In the immediate aftermath of Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat at Craven Cottage on the second Saturday evening of the Premiership, several pundits queued up to pass judgement on Arsenal, the players who performed and the lack of signings. Two games into the season and Arsenal have no chance of winning anything, finishing in the top four or making any impact in Europe according to these wise men who seem unluckily to be without employment in the game they obviously know so much about. Lee Dixon on the BBC decided to pass judgement on Sami Nasri, stating “He was nowhere near good enough to play for Arsenal.”
Now, I can quite honestly say that I don’t reckon Dixon has seen very much of Nasri at all over the last 3 seasons, in fact i’d stake a large wager on the fact that what Lee Dixon knows about Le Championnat could fit on the back of a postage stamp. English pundits tend to have an arrogant stance toward European football other than the Champions League, a passing interest in La Liga which is waning now Beckham, Owen and Woodgate have all departed and general indifference to Serie A, SupaLiga, Bundesliga or any other that you care to mention. I’ve always found this attitude both baffling and annoying, a constant precursor to the antiquated and deluded idea these pundits still churn out that anyone who plays abroad is usually technically better but weaker, afraid of cold weather, rain and playing away at Bolton on a Tuesday night in January. It’s an argument consistently weakened by England’s performances in competitions over the last few years, but then we play the referee, the weather and bad luck, it’s never the fact we’re not good enough
The criticism of Nasri and Arsenal though is beyond a joke, This is player who has played in one of the most frenetic grounds in Europe, the Stade Velodrome, a sea of seething, passionate and raucous fans that always let the Marseille players and management know exactly what the think of events on the pitch good, bad and indifferent.Anyone who has watched French football over the last few years know that Nasri is little gem of a player and one that Arsene Wenger will know exactly what he’s paid £11.8 million pounds for. He’s got a dynamic, exciting and sometimes inspirational player who can weave around players like they’re statues. Selling Hleb for more than they paid for Nasri was a wonderful piece of business for Arsenal and Wenger, but the barbs that are directed toward Nasri are also aimed toward Wenger.
Wenger’s last trophy was the 2005 FA Cup, but lets not forget the run to the 2006 Champions League final, equalling Chelsea’s record currently in the competition, lost to Chelsea in the 2007 Carling Cup final, finished 3rd in the league last season, lost to Liverpool thanks to some dodgy refereeing in the Champions League Quarter Finals and got to the Semi-finals of the Carling Cup. Now that in my opinion is consistent achievement across several competitions.
More criticism has been aimed Wenger’s way with the transfer window closing with Arsenal’s failure to make any more purchases, but Wenger knows his squad better than anyone, no-one has set off like a train in the Premiership, so find themselves a point behind Liverpool and Chelsea. He didn’t feel he needed buy anyone, players are coming back to fitness and form and he knows come the next round of matches, he’ll have an almost fully fit squad to choose from. He also working with the backdrop of two billionaires trying to gobble up as many shares in the company as possible to try and achieve the magic 30% mark, yet hasn’t let this disturb his consistency or his footballing ethic. Look at the recent upheavals at West Ham United and Newcastle, clubs in absolute turmoil, weaker squads and low morale. Where would Wenger rather be?
Wenger hasn’t been at Arsenal for 13 seasons by luck, he’s delivered trophies, great players for bargain prices and made transfer profits, year in and year out whilst getting his team to play some lovely football on a consistent basis. Uneducated criticism of him simply makes the critic look rather foolish, as Arsenals performance against Newcastle last weekends showed and it also does the work Roy Hodgson has done at Fulham no favours at all, they’ll get a few more scalps along the way this season. He let Overmars and Petit go and the team got better, let Vieira go and the team almost won the Champions League and let Henry join Barcelona only missing out the Premier League by a couple of points. At every point, critics said Arsenal would never be the same again. How many times do they need egg on their faces?
One more thing, as a Tottenham fan, I never thought I’d be defending Arsenal or Wenger but sometimes stupid comments from ex players trying to gain publicity need addressing and Arsenal will be in the mix across all four competitions again this year. Unlike pundits on a channel with no live football until August 2009.