The back line committed characteristics mistakes, but some blame for the 3—2 home loss to Tottenham must fall on incoherent team defense with a nonexistent collective ethos.
Arséne Wenger made it clear during the off-season that Arsenal had little chance of winning the title last season when conceding 41 goals. Over the 38-game season, the average is 1.08 goals/per game. Through fifteen games this season, Arsenal has conceded 17 goals, an average of 1.13 goals/per game. If this statistic is important from one season to the next, then Arsenal, according to Wenger, will not win the title.
But this may not amount to much more than carrying out logic and extending tendency. The league is more wide open than it has been in recent years. Tottenham is combustible. Wayne Rooney is still stinking. Chelsea has been unstoppable, but age and a Ricardo Carvalho-less defense could catch up to them. Manchester City’s serial in fighting is being sold as healthy competition. All three promoted teams have done well so far. Yet there is little doubt that the Arsenal defense needs to be stronger if they are to move beyond getting a little closer than last time.
Arsenal’s defensive overhaul makes it difficult to square with the nearly identical goals against average. Without number one center back Thomas Vermaelen, the central defense has rotated between two players new to the league and a third returning from a sixteen-month injury. There is reason to believe that this season’s central defense is no worse than last year’s, and should almost certainly get better as the season progresses.
If I continue to sit on the bench at Arsenal, then I must [move] away. It goes without saying. But my priority is very clear—as it has always been—to play for Arsenal.* –Nicklas Bendtner
The consistent criticism of Nicklas Bendtner is that his self-belief is disproportionate to the results on the field. Without the proof, his abundant self-confidence turns to arrogance. Regardless of his stated ambition, the criticism generally forgets that it was leveled at a 19 year old. Bendtner has recognized potential, and at times he is very good, but no where near the best, as it is presumed he asserted. His words are not as loose as they first appear, but if considered unhinged from reality, he is fair game, and the 6’3”chistled emblem of the North Sea is characterized as deeply self-enamored.
The tendency toward arrogance was already noted early in the 2006-2007 season when Bendtner (aged 18) was on-loan at Birmingham City. Steve Bruce, then Birmingham City manager, remarked, “…he has got every chance of making it at the top level as long as he keeps his feet on the ground." Since this kinder way of putting it, Bendtner has been called “arrogant”, “cocky”, “a so-in-so”, a “cocky so-in-so”, and a “self-aggrandizing blowhard”. In Nicklas Bendtner News, he is used to clarify etymologies of confident and cocky. His faults and merits may be unbalanced, but the “The Dane” or “The Big Dane”, won’t be felled, as of yet.
Discussions of Bendtner’s confidence peaked around his disastrous performance against Burnley on March 6, 2010, where he missed an embarrassing number of goal-scoring opportunities, and his March 9th hat trick against Porto in the Champions League. After the Burnley game, his “immense” and “bottomless” confidence was characterized as arrogant to the point of a narcissism disconnected from reality. After the Porto game, this immeasurable confidence was credited for the recovery.
Javier Hernandez knows that his manager is his co-pilot.
The Lord is on the pitch at some point in every game around the world. With fixture lists growing each year due to more international friendlies, qualifying matches, playoff rounds, or some new and inconvenient world tournament, God's omnipresence is getting a real test.
Most often He is seen before games and in second halves. Watching Serie A, God descends the sideline with each substitute who crosses his chest, crosses his forehead, kisses his thumb, and looks to the sky. How many times has the fourth official born witness to this ritual? Still, it is a private moment between man and his god. The acknowledgement is quick and somewhat inconspicuous.
Javier Hernandez takes this to an unprecedented level. Just before kickoff, when attention is given to the center circle, there is Hernandez, prostrate, arms extended, eyes closed. The ritual is drawn out either because Hernandez must recite a lot of text or he needs the time to achieve altered consciousness. The holy swoon is rapturous. Manchester United fans don't mind if their new signing continues to impress. One wonders what Wayne Rooney is thinking standing there beside him.
In the U.S, the spectacle has its equivalent in American football when teams, mostly at the high school or small college level, come together before the game to pray. In the more secular European arena, the sight must be odd, but since Europeans love Mexico, there may be some anthropological curiosity and tolerance for it.
In Edinburgh, far more benign symbolism has been known to deeply offend or incite violence. No one wants to endure twenty seconds of the little pea ratcheting up the tension, no matter how innocent his intentions. Sir Alex Ferguson, who has a history of honorable sensitivity to local religious tensions, has made the right decision by asking Hernandez to tone it down, a lot.
Arsenal lose their second home game in last four.
Shared pain on any number of occasions
Arsenal hit the post three times in the loss to Newcastle, a string of bad luck which places the match in the familiar story line from last year; one of limp start, dominating possession but incapable of creating goals, conceding on the opposition's first real chance and off a header, suspect goalkeeping, and the failure to take advantage of the table leader dropping points. So much familiarity isn't comforting, but oppressive.
Taking this performance in combination with the performance against West Brom begins to present a mental frailty. If Arsenal begin a match in a malaise, they have a hard time mustering a recovery necessary to overtake their opponents.
The holding midfielder has come a long way, but aims to go much further.
There is much to like about Alex Song. Last season he was consistent and steadily improved over each week. He’s tougher than most of the recent crop of Arsenal players.
The transition from center back and utility player to first team defensive midfielder over the two previous season has been smooth and natural—similar to discovering that one is in the process of finding one’s place in the world. It’s a pleasure to follow.
The “current project” at Arsenal is the closest thing football has to a Bildungsroman. More than any other Arsenal player, Song is living proof of growth and maturation. Others have improved and matured, but only in fits and starts. Coming of age is a significant theme in the Arsenal story. There has got to be something to the fact the Goethe spent important years in Arsene Wenger’s home town of Strasbourg.
This is overdone, but points to the yearning need of Arsenal supporters to see the system’s virtues produced on the pitch. The faith invested in Wenger lies in his ability to transform idea and principle into something living and active, to do what we don’t think we can't.
Up to now, supporters have had only unstable images to project their longing and hope for this team. These fans need the coming of age story as much as Wenger or any of the players.
For each of the last few seasons, the same question has been asked. When will development, maturity, and experience forge great players into a team capable of winning the title? Theo Walcott, Abu Diaby, and Nicklas Bendtner have revealed glimpses of this, all to fall back into the confines of potential.