Posts Tagged ‘bloggers’

This whole series of blogs started with a conversation between Mimsie and myself. She had written a blog about fangirls, and her defence of them challenged me and forced me to view myself as a supporter in a new light. How was I seen? Could I fit the definition of a fangirl? How did the male Gooners I interact with perceive me? As I began trying to figure out answers to these questions I reached out to fellow female Gooners whom I respected and asked them to write about their thoughts and experiences. Mimsie as well wrote an excellent blog on her thoughts and experiences here, from which I will shamelessly quote as I attempt to explain my thoughts.

As I thought about my experiences as a fan, I discovered that it wasn’t about my gender, my preferred midfield, or how much I wanted Arsene as our coach that was important to me. What I wanted from interaction with fellow fans was a sense a community, a place to be heard, to listen, to be challenged and grow as a supporter.

I realized that I have never made my gender an issue. I had never thought of myself as being different to any relatively new Arsenal fan. I love our team with a passion and with every passing year, my knowledge grows. Last season when I had the incredible fortune of travelling to London and watching the season-changing 5-2 NLD, I didn’t view myself as a female surrounded by male supporters. I felt like I had come home. I wasn’t excluded; I was embraced, maybe a bit too roughly while being pounded on the back with excitement, but I wasn’t complaining.

As in the quote below I had viewed my fan experience as ordinary until I was reminded by others that I wasn’t:

“It’s an extraordinarily unordinary fan experience, as far as I’m concerned. Which is fine, seeing as I’m just another fan. Every so often, though, I’m reminded — by blog posts, tweets, off-hand remarks — that this isn’t exactly true. Every so often, you come across a comment that feels like a slap in the face. Because women don’t actually like sports, it’s assumed. Women only care about how hot the players are, not how well they play. Only men can really appreciate football. And therefore men are better fans.”

I mentioned in my introductory blog that recently had my first experience of being told I wasn’t a ‘good enough’ fan based on gender, and while it was shocking and hurtful, it did cause to me to grow as a fan. I hated being degraded, I hated the insinuation that I was stupid and most of all I hated feeling like an outsider when Arsenal has felt like home. The worst moment happened later. While I was sitting up at night stewing over how someone could pass such a judgement, I realized that I have been that person.

I am a hypocrite. I have judged other Gooners based on their opinions, I have called other female supporters fangirls, I have mocked and called into question the support of those who think Wenger should be replaced. I have made other Gooners feel the way a man made me feel and it’s not okay.

Once again Mimsie explains my thoughts better than I can:

“It’s ugly, this hierarchical code that expresses itself as the need to put down a fellow human being in order to feel our own self-worth. Either be the best, or at least make sure there is someone still lower than you on the ladder, and make it clear that you are superior to because of reasons x, y, and z.

It’s sad that we’ve been conditioned to believe such a lie, because superiority is a double-edged sword. The constant drive to prove your worth means you are never actually sure that you’re worth anything at all. The name of this game is insecurity itself.”

Although I didn’t enjoy being judged and questioned based on a gender-biased view, it helped me to expose some of the flaws in my own self and because of that, I will transform what was meant to be a hurtful and belittling experience and change myself into a better woman, better person and better Gooner.

I may not agree with your opinions, I may not care for your personality, style of writing or tweets, but I will treat with you the respect that all fans deserve.  When we met in a pub or hopefully someday at The Emirates again, if you are a Gooner you are welcome to sit with me.

Being an avid social media user, I have had the displeasure of seeing many different types of infighting between Arsenal fans. Foreign vs local, the Arsene Knows Brigade vs Wenger Out Brigade, pro-snood vs anti-snood, and the list goes on. What struck me recently and inspired the idea of reaching out to fellow female Gooners was that I’ve had very little interaction and experience in the debate of male vs female supporters.

Most of my experience in relating to fellow fans has been online. When I first started supporting Arsenal in 2008, I found a community of fans on a site called LiveJournal. I spend the majority of my time on ONTD_FOOTBALL and later branched out into ArsenalBBS. I didn’t conciously notice at the time, but all the fellow fans I interacted with and spoke to were female. While there was infighting that us Gooners have become accustomed to (you haven’t seen an online war until you’ve seen the fallout after a Sergio Ramos hair cut; I’m firmly in Team Long Mane) no-one ever questioned my knowledge or support of Arsenal based on my gender.

When I left the cozy confines of LJ to venture further afield to the new frontier of Twitter, I began to interact more with male Arsenal fans and for the most part it has been a good experience. In fact I never even considered the fact that I was female fan amongst male fans until recently. The majority of topics I discussed with my fellow female Gooners also extended into similar conversations with male Gooners. We talked about tactics, new signings, Pat Rice’s shorts, Arsene’s water bottle hatred and his often inexplicable substitutions. I’ve met male Gooners who are bigger fans of individual players than I am, who created parody accounts with us, who debated the merits of our One True Pairings (OTPs) and shared our collective sobs and heartbreak when that man Fabregas left. Over time I learned the art of the subtle unfollow for Gooners whose tweets I didn’t enjoy and I remained content with my eccentric and eclectic group of Gooners.

Then Robin van Persie happened, and in the midst of my shock, tears and crushing loss of faith in loyalty in football, I began to notice a different kind of reaction. Other Gooners began to tell me how to feel about Robin. I was told my opinions weren’t valid, that I needed to get over it and to “stop being so emotional already!” I noticed this happening to other female Gooners and the majority of the people doing the admonishing were male. I had my first experience in being told my thoughts weren’t valid because I was female. It isn’t an experience I’d want to endure again, but like most unpleasant experiences it pushed me to learn and to grow. I decided to reach out to my fellow female Gooners and listen to their experiences, hear how they became Gooners and discuss their experiences. It has been moving, informative and eye opening. There has been a lack of Victoria Concordia Crescit in our club lately – especially in the boardroom – so maybe it’s time for us supporters to show them the way.

Remember to check in tomorrow where I discuss the road to Goonerhood with @mimsicality@GreenieJules  and @SandraHelena39 and others.

As many of you can guess from my “Oranje_sky” username, I am of course a devoted fan of the Dutch National football team. This has been a painful Euros for me as you can imagine. What caused the most pain for myself was not the infighting and lacklustre performance of the Dutch, but the negative and often cruel comments and attitudes of my fellow Gooners on Twitter.

I can appreciate banter, and Holland deserved every bit of criticism they got, but the personal attacks, the questioning of my support of Holland, Arsenal and the Canadian Men’s National Team were all surprising to me. I understand internationals can be tense, fans who are normally supporting the same team are divided and it can cause tension. If you are wondering why people get so sensitive around international tournaments or simply don’t understand those who support a country, allow me to share why.

Watching football became special to me because it was something that I shared between my grandfather and myself.  Growing up in Canada it was difficult to watch international football and impossible to follow a club. Together we would make the effort to follow and track the Dutch national team as best we could.

As I grew older and we watched games together that would be one of the few times my Grandfather would share stories about living in an occupied country during WW2. Although the stories were always humorous and related to his football antics, they were tinged with the sadness and desperation of that time.  He threw himself into practicing tricks and developing techniques to avoid being in a house that was often used by German soldiers as a food base because of the large garden in their backyard. Football started as an escape and blossomed into a passion, which he was determined to pass on to me.

Being an Oranje fan has never been easy. Loving a team that is hell-bent on selfishness, drama and self destruction can be painful at best. They have traditionally shown the world incredible football allied with a legion of colourful and devoted fans.  My Grandpa taught me to appreciate the skill and vision needed to complete the perfect pass, the incredible talent and intelligence it takes to direct a midfield and the strength required to constantly probe and attack a solid defense. We always rooted for the players who not only showed great skill but were full of passion and drive. We were mutual fans of players like Edgar Davids and the de Boer twins. But it was Dennis Bergkamp who I fell in love with.  We watched his now famous goal against Argentina together and it has become one of my favourite football memories.

Fans who argue that club is more important than country often fail to recognize that, for quite a few of us, our Country lead us to our club. For me it was Dennis Bergkamp and Robin van Persie who attracted me to Arsenal.  Although I have come to love Arsenal in its own right, I wouldn’t be a Gooner today if it wasn’t for the Netherlands NT and my Grandpa.

When you see people like myself – a Canadian with an Oranje heart – take a minute to ask them their story. It’s so easy to judge and criticse people’s love and passion for a National Team, but to me Holland is so much more than just Robben’s selfish behaviour, World Cup finals or fans in goofy wigs. The team carries the legacy of my grandfather, my introduction to football, and the start of the journey to being a Gooner.  Hup Holland Hup!

 

Having spoken of personnel with Zara (www.twitter.com/goonerathena) a few days ago in part 1 and tactics with Steve (www.twitter.com/newfiegooner) yesterday in part 2, the final instalment of this three-part series focuses on mental strength. Sameer (www.twitter.com/thesquidboylike) gives his opinion on why this aspect is our main downfall…

 Ah yes. Mental strength. Arsene and Arsenal’s fabled “mental strength”. How sad it is that one of our supposed qualities touted most by the manager has completely evaporated since that fateful February day at Wembley. The problem with mental strength is that it is intangible and cannot be quantified. However, we can use some stats to illustrate where it is clearly missing – since we last won a trophy, we’ve lost 40 leads that we’ve held in matches. For me, this depicts a lack of mental strength. While I don’t have the comparative figures for Man Utd and Chelsea at hand, I can bet my bottom dollar that it is nowhere near that number. This season alone we’ve suffered the horror of losing two separate two-goal leads against our deadliest rivals, the notoriety of being the first Premier League side in history to let slip a four-goal lead, and being the only team in living memory to score a 97th minute “winner” yet somehow contrive to not win the game .

But mental strength isn’t just that which occurs in matches. It is something that needs to manifest from game to game, something we need to summon to come back from adversity. Here’s another damning stat for you – we’ve only won three games out of 14 since the Carling Cup final. A run which has seen us exit the FA Cup at the hands of Man Utd, the Champions League at the hands of Barcelona (and bent refereeing), and fall away in the title race.

Yet not only have we dropped out of the title race, but we’ve also managed to sink to fourth place. And unless things go our way this weekend, we will be faced with ignominy of a mighty difficult Champions League qualifier in August. What’s that old joke? “Arsenal are the only team that can finish fourth in a two-horse race.” Sad but ultimately true.

In my eyes – and I guess many share this viewpoint, including the players – our season hinged on the Carling Cup final. After so many barbs over the years regarding our lack of silverware (if you Google the word “trophyless”, the first few search results relate to Arsenal), beating Birmingham was meant to open the floodgates and push us on to greater things. And with all due respect to Birmingham, we have never had a better opportunity to get the monkey off our backs. Having come up short so often, winning that day was to instil belief in the players and fans that, together, we could go on to achieve greatness this season. And you know what? I believe it would have. We may have still got knocked out of the other two cup competitions, but I reckon the players would have used the foundation of a Carling Cup win – of knowing they were winners – to drive them on in the title race.

However, the opposite transpired. We managed to lose the final in almost comical fashion, and the belief visibly drained out of the players as they lay sprawled across the Wembley turf. And this is where our so-called “mental strength” needed to come to the fore. We needed to exhibit bouncebackability, to learn from our mistakes, to dust ourselves off and maintain the verve that we had shown in the December and January and February. The same verve which had seen us banish of Chelsea and Barcelona.

But it didn’t happen. Gone was the vibrancy of the enigma that is Theo van Nasregas (admittedly, we suffered from injuries to two of the four components). Gone was the high pressing game that typified the middle third of the season. Gone was the hunger and belief required to be champions. Instead we ploughed along, starting games in lackadaisical fashion, failing to put our opponents to the sword and too often conceding first (largely from set-pieces, as Steve alluded to yesterday). This meant we were often playing catch-up and busting our arses to the last minute in search of an unlikely equaliser or winner, which is hugely taxing both physically and emotionally.

So we ended up fading from the title race, and a huge sense of déjà vu struck. The exact same thing happened last season, where we looked strong for two-thirds of the campaign but when the going got tough, we didn’t. I think one of the starkest aspects of this year is that we can no longer blame injuries. Last year, we could at least hang on to the fact that our fall from grace coincided with a horribly mounting injury list. Not so this time, which hit home to many – including myself – that maybe, just maybe, our first eleven simply wasn’t as good as we all believed and our backup was even worse.

As Zara said a few days ago, it does seem that we need new additions. Experienced and specialist backup for Alex Song is a must when you look at our record without him. And as Steve said, we do need to mix up our tactics, especially at home against the bus-parkers.

Thus whilst I unequivocally agree with both their suggestions of fresh faces and variety in our attacking game plus tightening up at the back, I can’t help but feel it won’t be enough. Whoever is part of our squad next season, they need to collectively overcome something greater than poor communication at corners or ineffective sideways passing and crosses to nobody in particular. They need to somehow believe again.

Money can buy us new players, hard work on the training pitch can help our tactics, but how do we find the mental strength required to take us to a higher level? As I said right at the start, it is an intangible that we cannot quantify or measure, it is simply has to come from within the side. There is no right answer or guaranteed cure, of course. So all I can do is look to the past. In 2001 we finished 10pts behind Man Utd and suffered late heartbreak in a domestic cup final. That summer there was significant movement in terms of transfers – most notably bringing in Sol Campbell. A similar marquee signing may do wonders against this summer. But the following season there was something else. The team broke free of the shackles of failure and came together in perfect harmony to win the Double. The players had spent a few seasons together getting used to each other and seemingly looked at each other and said: “Enough. No more second-place, no more glorious or tragic failure. We have to work harder, run faster and be stronger in both body and mind. We just have to win.”

And so they did. In swashbuckling style. If Arsene can hark back to what happened then and try to replicate it over the coming months, everything may be rosy again in the garden of red’n’white.

After discussing the importance of having the right type of players in our squad with Zara yesterday , I thought it would be important to talk about how the players are being utilized within in the squad. There have been a lot of comments that players like Bendtner and Arshavin have been played out of position, and today Steve  is going to offer his thoughts on how a change in formation and tactics could be the key to solving our problems…

 

There has been some serious discussion around the problems at the club in recent seasons, this one in particular. One aspect that has seen attention is our tactics and the areas of weakness in our game. As I see it, our formation and ineffective crossing and corners are giving us the most trouble.

Formation: I think our formation works with our starting XI for the most part. Van Persie as a central striker is strong and both Walcott and Arshavin play well in their positions on the wings. There’s no question about our midfield as they all work well together and provide strength to our game.

I think our formation issues come when we bring on substitutes that are then played in positions with which they are not particularly comfortable. The big example here is Bendtner being played in Walcott’s role. He’s a big man, not as fast as other players and is better on the receiving end of a cross in front of the box. He’s better made to receive crosses than provide them. Wenger should be playing Bendtner in the centre to take advantage of his height and finishing if he wants to maintain our usual 4-2-3-1 formation. If he doesn’t want to do this, then why not try a 4-4-2 set up? This way we gain a more condensed midfield for defensive purposes and Bendtner can be paired with van Persie up front to provide a closer attacking partnership. Walcott and Nasri are still on the wings and can provide support/service to the strikers, as well as taking their own chances to score. This will increase the number of forwards we have in the box at any given time and should make our crosses more threatening.

Crosses: This is one area where we are rather weak (in recent games we’ve had over 30 crosses and no goals from them). As I said above, if we have one main striker in the box to receive crosses that lessens our accuracy and chances of scoring, especially when that striker isn’t particularly skilled with his head. Van Persie, though a tall guy, hasn’t scored many headed goals lately and it’s partly because it’s not as much a talent of his as, say, someone like Bendtner or one of the centre halves. When we have other attackers in the box they are usually rather short (Fabregas, Nasri, Walcott, Arshavin, Wilshere, Song…well actually nearly our entire team is short and less likely to win headers). You can’t always rely on striking for goal with your feet when an aerial ball is coming across the front of the net.

The other issue with crossing is the players providing the service. Clichy, as many know, is not the best crosser. He’s actually one of the worst we have. Sure, he provided that beautiful ball for Song to head home in the last minute of the West Ham game at the Emirates, but what else has he done? He’s much more likely to cross the ball awkwardly while Robin tries, awkwardly, to reach it. Clichy is not good at picking out players this way. He is good at moving the ball forward and providing a short pass to Arshavin, Nasri or the like, but that’s about it. Sagna is marginally better, Walcott is poor with the accuracy of his crosses, and Nasri is less likely to attempt crosses and would rather dance around defenders. Overall, in the attacking positions we are weak in this area. Poor accuracy of the cross and poor heading ability by our players.

Corners: If memory serves, we score more goals from corners than crosses and I would argue this is because we have our big boys – Squillaci, Koscielny, and Djourou – there to beat opponents to the ball. Squillaci and Koscielny have scored at least two each this season, while Djourou has scored one more recently. I realise it’s partly because at a corner we have more people in the box, but that means nothing if they can’t finish. Our outfield players have skill and ability, but not the height or physical presence to be effective this way.

The same problem comes when we try to defend corners. We’ve got our two bigger centre halves there plus van Persie, but everyone else is not physically imposing enough to dominate the space in front of goal. I believe a recent statistic has shown that we concede nearly 60% of our goals from set pieces like corners or free-kicks, which is a shocking amount, really. Part of this come down to the physical component, but there is an organisational element as well. Rarely do we see the players shouting orders at each other when lining up to defend a set piece, instead they stand around looking lost and hoping for the best. There needs to be more communication and players who want to take control of these parts of the game. I don’t know if this should be coming from the captain, since he’s really not much of a defender, but a hell of a playmaker instead. Tony Adams was not only a great defender, but he was forceful with his own team and able to motivate them to defend and perform as needed. He was also the captain of the side giving a strong personality and influence in that area and perhaps that’s what we need now (I’m not taking anything away from Cesc, he’s a great captain, but his strength is not in defence, which, if you look at some of the big blunders of this season, you will see this area has caused us more than a little stress). I think the calls for a new keeper and new centre halves could be nullified if we had one strong defender who captained the team and provided that needed element to the back four.

After the euphoria of the home win over Manchester United had subsided, I found myself wondering what exactly had gone wrong this season. Despite the odd blip we started so well, especially in the middle third of the season. And then everything just seemed to collapse. How is it possible that we had overcome the Mancs, Chelsea and Barcelona but failed against the likes of Newcastle, West Brom and Sunderland?

Is it our players? Do we not have a solid or deep enough squad? Did I put too much faith in the enigma that is Theo Van Nasregas? Maybe it’s our tactics? Should we adapt our formation to take into account the opposition? Is our defence really that bad? Could it be that we actually lack in Arsene’s fabled “mental strength”? And my greatest fear – are we really just a bunch of chokers?

Like any good blogger, when I don’t have the answers I turn to those with greater amounts of knowledge and wisdom. My fellow LPG blogger and podcaster extraordinaire Zara chose to tackle the issue of our squad and potential ins and outs this summer. The excellent author of http://www.gunnersrock.com Steve Rowe was kind enough to share his view on our tactics and – sometimes – lack thereof. And contributor to http://www.arsenalvision.co.uk/ and Twitter legend Sameer will discuss where and how we lost our mojo.

First up, here are Zara’s views on what additions we need to boost our squad and who needs to leave for the benefit of our club…
First of all, I just want to clarify that these are my views. Obviously I am not a premier league football manager or anywhere near as prolific or amazing as Arsene but it’s just based on my observations throughout the season and from recent transfer ‘rumblings’ which I am finding very entertaining right now but I’m sure I will tire of in a month or so. Mind you, I do not think a lot of Arsenal’s problems can be solved by buying a new player and much change has to be made in the development and training of our squad (particularly when it comes to team morale). I don’t believe making wholesale changes to our squad is an effective method to achieving our goals but I do think that we need to make several changes in our personnel to improve our overall performance next season.

Goalkeeper

It’s a widely known fact that Almunia’s days at the club are probably numbered. I cannot see Arsene going for a Buffon, Reina or a Stekelenberg this summer since I firmly believe that Szczesny will be our #1 for many years to come and Fabianski is a capable #2. It would be imperative to however sign an experienced goalkeeper to replace Almunia. Someone preferably with PL experience as well.

A proper #9

We’ve surely lacked one since that thug from Birmingham ripped Eduardo’s leg out (and just when he was gaining momentum as well) and if speculation of Bendtner wanting out, and the very real possibility of Vela being sold it is imperative that we get a proper striker. Robin’s been fantastic this season but imagine the heights we can achieve if he had a proper partner he could feed the ball to. One of the prominent names that have emerged so far has been Benzema from Real Madrid. Although he would be a perfect fit with the current team and gets along well with Nasri, the hefty 20 million price tag indicates it’s probably BS. Perhaps we don’t need to look beyond our own club for the new #9. Many have stated that Theo would be more suited to a forward position instead of being utilized in the wings. Although I can see Arsene’s reasoning for using him as a winger (his blistering pace), I’m not sure he has the confidence and no-nonsense nature of a proper fox in the box.

A Defensive Midfielder or a Centre Back

Koscielny and Djourou have done a great job this season despite a few individual errors here and there. Squillaci…not so much. *Insert stat of how many goals we let in this season*. With the imminent return of Vermaelen, hopefully this area will be considerably strengthened next season. Despite that, we are still missing a crucial piece in our defensive set up. Some might say it’s the English defender (Cahill! Jagielka!) but I think what we lack most is experience and someone who is not afraid to boss the rest of the team around. Verma did a decent job of it last season and this was one of the things we missed most from him. Another loudmouth addition would be ideal. Perhaps a Mark van Bommel? And since Vermaelen can also be a back up for Song when needed (he has played in defensive midfield before), I think either a DM or a CB signing would be ideal.

A Winger

We have hardly seen Denilson play this calendar year and this leads me to believe that he is on his way out since we have also not heard about any injuries he may be incurring. Many are also not satisfied with the level of performances Diaby has put in this season and his overall temper. Although I believe that he has the potential to be an Arsenal legend one day, Arsene may decide that he has been taking a gamble with him for far too long and choose to cash in his chips in the summer. This opens up room in our midfield. It will be interesting to see if any of the reserves players make their way to fill the void next season. Perhaps we’ll see more of Frimpong or Lansbury or maybe even JET. There has been a lot of speculation that Arsenal may be making a move for Eden Hazard in the summer and if this is true it would a fantastic addition to a midfield that already boasts the likes of Fabregas, Nasri, Arshavin and Wilshere. He is arguably the player of the season in the Ligue 1 and it has been encouraging to hear that he would be keen on a move to Arsenal.

Overall, although there does need to be a change in personnel at the club this summer, and some may say even a drastic change looking at the ambitions of Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City, I believe that there also needs to be drastic changes made behind the scenes. The mentality of the players needs to be studied and much work needs to be done to build on their mental strength. Our season has been downhill ever since we lost the Carling Cup and most of the players seemed to have lost their sense of belief in themselves (except perhaps Robin and Jack). It’s a good thing there isn’t an international tournament this summer. I hope our players get the long rest they deserve and reflect on the past year in a fruitful manner. We can only learn from our mistakes and move forward.