Thoughts on Cesc Fabregas, and a new recurring Feature

Greetings, Gooner faithful!

The reason why there was no Everton match report was, once again, down to the demands of my corporate masters. In the guise of a late lunch, I was able to get to the Pig at around the 30' mark to find us already down 1-0. Not until halftime did I see what a joke the Everton goal was - despite the touch off of Laurent Koscielny, the law as written is that Louis Saha was offside the second the pass came in. It was an astonishing decision, exacerbated by a frankly erratic refereeing performance from Lee Mason. I've seen other games where he's been competent at this level, but I would hope that the independent assessor had harsh words prepared after this performance. Anyway, minutes into the second half I got an e-mail from one of my superiors telling me to return to the office immediately. Of course, Arsenal got the equalizer and the winner while I was trapped in a meeting. I can't complain about the result, but the circumstances were personally unfortunate for me!

Anyway, despite my doom-mongering, this lot at times show a resilience that has not been seen in red and white for ages. Conversely, there are also times where they've shown complacency that plumbs depths we haven't seen in ages. I'm as guilty as anyone, but the frustration at the latter has often prevented us as a fanbase from appreciating the former. With as neutral a perspective as possible, Arsenal is a bloody good football team. Supporters of the mid-table sides must look at our complaints with the sort of disdain that we probably deserve. Yes, it was annoying when Manuel Almunia did his Helen Keller impersonation in the West Brom game. Yes, it was frustrating when our profligacy meant that Andy Carroll's header was the winner in the Newcastle tilt.

The counter-argument is that the fixture list is dotted with Ws that would have been Ds or even Ls last season. I was there in person for one of them, Alex Song rescuing two points with a late winner against West Ham. The Everton match was another, as last season this absolutely would have finished 0-1. Some of the same old problems linger still - set-piece assignments blown, defensive frailty, an injury record reminiscent of the Battle of the Somme, a refusal from our manager to get experienced cover in certain positions. And yet, a mere 5 points separate the Gunners from a Manchester United team that has made the most out of indifferent form. The possibility exists that Wayne Rooney catches fire (not literally, sadly) and they stroll to an unbeaten season. Much more likely, they will lose 2-3 games between now and the end of the campaign. Five-point deficits have been made up in far less time than what is in front of us. Believe me, anyone with any sense of history and long-term thinking knows that this isn't over.

Unfortunately, a fine battling performance in the wake of adversity was the furthest thing from the postmatch narrative put forth by the odious English press. Because our squad is filled with so many Johnny Foreigners, we have come to expect this sort of treatment from the birdcage-liners like the Sun (love that Page 3, though!) and the Daily Mail. Despite my cynicism towards Fleet Street, even I was surprised by this hit piece by the Guardian's Dominic Fifeld against Cesc Fabregas. You know what, though? I have one thing to say to the esteemed Mr. Fifeld about this one...

Thank you.

Yes, thank you. Don't get me wrong - it's a poorly-conceived column that borders on libel at times. It takes various incidents of hearsay and tempest-in-teapots (including ones where Cesc was later cleared of any wrongdoing) and attempts character assassination based off of them. Still, I'm glad he's saying it. I'm chuffed that the Daily Mail is saying it. I'm ecstatic that the Sun is...well...the Sun.

Newer adepts to the Arsenal faith won't have this sense, but those around during the Vieira-Petit-Lauren-Overmars-Bergkamp years know this as fact - Arsenal is only roused to fight with the full wrath of its potential when the world is against us. That was true then, and it was true back before my time with the "Boring Boring Arsenal" teams. Those who follow the cannon know that when we're winning, when the league is on notice that we're serious about wresting trophies away from the league's anointed few, it's when our two extended fingers are a V-sign rather than a peace sign.

In a way, I can understand why the media fawns on the sides they've anointed. Liverpool were the premier club back in the 1970s when most of this lot were coming into their fandom. Manchester United have been that club in modern times, with a long stretch where only Arsenal had the wherewithal to stand up to them. And, golly gee don't those plucky little Spurs play such beautiful football, and with Englishmen too (Well, except for the fact that in Wednesday's win over Blackburn, they lined up with: Brazil - Croatia, France, Cameroon, Cameroon - England, England, Holland, Honduras - England, England...but 4 out of 11 is almost 40%!!!).

I don't understand the origin of the animosity towards us, though. There is the matter of Arsenal having bribed their way into the Football League in 1919, when we finished second in the Second Division but were still voted in anyway (the fact that it was at Tottenham's expense makes it all the more uproariously funny). Call me crazy, but I don't think current memories are that long. So, what is it, then? The fact that we were defensive and dour back in those magical 1970s where apparently football was in some sort of golden age (yeah, of hooligans, bubble perms and tiny can fucking keep those years)?

Whatever it is, long may it continue. I can't speak for anyone else, but my feeling is that someone has to be the heel anyway, so why not us? The rest of the league are no angels either - as evidenced by the long rap sheets of Rooney, John Terry, Ashley Cole, etc. If they get a pass and we don't, fantastic! When the pundits told us we couldn't win championships, we did. When the bookmakers stopped taking bets on Manchester United winning the title in 1997-98, we caught them and won. When they said we couldn't finish a season unbeaten, we did. When they said Nottingham Forest's unbeaten record was unassailable, we fucking assailed it.

Fuck it...put one of ours in the hospital, we put two of yours in the morgue.

Frankly, this is what I think was missing from the side in seasons past. I almost think that it bothers Arsene to some extent, and in my bit of amateur psychology I think he wishes it weren't part of this club's DNA (seriously, Johnny fucking Rotten is a Gooner, and it isn't a misunderstanding). Perhaps he is now coming to the realization that, you know what, they're never going to like us anyway. If they won't shake our hands, then goddammit, spit in their eyes. When you strip away the crap punditry and the hype and the pretty passing triangles, the true Arsenal is a pit fighter who would sooner rob your grandmother than look at you. You know what? I'm BEYOND comfortable with that. This is who we are, and it's time that this team owns it and lets it carry them to the heights that they're capable of reaching.

With that, I come to the recurring feature that the header promised. It is no secret that there are members of the squad that, to put it politely, polarize opinions among the fanbase. There are some sections of the support that feel that anyone with a cannon on their chest should have our full support, no matter questions asked. Personally, I respect that mindset but I don't share it.

As I spent a few paragraphs wittering on about above, it is my belief that this club has a certain identity that has been strayed from in the last few seasons. When I think back to who my favorite Arsenal players have been, the one thing that they all share is that they've had their share of spiky interactions with opponents, the media, opposing fans and even our own supporters. Jens Lehmann goes without saying. Dennis Bergkamp got sent off more than a few times, including the instance where he reacted to the endless shirt-pulling from Leicester City (I think) by elbowing the guy right on the nose. Martin Keown has the iconic picture of him getting in the face of Ruud van Nistelrooy for diving to win a penalty. Patrick Vieira saw red with alarming frequency. Ian Wright had dust-ups with everyone, including our support. Thierry Henry was remarkably petulant at times. Marc Overmars had a penchant for going down a bit easy under unassuming challenges. Lauren was borderline psychotic and was never afraid to put in a crunching tackle (albeit without breaking opponents' legs, unlike some opponents these days).

The bottom line is that all of these guys, to some extent, were total assholes on the pitch. And you know what? THEY ALL WERE FUCKING WINNERS. If you don't think there's a correlation, you're hopelessly naive.

That brings me back to players who divide fan opinion. There will always be temporary overreaction to individual games and performances, borne in the heat of the moment and soon forgotten. This is not only healthy, but it's part and parcel of the deal when you get to put on the Arsenal shirt every day. However, there are some players who, try as they might, are just not good enough for the team. There are those who, in my opinion, don't fit the profile of the kind of winning player who has the minerals to scratch and claw and fight at the sharp end of a season.

I feel that we have the right as fans, who put time and money and something of ourselves into this team, to say so if that is the case.

Now, of course, there will be times where you'll feel that way and be wrong. I've stated a mea culpa in this space before about how the boss was right about Alex Song and Lukasz Fabianski, and I'll say he was doubly right about Wojicech Szezcsny. But, my worry there is that in being right about those players, he will convince himself that he was right about several others in the squad who probably don't deserve that level of belief.

To wit: I fucking HATE Denilson.

I cringe when I see his name on the teamsheet. I seethe in rage every time he jogs back on defense like nothing is wrong when the other team is rampaging towards our goal. I hate his casual, devil-may-care attitude towards playing. I despise how he gets chance after chance after chance when he has done precisely FUCK ALL to deserve it. I can't stand that the excuse of "he's young" is used - no, Jack Wilshere is young...this guy should be much closer to the finished article.

I don't want to step on the toes of those who will be writing about him, so I'll leave my ranting at that.

The important thing is, this feature - In Defense Of - will see the members of the writing staff (including those who will be making welcome returns to posting after a hiatus) attempt to make the case for players who have earned the wrath of us all at one point or another. I for one can't wait to see what my esteemed colleagues come up with here, although I only have this level of hatred for Denilson (and somewhat for Abou Diaby, who I think is just not good enough).

Brett will have his usual preview on Friday, and I swear, for real this time, I'll have my match report up after Newcastle as well.