Better on the Bench

Sometimes, it seems, not playing is better for a player’s reputation than actually playing is. This weekend’s London derby between Arsenal and West Ham United offered a couple of case in points, and one exception.

Let’s get him out of the way first.

Robin van Persie’s incredible propensity to get injured has been cited by Arsenal fans, players, management and the media as a chief reason for Arsenal’s inability to win any trophies in the last couple of years.

I am sure that every Arsenal player I’ve seen being asked ‘Who’s the best?’ has answered van Persie. But, having trawled through a dozen of Soccer AM’s ‘Team Mates’ interviews (which are conducted with that show’s trademark passion for insight and analysis) I could only find two. Here are Song and Clichy naming RVP as Arsenal’s most talented player. Van Persie’s excellent 2 goal display at Upton Park on Saturday showed, yet again, that when fit he is the real deal. By being just as good as I remember him being, the Dutchman flew in the face of the ensuing theory.

RvP: The exception that proves a rule?

Emanuel ‘The Joker’ Eboue is undoubtedly popular with his teammates (as the above clips show, I can tell you that he gets an equally positive review from Aarshavin, Bendtner, Walcott, Fabregas, etc.). He has even become something of a cult hero amongst fans since the nadir of his Arsenal career a couple of years ago. I’ve maintained for a long time that Eboue’s position as jester is what keeps him in a contract at the Emirates, Soccer AM’s back catalogue adds credence to my theory. The thing is about Eboue, that he’s great when you’re 3-0 up. He can always be relied upon to come on when Arsenal are comfortably ahead and score a goal/miss a sitter in semi-hilarious circumstances and then lark around sheepishly with his mates. He’s also really good at giving piggybacks to goal scorers (Theo Walcott receives these with particular joy). He looks like a right lark in training (great dancer too I heard). When it’s 0-0 at Upton Park, or 0-1 at Portman Road, on the other hand, he’s a blooming liability and his mates probably wish they had an actual defender, rather than a cheerleader, at right-back.

You see where I’m going with this? Sometimes players look their best by not playing. Arshavin, for example, had his best game for a couple of weeks on Saturday.

Arsenal’s right-back suggests where I’m headed, straight towards West Ham’s left.

Wayne Bridge is, of course, most famous as the innocent victim of a love triangle in which his then ‘Team Mate’ John Terry played hypotenuse. Before that, though, it wasn’t uncommon to hear laments over Bridge’s misfortune at coinciding with Ashley Cole.

Like those ‘best uncapped Brazilians’ that Harry Redknapp (amongst others) used to occasionally sign for West Ham, who bask in the reflected glory of the heritage of the gold and green, Bridge has long resided in the afterglow of association with a more illustrious compatriot.

Wayne Bridge (doing what he does best) signing for Man City

It turns out, however, that Bridge is not very good after all. He was miles away from Walcott for Arsenal’s first, played van Persie on side for the second and then fouled Walcott (who was on his way out of the box) to concede the penalty for the third. It wasn’t quite a debut of Woodgate proportions (an own goal and a red card) but it was a hugely inauspicious beginning. Unless Bridge’s performances improve, his reputation will suffer and ‘England’s second-best left-back’s reminiscences of his quiet time on Manchester City’s bench will become increasingly claret.

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4 Responses to Better on the Bench

  1. Calum says:

    For hard evidence of the scale of Bridge’s horror debut, check out the always excellent Zonal Marking.

  2. Graham says:

    It was a pretty bad debut but I think that was always likely given that he has barely played this year (or for most of the last 5 years…), I think Bridge remains and average left back. He is obviously not in the realms of Ashley Cole, but in the usually reliable bracket of top half of the league teams like Konchesky and Warnock. I think that is ok though. Even though it may tarnish his reputation somewhat, he must surely see it as a good thing that he will be playing though.

    As further consideration to you theory I would like to float, perhaps controversially, Thomas Vermaelen as another possible candidate. The lack of game time for Vermaelen this season seems to have been touted this season as the sole reason that Arsenal’s defence has been shakey in some quarters. While he is undoubtedly missed, I’m not sure he was that good defensively last year – Arsenal were hardly watertight with him and Gallas at the back. While I look forward to his eventual return, I worry that his absence may not be the problem after all…

    As for Eboue, I think he has undoubtedly gone backwards from his initial promise but Wenger has to take some of the blame for that. Chopping and changing him between right back and the right forward, while although useful at times has meant that Eboue hasn’t really progressed in either position I think.

  3. Gavin says:

    Agree with both of you. Vermaelen is a good player, but if you had never laid eyes on him and just listened to reports this season, you would have no option but to conclude he is amongst the world’s finest. He should use his free time to renegotiate a new deal..

  4. Calum says:

    Vermaelen is definitely another case in point.

    I should have said in the piece that Bridge probably isn’t as bad as that performance, and you’re right he likely is of a similar standard to Konchesky and Warnock. However, Konchesky and Warnock have 2 England caps each, whereas Bridge has 36. The main reason for that is, I think, that it is easy to look good as a squad player for Chelsea or Manchester City but that is not necessarily any guide to your actual worth as a player.

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