did wrong or what the other team did right.