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Theo Walcott and Arsenal's Fickle Fans: Reviewing the Spurs Match

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Theo Walcott and Arsenal's Fickle Fans: Reviewing the Spurs Match
Clive Mason/Getty Images
Momentary Triumph

The Fans

I should begin by appealing to BBC Sport's fine writer, Phil McNulty.

[Wenger's] stubborn streak, that belief that what he is doing is right, was a compelling force for Arsenal’s good in a north London derby that took all logic and shook it until the bits dropped off....

If Wenger had a desire to pander as a populist, he would have bowed to the baying of the mob and substituted Theo Walcott to spare him the volume of criticism he was receiving from his own Arsenal fans as Spurs went 2-0 up in this magnificent exhibit for the Premier League....

The exclusion of the exciting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain threw Walcott’s struggles into greater relief but Wenger stood by his original selection.

He admitted later that occasionally you do a player a favour and remove him in the face of such treatment but Wenger stayed true to his belief that Walcott offered a serious threat.

And so it proved during an Arsenal comeback that carried such force that Spurs buckled quite spectacularly, shipping five goals in 28 minutes and threatening to lose even more emphatically than they eventually did.

Walcott, on the receiving end of some fairly X-rated abuse from some Arsenal fans in the first 45 minutes, added the final two flourishes in swift succession to finish off a comeback fashioned around goals from Bacary Sagna, Robin van Persie and Tomas Rosicky.

It was such a transformation in fortunes that, when Walcott was replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain with nine minutes left, his name thundered around the stadium, accompanied by a standing ovation.

Clive Mason/Getty Images
Wenger stood alone in his faith in Walcott in the derby's first half.

Fickle old football. And that fickle nature was scattered around like confetti with Walcott, Wenger and Spurs manager Harry Redknapp playing the central characters.

The memorable line in this extended reference is this: "Fickle old football. And that fickle nature was scattered around like confetti ..."

But I should quickly point out that my title is not a wholesale condemnation of Arsenal fans. The Emirates was filled to the brink, so it seemed. This is a testimony to steadiness in the face of dark and trying times. 

That is, the fans came, even though everyone thought Spurs would be the likely winners of the derby. When people remain faithful to a cause in the face of massive hurdles, it is a strong homily on their character.

No, my reference is not to the legion of Arsenal's long-suffering fans both in the immediate vicinity of north London and around the world—name the regions: Africa, South America, Central America, Asia, North America, etc. It is a reference to the babies among them.

Babies are all 'wee-wee-wee' all the time, which is okay.

They are babies.

They haven't learnt life's finer virtues, like loyalty, temperance, perseverance, patience, analysis, etc. Babies' mood swing across the full spectrum of emotions.

If it is laughter, they laugh heartily; if it is crying, the bawl like a summer's rainy day; if it whining, they are masters of the act. 

Michael Regan/Getty Images
Staying true to color

This is how some Arsenal fans are.

To be fair, let's say this is how some sport fans are. They are in it for the adrenalin, the fix. Nothing else matters.

 

Theo Walcott

Theo Walcott is not consistent. This is a known fact not rocket science, but this is different than saying he is dung. And "Walcott is dung" has become as steady a cliche lately as Jazz's cycling 12 bars.

I wrote a periscope on Walcott back in January. I cull extensively from it to strike my next point.

 

The summation: Is Walcott a failure or a promise still waiting to blossom?

I am of the opinion that Walcott is a gem yet to dazzle.

That he's not dazzling yet simply means that he's still in the rough. Gleaming gems, we'd recall, are a result of the cutter's fine art; without this, we could toss the stone away as some ordinary clunk of dirt or some annoying pebble.

Let me strike a few sub-points on the issue.

Walcott is at his most dangerous when set loose in the middle.

Clive Mason/Getty Images
Walcott and his idol, whom many fans would like Walcott to be more like.

I struck this point in a comment to my Aaron Ramsey article, just before the QPR game. Bingo, Walcott is put through, and what does he do? He skews his shot when it seems easier to score. Observe, though, that the fact that Walcott did not score does not negate my point. 

Walcott still shoots straight at the goalkeeper, true, but at the same time there are occasions when he doesn't.

The reader would observe that Walcott scores as many of such chances as the ones he misses. In fact, it can be argued that he scores many more of those than he misses.

But the point of this is to say, if the Arsenal management should do the sensible thing and renew Walcott's contract without further delay (there's a big chance he may leave in the summer, a fact we'd regret eventually), he shows enough promise to justify the re-signing.

Moreover, Walcott has the potential to be Arsenal's future striker.

Many will look at his current lack of guile in front of goal as a negating factor to my point. To this, I should like to point to my qualifier: promise.

If you consider the current Walcott as a finish product, then you're absolutely right to conclude he's a disappointment.

But if you see him as a product for the future, then you can't but salivate at the prospect (pardon my crude metaphor).

 

Lesson 

If coaches or managers discarded players at the rate at which fans want them to, or according to how a player's form swings, then a team would have a different eleven bi-monthly.

It also means that the world wouldn't have seen some of the stars we now know about. A lot of examples are available to illustrate the point regarding how a player started as an apparent flop only to become a star after being given a chance.

My point in the above quote is that Walcott's strength manifests in particular and certain situations, which are not always available in every match, not due to his own fault or the manager's.

Managers play certain players according to their anticipation of what situations would be in a given match. Sometimes these situations manifest in a match and sometimes they don't. Fans, of course, don't care about this.

The standard denomination for a number of fans is instant gratification, but who can blame them? It is how our world has become.

Here's how Wenger puts it in reference to finances, but my point here, of course, isn't finance. Still the point if relevant:

What is unbelievable is that we run the model that should be absolutely normal and we look crazy. That is crazy. People will do anything stupid, but we are not crazy, we are all right.

We spend £1 if we make £1 and [then people say] 'What are they doing?' That is what is absolutely mad in our world, but the whole world is bankrupt because of that.

Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Fans can damn everything, including this man, in the heat of their emotions.

 

The point I want you to note is the crazy part. If you are calculated in what you do, if you seek to be restrained, to be rational in situations that appeal to emotions, then you are deemed crazy.

Here's a digression.

All the evidence show that the human species is abusing the environment, which means we should change our ways, but what does a large section of the world's masses care about this? They call it liberal intellectualism when an example like this is raised.

The preceding examples simply seek to show that masses are not the bastion of rationality. They are rather, in fact, a cauldron of insanity, which is why masses always require philosophers, leaders, teachers, pastors etc, just like sheep need a shepherd.

That must sound too harsh.

But if you are the thinking type, you should know that this is not a reference to you. If you find my criticism too biting, then perhaps you should examine your ways.

On my point that managers anticipate situations that may develop in a given match and select their players accordingly, here's what Wenger said after the match regarding his decision to stick with Walcott even in the face of the player's less than desirable first half performance.

The crowd was starting to get on his back, so you do wonder if you are doing him a favour by leaving him on.

But I felt that he has the qualities we needed, that considering the rest of the team are hiding [among bodies in-field] he is a player who can be straight, direct and can go behind the defenders. Nobody else is like that.

He is a very direct player and you know that sometimes he can miss a first touch but still, considering the balance of our team, I felt it was important to keep him in the side.

 

On a tactical front. Walcott's ineffectiveness is not simply an individual problem but a collective problem of Wingers generally.

That's because teams have—by and large—found a solution for Wingers. Take a survey of top-notch football and teams and tell me where you find classic wingers being effective.

Those who are doing well are quasi strikers, whose positioning is simply a deceptive ploy—Cristiano Ronaldo, David Villa, Juan Mata (who has played wide in a number of games for Chelsea), Alexis Sanchez, Andre Iniesta (when both these players have played wide), Ángel di María, name them.

Even players such as Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben don't thrive because of playing the classical winger role, they do because they cut in and supply thrusting passes or to take on defenders on their own.

Walcott, as the reader should know, is not a classical Winger, yet the reason why Wenger has played him in that position is, beside other reasons, because of his pace when he is found by a slicing pass. It wrong foots central defenders.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Franck Ribery is not a classical winger.

 

 

When therefore a team has found a way to stop Walcott from getting behind the defence. He is effectively neutralized, and that's not a problem of Walcott per se.

Walcott is a striker by training, and this is where—as I pointed out in my previous article, which I have culled here—he is most dangerous.

Of course, his finishing is often poor, but like I've said elsewhere, the fact that he knows to get into these positions should discourage people from bandying around the "brainless" cliche. It just isn't true or fair.

Tactics, I should point out, are not simply a matter of numbers and hyphens as a number of fans seem to think. They are more like a flow-chart. And they are more an anticipation and drills. But more importantly they have a great deal to do with whether a manager is the constructive or the destructive type.

The foregoing paragraph admittedly is loaded, but this not the place to unpack my meaning. Suffice to say that those who know real tactic aren't hasty to make silly and naive generalizations.

To conclude, let me be self-referential once more. I wrote this in a recent article.

Look at where sacking Carlo Ancelotti has landed Chelsea, and now, some fans want the cycle resurrected by sacking his successor after being constrained to change the way the team plays in a single season while remaining competitive and without the players to execute his style.

It is crazy. It is stupid. 

Guess what, old dogs hardly find it funny when asked to learn new tricks. 

The "sack Mourinho" chorus should warn us that such sentiments are rarely products of deep, rational consideration. They are more the product of that madness scientists say overtake sane people from time to time—like a perfectly normal and good person flying into rage, doing something stupid "in the heat of the moment" and then regretting it later.

 

Conclusion

Some readers don't want me to be too blunt. They want me to feed them the junk that makes the  daily rounds.

I do not care for it.

Go read that junk if you don't want me challenging you to consider difficult situations, to eschew hasty generalizations or to moderate your emotions.

The point I want you to take from the preceding quote is the Mourinho lesson.

Most would think it unfair to declare Mourinho's tenure at Real Madrid a failure. Yet his successes (except in curbing Barcelona, of course) hasn't stopped the fans from demanding for his sack.

Thinking can help moderate emotions.

I just can't understand it.

And here's the irony. They want him sacked so they can employ Wenger! Wenger whom some Arsenal fans call dung.

Well here's what this dung has done over the years at Arsenal. Take a look and get sober.

My point though is not Wenger nor, again, finances. The examples seek to demonstrate how silly fans can often get, which should act as a warning to these unregulated emotions that take hold of fans as often as the sun rises and sets.

Walcott scored an important goal at Chelsea, and he scored two important ones in the Tottenham rout. He produced succulent assists in the Blackburn rout. The flashes of genius that he shows means he can grow.

Patience then is the word.

But yet again, I could not help being blunt. However, I'm sure of this one thing: A number of readers will appreciate my point.

For those I dedicate this. Continue to be steady. Continues to be supportive.

Facio liberos ex liberis libris libraque.

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