Date: 31st October 2008 at 1:26pm
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I am sure you are probably aware of the hyperbolic headlines spilling forth from the nation`s rags this morning regarding an alleged bust up in the Arsenal dressing room following the aberration in the final minutes against Spurs. The first thing to say is that there is not a dressing room in the country that would not see, “swearing (shock, horror), shouting (somebody think of the children) and finger pointing (*feints*),” after a final few minutes like that. Frankly, if there isn`t a heated exchange or two, then the likelihood is that the team in question will be relegated and have already accepted it. The details of course are very sketchy (the Sun newspaper quotes “a source”), but in my experience, these things tend to have at least a modicum of truth to them. Even if that truth is then placed into the bullshit-o-meter and cranked up to ten. But I am sure words were said and I have already articulated my cynicism surrounding Gallas` injury for Saturday over on the forum. (Seriously, a hamstring pull, did anyone see him pull up? I didn`t. Are we to believe he attained the affliction walking down the tunnel, or perhaps he stretched too vociferously when he awoke on Thursday morning?) The question I am trying to get at the crux of is, would this necessarily be a bad thing if words were exchanged on Wednesday evening?

While the media will predictably explode into frenzy over something quite trivial (I would imagine the word ‘crisis` will be used in every article connected with us leading up to the Stoke game and, if we don`t win, beyond) there are many that will contend that this is precisely the sort of splenetic pyrotechnics that this team needs right now. Much has been said about the entropy that has enveloped many displays this season and the arrogance displayed in the final minutes on Wednesday was completely unacceptable for any professional football side at any level in the Football League. It has been said that many players are in something of a comfort zone due to a lack of competition for places. This is perhaps surprising considering the apathetic display against Hull City came right on the heels of our young reserves smashing six past Sheffield United. But whilst Wenger continues to affirm faith in the young players bubbling below the parapet of the first team, his utterances are not backed up by action. The likes of Vela, Ramsey and Bendtner have a single league start between them this season. It is perhaps understandable not to make wholesale changes with deputies this junior, but the fact that Ramsey, Vela and even Djourou (who has not appeared since the opening day) have a premium of Premiership minutes between them this year. (Mind you, Denilson and Song have been stars of the last couple of Carling Cup runs and now many contend they are not good enough for regular first team football). As Friedrich Engels once remarked, “an ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.”

In the meantime, we have seen inconsistent form from the team which, most conclude, has been due to an inharmonious symphony of inexperience and immaturity with the youngsters and complacency within the more established ranks. Strong words have been said by supporters and now, perhaps the time has come for words to be said amongst the players. Firstly, it shows commitment to right the wrongs and correct the consistent mistakes we have been making since the opening day of the season. Secondly, this kind of clear the air visceral fury can work wonders in firing underperforming team mates up. I remember playing a game when I was 15, my captain, who also happened to be my best friend, tore into me for too easily losing a header in the build up to conceding a soft goal. Harsh words were exchanged between us. For the rest of that game I played out of my skin, not due to any sense of responsibility on my part you understand. Oh no, I was absolutely in the right and he was 100% unjustified. I played frenetically just to shut him up and prove a point. My actions were motivated by spite, but the point is it worked. Perhaps this is exactly the sort of peroration the side needs at this stage of the season to infuse some purpose back into some overly comfortable limbs. But there is a flipside.

Gallas allegedly ripped into his players following the demoralising draw at Birmingham last season. He has received nothing but criticism for it since as the team showed major mental malfunctions last season by falling apart in the wake of a mistake strewn draw. Gallas has been a quieter captain this year, he has received nothing but criticism for it since. But it does reveal that perhaps the mentality of our players is too precious and too fragile to survive such an ear bashing. We now find ourselves on the back of a similarly demoralising game (albeit without the horrific physical injury) and Stoke City tomorrow will be a massive measure of how far we have come since then. Last season, the team capitulated in similar circumstances. Tomorrow they have no option but to prove that they have learned from and been chastened by that experience. So far this season, this team has failed massively in its ability to correct mistakes; both the players and the manager have singularly failed to address persistent errors. But if there really was a dressing room rumble, perhaps this is the worst thing that could happen to players who have proved themselves to be psychologically weak throughout 2008.

Recent history reveals another negative flipside. ‘The Invincibles` were torn apart by internal wrangling. It began on the team coach after a disappointing away draw at Rosenborg, Patrick Vieira and Lauren exchanged blows as they furiously remonstrated over who was at fault for the equaliser. There were two bifurcate, but not mutually hostile camps in that squad. The French players, Vieira, Pires, Cygan, and Henry. Then there was a recently implanted Spanish element, Fabregas, Almunia, Reyes and Lauren (who grew up in Andalusia). A month later, Luis Aragones made his sickening jibe towards Jose Reyes as Spain trained for a World Cup qualifier concerning Thierry Henry. Reyes and Henry visibly fell out (one can understand Henry`s frustration as Reyes was filmed laughing nervously at Aragones` bile, but he was immature in clearly bullying Reyes on the field of play). A yawning chasm developed within the squad between the Spanish players, who sided with Lauren and Reyes and the French players who were firmly with Vieira and Henry. Vieira, Henry, Pires, Cygan and Lauren were all sold within two years. What began as an after match tiff over slack marking, embedded itself as a tumour on the squad. Such dressing room remonstrations; if they go too far, can have cancerous implications for the bonhomie of the squad. Back in March, Adebayor spoke of a family atmosphere within the squad. It is now reported. Somewhat dubiously, that Gallas has ruled himself out of the Stoke match. I`m not sure I believe it, but if it`s true, I wager we won`t see him in an Arsenal shirt again. My instinct is that this is a diplomatic injury invented as a phantasm by the manager, because I watched Gallas walk off on Wednesday night and he did not have a pulled hamstring.

For better or worse, the eyes of the country will now be on us on Saturday. How we respond will tell us a great deal about this team`s prospects for the future and their mental facilities to handle pressure. Both physical in the form of a Rory Delap throw in and psychological. I think the manager`s team selection will clear some of the cobwebs with regards to the stories doing the rounds. If Adebayor, Silvestre and Gallas all sit the game out, I think we can assume the manager is wielding an iron fist. What is clear, is that if this group of players is half as special as the manager tells us, then they will respond emphatically tomorrow and beyond.LD.