Stick or Twist: Goalies, Klopp and the Voice of the Fans

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Welcome back to Stick or Twist – the regular Tuesday blog from #ABW Chief Blogger, the Other Geoff.  The concept is simple – OG will pick a few topics each week and give his thoughts followed by a verdict using the terms STICK or TWIST.  Then you get the chance to vote and let us know if you agree.

stick (stĭk): stand; hold the course. The state or condition of adhering.

twist (twist): hit; make a change. A variation in approach.

On Goalkeepers in the FA Cup Final:

If ever there was a topic perfectly suited for this column, it is the debate over who minds the sticks in the FA Cup Final on May 30th. It’s been lobbed up there perfectly with the win at the weekend and I’m fully intending to tackle it before we are all thoroughly sick of the discussion.

It almost feels a bit anti-climactic – the penultimate moment in the FA Cup at the weekend is perhaps just that: not quite the full monty, but rather an apéritif designed to stimulate the appetite ahead of the full course final. That’s not to say that facing Reading was a formality. These games have a way of stretching us and to me that is part of the magic of the Cup – any team on any day can beat any other team.

I think part of the reason the game failed to fulfill the true promise of a Wembley day out is the way in which it was won: it wasn’t the net busting 30 yard scorcher nor was it won by the nerves of a penalty shootout. Instead it was a goalkeeping error followed by the slow dribbler across the line in extra time. You’d be forgiven for missing it if you were there – let alone watching on a stream from halfway around the world. As sad as it was for Adam Federici and the Reading supporters, there was a very slow and palpable realization that we were likely about to win our second FA Cup semifinal in the last 12 months.

Once the final whistle was blown, conversation varied between the performance, to whom would be our possible opponent (since confirmed – heh), to whom would be in or out for the final line-up. On the final topic, we have precedence as we can rely on clues offered from last year’s successful run. Last year’s debate on the goalkeeper position was more than significant and I imagine it will only be equaled by a similar discourse this year: Ospina or Szczęsny?

After being named the joint Golden Glove winner with 16 clean sheets last season, Wojciech Szczęsny has ultimately failed to convince anyone that he should be Arsenal’s #1 in the foreseeable future. Sure there is halfhearted debate over which of our goalkeepers is in fact better – but most generally agree that Ospina has done well since taking over duties in the League.

Szczęsny though, has looked like a man lacking any type of confidence or even so much as a realization that his chances are slowly passing him by since his unfortunate decision to light up in the showers at Southampton. On Saturday, he looked again like good judgement was deserting him – particularly when distributing to players already under pressure. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to throw the Pole under the bus – but most of me wishes he’d get his head screwed on correctly because I believe there is a great goalkeeper in there somewhere.

It is quite likely that Arsène will follow his own precedent and start Szcz in the final (injuries or some bizarre shisha pipe incident in the can at Colney aside). I’m just not sure how I feel about that. Last year I was all for Fabianski starting in the final despite knowing he was likely off in the summer – but part of that decision was based on the fact that I thought he played a critical role in the semi-final and in particular the shootout. This year, on form, I’d much rather have Ospina – a position that in my mind, is corroborated by what I saw from Woj on Saturday.

Verdict: TWIST – Forget precedent – I want us to have the best chance of winning the FA Cup and in my opinion, that means starting Ospina.

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On Jürgen Klopp:

I feel a little bit dirty writing this after our second successive FA Cup final in as many years has been secured but needs must sometimes.

I am in no way an Arsène Wenger apologist.  I’m also not firmly in that brigade that will be happy to see the back of him.  I have tremendous respect for the man and I would like to see him win more trophies for Arsenal before his time is over at the club.  That’s really the long and the short of it from me and I don’t want this topic to turn into a Wenger in, Wenger out debate.

The news that Dortmund and their charismatic manager, Jürgen Klopp, have parted ways will have football fans around the world licking their lips in the hopes that his choice will be to manage their club.  As the most touted successor quoted when engaging in a “replace Arsène Wenger” debate, his name will no doubt become more and more prevalent in conversations about Arsène’s replacement.

Other clubs are lining up.  Reports are that he has rejected West Ham already and there is absolute interest from Manchester City and Liverpool – and that is just in England.  In all likelihood, any club who even thinks they have a chance are probably talking with his agent right now.  Should we be getting in on the action?

The reality is that Arsène Wenger has two more seasons to run on his contract and I can’t see him or the Club changing that in any way.  But what if Klopp is in the Club’s legacy plan for post-Wenger?  Does his departure from Dortmund accelerate that plan?

Now I know this is just speculation and that there are very few people in the world that know what is actually in that legacy plan (I would bet good money that it exists), but could our hand be forced?

The short answer is no – or at least I don’t think so.  But this season has been one of the hardest for our manager in terms of criticism, if not the hardest – and that might be giving him pause for thought.  If that record 12th FA Cup is held aloft on May 30th, could that be the perfect opportunity to end his reign as our club’s longest serving manager?

If I look at it pragmatically,  I can’t help but see a team at Arsenal that is close to being a title challenger.  There are 2-3 positions that we need to sort out in the summer transfer window but the emergence of Coquelin and the return of several long term absentees since the turn of the year, has us firing on table-topping form.

While I don’t know what the Club and our manager intend to do – I’d have to think they know that the squad is close too.  For me that is as clear an indication that Arsène Wenger will be at the helm come August.

Verdict: STICK – Klopp’s availability shouldn’t force our hand.  The Club likely know we’re close to getting back to our best and will rightly afford that chance to Arsène Wenger.

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On the Voice of the Fans:

Listening to 606 on Sunday, I was confronted with a harsh reality of the modern game that has left me really thinking about what it means to be a fan of a Premier League Football team. Between laughing at some of the comments being made by angry Liverpool fans, there was a bittersweet narrative being spun by supporters of Newcastle.

Newcastle’s home game at the weekend was boycotted by many regular Newcastle fans in protest of the owner Mike Ashley and the money being taken from the club. For those that went, the atmosphere was reportedly muted.

The debate on 606 was around fans choosing to continue to go and what effect that might have on Ashley’s actions as club owner. As I listened, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of frustration and hopelessness on the part of the Geordies. I have no doubt that fan groups up and down the country are watching the situation at Newcastle carefully. Will staying away from the games instigate the intended changes in the Club’s hierarchy?

Personally I don’t know – but that doesn’t mean we as fans shouldn’t care. With the money involved in modern football, fans are finding themselves increasingly squeezed out of having a voice in a league that they helped create – and that to me is perhaps the saddest impact of the billions of pounds being flooded into the game these days.

For me, the fans are one of the most important elements of the footballing landscape (next to having a team on the field). I remember watching the ‘79 FA Cup final over and over again as a kid – my dad had recorded it and it was the game that convinced me that my team was Arsenal. Alan Sunderland’s winner aside, it was the fans that made watching that game so special. The singing, the flags, the pure sound of a Cup final. For a youngster growing up in Canada, I’d never seen anything like that.

I can’t imagine football without fans – they are such an essential part of the total ecosystem. It’s why I will always support fans voicing their opinion when it comes to things like ticket prices and it’s why I feel saddened every time I hear about someone who’s been priced out of the game.

Yes, I’m a foreign fan – but that doesn’t mean its selfie sticks and half and half scarves. Regular match goers have their traditions – whether it’s a pint and pie at Piebury or wearing your threadbare ’71 Cup final shirt. For me, it’s getting up at 7 am and listening and seeing those same match goers support the Arsenal. In fact, every major memory I have of Arsenal is intertwined with the fans – from watching that Cup Final as a kid, to the Final Salute at Highbury, to the win over Barcelona, to that goal from Thierry – all of those memories are made indescribably better by the fans.

The amount of money in the game impacts all of us because it is changing the landscape of how we interact with our club. Whether you live in North London or half a world away – we all should be paying attention to what’s happening to the fans and working to ensure that all of us have a voice.

Verdict: I’m not posting a poll on this subject – instead I’ll tell you I support the work being done by Red Action, the Arsenal Supporter’s Trust, and the Black Scarf Movement – as well as various supporter’s groups up and down the country – in helping make fans’ voices heard. This impacts all of us as fans of football.  If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to listen to the recent Pod on Ticket Prices and Supporters Groups to learn more information.


You know it!

The Other Geoff

Other Geoff is the ‘#ABW Chief Blogger’ and can be found on Twitter here: @Hollefreund.

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