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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun.


Arsenal – In Praise of Frailty

Written by on April 28, 2011 | 11 Comments »
Posted in Arsenal, English Premier League

Many teams fail to reach their goals over the course of a season, that is the nature of the sport, but for some reason the travails of Arsenal seem to dominate the media landscape much more than the shortcomings of any of their contemporaries.

The struggles of Chelsea will be discussed but not obsessed over. The decline of Liverpool will be debated but never to the extent that the team from the Emirates is analysed.

Maybe it’s because Arsenal alway seem to promise so much with their style of play, maybe it’s because Arsene Wenger has developed a superiority complex in the face of his teams frequent inferiority when faced with their biggest rivals, or maybe it’s because they seem to have the uncanny ability of finding the most exquisitely painful methods of throwing it all away at the very moment that triumph is finally within their grasp.

Whatever the cause a fairly low-key Premier League title race has been enlivened by the almost fantastical manner in which Arsenal have thrown away points with the same abandon that a child throws away Christmas wrapping paper.

Two nil up to Spurs becomes a defeat, 4-0 up to Newcastle only earns a point, and when they take the lead with the latest goal in Premier League history against Liverpool they somehow contrive to allow their own record to be broken ninety seconds later, and throughout it all the manager stands on the sidelines bemoaning the injustice that is unfolding, once again, before his eyes.

Ironically Wenger could claim that his young side is actually making progress. They finished fourth in the table two seasons ago, third last year, and could well finish (at least) second this time around.

The problem is that this isn’t the way that it feels. I doubt many regulars at the Emirates regard this team as champions in waiting for next season. Fabregas seems ever more likely to be gone, and the likes of Arshavin and Rosicky have become peripheral figures when they were bought to be the fulcrums of the team.

But you know what? They are great to watch. Whilst Manchester United grind out points from sub-par performances and Chelsea use their strength to overpower weaker opposition, Arsenal remain an enigma wrapped in a conundrum wrapped in a defensive blunder.

No matter how good their position there is always the possibility that they will unaccountably fall into some metaphorical swoon like the modern-day equivalent of a Victorian heroine who wakes up to find that they have suddenly lost everything.

It may not be great football, and it may not be great character, but it is undoubtedly great theatre.

We should cherish them whilst we can.

11 responses to “Arsenal – In Praise of Frailty”

  1. Andy says:

    Bobby – I like your honesty at being hoodwinked by them. In past years you always went on and on about how they needed to replace Almunia (?) as their goalie suggesting that that was their weakest link. Well, he’s gone and they’ve moved on to fail in other ways. They’re cursed but will be worse without Wenger. I double Barca will take Fabregas now.

  2. rahul says:

    Amen. One point though – although you state few doubt them to be champions, i think they could be next season, and thats why it will be great theatre and completely disappointing when they don’t pull it off. again. I can’t wait to see Cesc gone. Life is funny – I think Arsenal will start winning and he will have some hard luck down at Barca. Just a hunch.

  3. Sandra says:

    LOL, Bobby. As a gooner who’s gone thru the entire gamut of emotions this season — incl. many I never knew existed — I had to smile at your article.

  4. Sandra – not my article. This is Russell’s.

  5. Gillian says:

    Thanks for this post. I appreciate a contrarian view of Arsenal.

    I am a new follower of this sport. When it comes to the Premier League, I am a neutral (except for the part where I loathe Man Utd. and Chelsea. As a result, I’ve been kind of miffed at Arsenal all season because I wanted them to save me from having to watch Utd. or Chelsea win the league title).

    This has been an interesting EPL season, because the title race has been somewhat unpredictable (It’s Chelsea! It’s Utd.! It’s Arsenal – kind of, sort of!) I’m not sure if that’s the only (or even the main) reason why people have focused on Arsenal’s failings, but I do know I have gotten tired of hearing about Arsenal coming up short. If I never again hear about the inexperience of the side, or their mental weakness, or the cries for Wenger to go, it will be too soon.

    @Rahul, I want Cesc to go, too, if only because I am so tired of hearing the will he/won’t he stuff.

  6. CDNGooner14 says:

    I’ve watched every Arsenal game this season. TBH, I find them frustrating and not very fun to watch. Their passing is pointless, the counter attack WWWAAAAYYYY too slow and for God’s sake-shoot the ball when you’re 6-10 yards out! Every cross in their box is a heart attack waiting to happen, petty yellow/red cards—I could go on. I believe AFC has choked from almost every concievable scenario this season (an exaggeration, I know).
    I need to see more tactical flexibility from them. I keep thinking about Liverpool vs. Chelsea, when Kenny put out 5 defenders and won the game. That’s what I call tactical shrewdness. King Kenny to Arsenal!! I kid, I kid.

  7. J says:

    The wrapping paper analogy implies a coordinated use of hands. Maybe not the best fit.

    Yes, I’m certain that Cesc is on his way out, but I think there will be some relief in that. Arsenal may benefit from the pricing established by Torres, Carroll and Suarez, not to mention the influence that Real Madrid may provide in whomever they choose to purchase, next.

    Fabregas has provided many moments to be thankful for, but his legs have taken on the shape of question marks, increasingly, over the last two years. Young teams don’t typically react very well to the uncertainty of their playmaker being in or out of the lineup at any moment.

    Pardon my fantasizing, but there is this guy by the name of Özil that seems redundant in the system he plays in…

  8. John Bladen says:


    As presently constituted, I agree that Arsenal are unlikely to win any silverware. “Tantric competitiveness”, anyone?

    But I doubt the present group will remain together much longer. It seems likely that Fabregas will go (as Gillian suggests, as some point he becomes more distraction than ‘feature’), and I have to believe that Wenger will be encouraging Arshavin and Bendtner to look elsewhere. While both are capable of contributing, right now their contracts look like dead money.

    With money to spend, it’s possible that Wenger will finally plug the major holes on this club. Of course, he might completely fail to do so (again) as well…

  9. Russell Berrisford says:

    The fascinating thing will be if Wenger is effectively made to spend money by the new owners, and whether they will want to approve or veto his choices.

    Maybe he would actually benefit from somebody else making more pragmatic selections for his teams?

  10. Tim says:

    didnt realize the record for the latest goal scored scenario…thanks….when i read that paragraph i laughed out loud…good stuff

  11. rahul says:

    Interesting question. I wonder how much of AW’s reluctance comes from top down and how much is his own doing. Obviously, he is, to say the least, prudent with money, but…

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