Usually, I think of the Tiny Totts as comic relief and nothing more. At times when I get tired of the Arsenal Misery Brigade I think of players like Keane and Defoe talking about being better than Arsenal or having more depth and stuff like that, or ‘Arry talking of winning titles, and best of all some miserable, frustrated spuds making complete fools of themselves with some seriously asinine comments.
In this post however, I don’t want to laugh at them or discuss the rivalry. We can do that later in the week. For now I want to focus on Rafael Van der Vaart, a prodigious talent thriving amongst mediocrity.
I have a soft spot for VdV not only due to his immense talent but also because of the fact that he was probably the only one in the Dutch team who was on the same wavelength as RvP. Watching them play together was a real joy and the natural thought was to think of them together in the Arsenal team. But I did realize we had too many players with similar qualities and it would be quite tough to fit Van der Vaart in even if he came for a bargain. I have no doubt he’d have picked Arsenal over Spuds if Arsene had shown interest, but I can understand why Le Boss didn’t make a move (See, it’s funny even without trying. I mean what can you do but laugh when the most talented player at your bitter rivals is there only because there are too many like him at your club!).
The part I’m interested in is the changes Redknapp has had to make to fit VdV in. The future England manager (!) has had to move from his favoured 4-4-2 towards a variant of 4-5-1 in order to play the Dutchman in an advanced role.
On the surface you could say it was a successful switch as Van der Vaart scored in his first six home games. Clearly a successful transfer and I’m sure some gooners were secretly or even openly wishing he’d come to Arsenal.
Interestingly, if you take a look at details, it’s not such a rosy picture. If I’m not mistaken, after the first thirteen League games last season, the Tinies had 32 goals and 25 points put them in third place on the table, one spot above Arsenal. This season they’re in 7th with 19 points having scored only 18 goals.
So, on the one side they’ve acquired an exceptionally talented player who has contributed a significant number of goals from midfield. On the other, they’ve struggled to improve on their performances from last season and don’t look like a top 4 team. It seems rather counterintuitive.
Obviously, some injuries and the exertions in the Champions League are having an impact. But I don’t consider either to be big enough reasons to completely justify their performances.
To me the problem is down to three factors,
- Redknapp was forced into changing his system
- Van der Vaart doesn’t always contribute in defence (forcing others to stay back more often) and doesn’t have the stamina to play at a high tempo for 90 mins (could be due to the fact that he had an uncertain summer and didn’t have a proper preseason)
- The players are still adapting to his style and will take some time to gel
The reason I’m getting into this is because such problems occur in almost all transfers, especially the big ones.
Keep this in mind and think about how well Chamakh, Koscielny, and Squillaci have done.
The Moroccan’s biggest strength is in the air and one could argue we don’t use it well enough. I’d agree but don’t we need to be a lot more patient? Chamakh has had to adapt to the movement of Walcott and Arshavin, the passing of Cesc, Rosicky and Nasri, and the physical nature of the League. Similarly, the other players in the squad are getting to know his runs/movements and strengths.
Ideally, we would want a lot more and it can get frustrating at times when we play like the way we did against Newcastle. There are times when I read gooners commending the likes of Bale and Van der Vaart for a good game (nothing wrong with that) and at the same time having a go at Chamakh or Arshavin (almost everything’s wrong with that!). I can relate to the feelings of most fans. But criticism without a grain of perspective is just stupidity in disguise.
Similar arguments can be made about the defence. Neither Squillaci, Koscielny, nor Djourou has had a proper run in the side or played with a regular partner at the back. There are times when we can see a lack of understanding or a mix-up. Sometimes it leads a heart-in-mouth moment. We want better no doubt, but we also have to acknowledge the complexities involved.
I could even say the same for the new goalkeeper argument. Some people think bringing someone like Reina will change things overnight. It just doesn’t work that way. At Arsenal the game style demands a lot more from the Keeper. That was the reason all of last season I kept talking of improving the defending in front of the Goalie and it’s not difficult to see Arsenal have signed Centre Backs with specific skills in that area. And we’ve seen the impact of these changes. There is still room for improvement but we’ve taken giant strides in the right direction.
Come to think of it, one of the few things that I find funnier than anything Spuds is people who say one or two ‘big name’ signings will make Arsenal a top team.
Before signing a player, not only must a manager know how good a player is, he must also be able to judge how soon he would adapt, how the other players will respond to him, and whether the overall team performances will improve and to what extent. Of course, it’s not a perfect science which just makes it that much harder. And without a shadow of doubt there is no other manager who comes close to Arsene in this regard.
The Tinies spent big money on Pavlyuchenko and he took two years to deliver. Even now he is not considered good enough to be first choice. They spend good money on Palacios who was supposed to be a big player for them in the recent past. Rarely gets a game these days. Only the Tiny Totts could sell an in-form Robbie Keane and by him back after all life had been sucked out of him. These are just some examples and looking back over the last few years, the churn at Spuds and stability at Arsenal highlights the stark contrast.
Sorry, I can’t stop laughing after looking at those examples and the transfer chaos at the Tinies. More on this some other time.