Props have to go to Hull, I’m sorry but they outplayed Arsenal yesterday. I could try to psychoanalyze the Arsenal players and wonder aloud whether the pre-match chatter about them kicking us off the pitch played a part in why the Arsenal players looked timid at the start, but that’s just plain unfair to the Hull players and their manager. They came out with a game plan, with the desire to win 3 points, and with the certain knowledge of how to get them, and they did.
Sure Hull came out and gave a few lumps to start, and maybe my reaction in the live-blog was the same as the players, a sort of sense that injustice was being done. But after those initial few lumps, the game smoothed out and it looked to me like both teams played fairly, Hull was just seemed to want it more.
After the 0-0 first half, it turns out that Phil Brown took off the headgear and spoke directly to his players, reminding them that they had worked all week on set pieces and that if they just kept up the hard work, it would all pay off. Arsenal scored first and I really thought that we were going to open them up at that point, but then we just sort of looked like we took our foot off the gas and suddenly Giovanni found himself in loads of space and fired in a beautiful goal; side net, unstoppable. Again, the good has to go here to Hull, they showed the character to fight back after going down 1-0 to the vaunted Arsenal.
Finally, when they were lining up the corner that won the match, I don’t know if I could sense something or not, but I had a bad feeling about Arsenal’s defense on that corner. I couldn’t see it until the slow motion replay but the squad was in utter disarray. Hull capitalized on that, plus their foreknowledge that Arsenal couldn’t defend a corner against a bunch of third graders right now, and they scored the winning goal. The point here is that Hull stayed committed to their gameplan throughout and when the time came, they simply executed what they had practiced.
After the match Phil Brown said this of his team
The character and commitment and desire is a joy to work with.
Character, commitment and desire; in the end, that’s all we need to know about why Hull beat Arsenal.
Arsenal simply fell apart. Maybe they read too many of their own press clippings and started to believe what people were saying about them, I don’t know, I’m not the team shrink. I do know that the team fell apart and that you have to look no further than the disastrous defending on the second Hull goal to see that. Who was marking who and why wasn’t that clearly articulated? It’s easy to blame individuals (where was Toure, why was Gallas late, why didn’t anyone close down on Giovanni?) for individual breakdowns but I actually blame the whole team and more specifically the team’s leadership.
I learned a phrase in one of those work life seminar/retreat things that I think is completely appropriate here: the fish rots from the head. On the pitch, and in the moment of the corner, it’s William Gallas who does the organizing, Bill Gallas who sets out the marking, and Bill Gallas who leads the team. It was good ole Bill who is directly and indirectly to blame for Hull’s first and second goal.
First, he’s the guy who’s supposed to sense that his team have taken their foot off the gas and get them back on task. He failed to do that. Second, if he can’t sense that his teammates are getting lax, at the very least he could scream at someone to close down on their opponents. He failed to do that. And finally, after they scored the first goal, Gallas should have rallied the troops, that’s what leaders do, and instead he faded into the wallpaper, failed to organize the team, and they simply let Hull score.
Arsene Wenger doesn’t want to put any blame on any individuals but I will, I blame William Gallas, and since it’s ultimately his decision to retain Gallas as captain, I blame Arsene. When the chips are down, William Gallas is a poor leader. More than anyone else on the pitch, the captain needs to be the one showing strength, maturity, and desire. Arsenal lost that when we lost Flamini, who was the only person I saw last year with those qualities.
Prepare yourself for a non-stop barrage of stories about how the mighty have fallen. I should have seen it coming. The reaction from the press over the 6-0 Carling Cup win was just too effusive. As a fan, I wanted to believe that press (it made me feel good) but now I see it for what it really was: build them up so that when they fall (which all great things do) you can write 1000 stories about how they fell. Now, we’re going to get in-depth analysis of the team, their boss, the garbage, the tea lady, the ball boy, everything. Get ready for it.
The season isn’t over guys: we’re just two points off the leaders. Sure, Arsenal haven’t played any of the top 5 teams like West Ham or Aston Villa, but there are 32 games left and a possible 96 points. We, the team and the fans, need to regroup, refocus and get out there and beat some people like we know we can, starting on Tuesday.
Until tomorrow, up the Arse.