Anyone who watched the crucial Premier League clash between Arsenal and Everton at the Emirates Stadium would have been struck by several things. Firstly, despite a lack of tangible chances, it was an entertaining 0-0 draw full of tension and drama, fought out by two teams pursuing football’s ultimate financial prize: Champions League qualification.
Secondly, the Toffees display of grit and determination and no lack of class on the ball, showed that they are growingly capable of attaching themselves to the coat tails of those with better resources at the head of the Premier League pack. David Moyes’ side probed, jousted and harried with a side supposedly their betters and, until the final 20 minutes when the Gunners quite rightly tried to assert dominance on home turf, were equally likely to nick the vital three points in this footballing blockbuster.
And finally, for this piece at least, we witnessed a display of petulance and gamesmanship from the all-too-precious Gunners, both on the pitch and in the technical area. This fervent belief that they are not to be touched and that they must be left alone to play the way they want and can on the field is unshakeable. But actually it’s incredible that in 17 years in English football and a whole adult life spent in the game, Arsene Wenger still holds firmly to the concept that it is a non-contact sport. Non-contact when his players are in possession at least.
Last night was by no means the first time we have been treated to an Arsenal team willing to throw themselves on the floor at every opportunity and scream at the officials for the merest of interaction with an opponent. Indeed, we have been party to several generations of Wenger sides behaving in such a way, and the common theme running through this lack of class behaviourally is the stroppy Frenchman himself.
Let’s first defend the Arsenal boss for his ability to create superb footballing individuals, and in the late nineties and early noughties at least, some incredibly gifted and entertaining teams. But even then, some of those who graced Highbury’s hallowed soil so imperially were partial to the odd disciplinary misdemeanour. Their record for bookings and dismissals during Arsenal’s greatest era was appalling as the likes of Vieira, Adams and even the magical Bergkamp, kicked, elbowed, spat and stamped their way to success. And who can forget the sight of the fragile Robert Pires falling to the floor at the slightest change in air pressure? Well, Arsene Wenger for one. His uncanny knack of looking away and missing the action just at the precise moment one of his players launched into some two-footed assault or cynical professional foul was incredible. Even more amazing was his ability to spot even the slightest of touches to one of his men and then harp, moan, whinge and harangue the officials like the most spoilt of children having a maniacal tantrum.
Fast forward to the Everton encounter and the subsequent aftermath and we witnessed everything that encapsulates Arsenal, Wenger and their lack of class. In a game of such magnitude for both clubs, did the Frenchman expect anything other than a keenly fought and physical battle? Did he expect David Moyes and Everton to roll over and submit to satisfy the Londoners sense of self entitlement? As has been perpetually evident since his appointment back in 1996, the answer must be ‘Yes’.
While nobody wants violence and thuggery to blight entertainment and flair, the physical and defensive side of the game can be just as beautiful and is certainly just as valuable when applied within the boundaries of legality. While Everton were expectedly uncompromising and competitive, they trod the fine line between voracity and vulgarity while daring to knock Arsenal out of their stride. How very unsporting of them. And what of Arsenal’s response to Everton’s approach? Yes, you guessed it, moaning, whinging and diving.
In the first half in particular we were treated to the likes of the grossly overrated Jack Wilshere embellishing every coming together, Mikel Arteta insinuating the use of elbows by Darron Gibson (when they were patently at his side) on Theo Walcott in a distasteful attempt to have his former team mates reduced by one in number and the obligatory accompaniment of the all-too-familiar and tedious harassment of the fourth official by the Commander-in-Chief of such petulant behaviour, Monsieur Wenger.
Is it any wonder David Moyes felt the need to have a word with the official on the touchline to ensure that he was not going to be swayed by the immense pressure being put on him by ‘Le Professeur’? If Arsenal cannot get their own way by footballing means they resort to this most basic of tactics which has long since begun to alienate the neutral who were once enthralled and excited by the Gunners’ enviable cavalier ethos.
Simply put, Wenger has a superiority complex of staggering and arrogant proportions and this either filters down to or is bred into his players. Their belief that teams of lesser or even equal abilities should just roll over and let them pass opponents into submission is staggering. Why would the likes of Bolton, Stoke and Everton just tamely capitulate? Physical contact is part of the game and thankfully there is enough opposition to the likes of the pompous Arsenal boss to continue to encourage this facet of the game, just as Wenger champions the finer qualities equally as vital to variety within football. Perhaps if he were to finally embrace the physical nature of the game rather than bemoan it, his team wouldn’t be in the decline they are now.