There’s an episode of the popular British comedy ‘The IT Crowd’ in which the two main characters pose as football fans. With no real knowledge of the game, they trot out a well-known cliche about Arsenal in an attempt to fit in. “Thing about Arsenal is,” Moss says, “they always try and walk it in.”
This might have been meant as a demonstration of the usual banal conversation that often happens between football fans, but it was something of a truism. Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, particularly in the latter years of his tenure, were renowned for their stubborn commitment to a certain philosophy. As Moss says, it was frequently to their detriment.
Petr Cech said something similar after the Gunners’ weekend win over Everton, albeit in a slightly more nuanced way. “What we lacked in the past – I would say the ‘Arsenal way’ was more important than getting the points sometimes and this is not how you win the league,” explained the veteran goalkeeper. “Sometimes you need to make sure you win an ugly game, when you are not playing completely well but you just dig deep, close the back door and win 1-0 no matter how.”
Indeed, Arsenal had forgotten how to win dirty, how to get the job done when they weren’t at their best. This undermined all their efforts over the final years of Wenger’s tenure as manager. Not that the Frenchman ever accepted this. Wenger had complete faith in his footballing philosophy and this subsequently resulted in a stubbornness that held back his team.
Cech’s comments suggest that the players in the Emirates Stadium dressing room have at least gone some way to recognising the problems that held them back in recent years. That is an important step in overhauling the culture at the club. Whether that has come naturally or through the will of new manager Unai Emery, it is a significant development either way.
Change has been slow over the early part of the season. Many expected a revolution in the months following Wenger’s long-awaited exit from the club, but it has been more of a gradual evolution under Emery. A difficult fixture list made the process even slower, with the Gunners starting the new Premier League season with back-to-back defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea.
The Gunners were far from at their best against Everton at the weekend, but they recorded the much-needed win to lift themselves into the Premier League’s top six. Last season, they might well have dropped points here. Therein lies the change that Emery has made at Arsenal. It might not be as profound as some might have hoped for by this stage, but it is there. Cech sees it.
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