Substitution Strops

Footballers’ egos are not generally good for the team

Substitution Strops

It was interesting to witness the bubble in which Granit Xhaka operates when the board with his number was raised in the home match against Crystal Palace. It was a case of ‘Come in number 34, your time is up’. Actually, thinking about it, what’s with the 34? Could it be Xhaka’s favourite roulette number if he is enjoying a bit of online casino games UK in his spare time? I mean, it’s unusual for a first team squad player – especially one that is a regular pick for the first team. In the summer of 2016, when he joined the club, he took the number 29 shirt – fair enough, the only lower number available was 27. Two years on, when Unai Emery arrived, Xhaka switched to number 34. And here's his explanation - “The number 34 has a big significance for me. It was my first number as a professional and it’s aways brought me luck. I’ve even got the number tattooed on my back and on my arm. My brother wears No.34 too and when I left Basel, he took the shirt straight away, so it’s a pretty important number in our family.”

Ok, fair enough, but when he saw his number on the board, as Unai Emery put Buyako Saka on in a game in which Arsenal were chasing a winner, he threw a strop. He petulantly threw the captain’s armband in the direction of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the crowd cheered the switch. Granted, that reaction from the supporters was uncalled for. Better to express their discontent for Xhaka by simply not applauding him off. But this is football today.

What happened next was that Xhaka made it about his ego, as opposed to the team. Were it the latter, he would have left the pitch quickly and without fuss to allow his side to get on with trying to get back in the lead. Although his actions – taking his time to leave the field as if Arsenal were ahead, encouraging a crowd booing at his lack of urgency to make more noise, and then removing his shirt before storming down the tunnel – were understandable from a psychological point of view, it needs to be remembered that this was the club captain. Such a figure should not be unprofessional and egotistical, which Xhaka was.

I am becoming tired of highly-paid prima donnas protesting at being subbed in what is a 14-man game. It’s too much of ‘Me! Me! Me!’ - as opposed to thinking about the needs of the team. This applies equally to Mesut Ozil as well.

When will players realise that managers are going to use their full complement of subs, and understand that the goalkeeper and the two centre backs are rarely changed? So if you are in one of the eight ‘vulnerable’ positions – in terms of substitutions – there is more than a one in three chance that you will be removed from the field for tactical or (ideally) time-wasting reasons. That decision is taken by the manager, for the good of the team. If he has to start worrying about players being upset about his choice of who to change, we are in territory where the players, rather than the manager are running the team. I recall a game in a major finals (maybe the 1992 Euros, or the 1994 World Cup) when Jan Wouters refused to come off for Holland and the manager switched the substitution on the digital board to a younger player. That is player power, although we have never seen it expressed to that degree in England (although I recall Carlos Tevez refusing to warm up for Manchester City once). I imagine Xhaka would have stayed put if he thought he could get away with it.

It was interesting to see Lucas Torreira exit the field at the nearest touchline the following weekend, even though his side were 1-0 up against Wolves. He took the long walk around the pitch and behind the goal to reach the dugout, and received warm applause on the route from the Arsenal supporters. No sign of a strop. Doubtless he took note of the crowd’s reaction to a hesitant Xhaka.

Hopefully, this will set the tone for future switches. Contrast it with rugby union, in which even the top performing players are removed. No fuss, no nonsense, just straight off and on with the game. Because rugby players get that it is a team sport and the team is more important than the individual. If Unai Emery has eleven players on the field with that kind of attitude, then his substitutions can always be to waste time as opposed to change a game.


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  1. markymark

    Nov 08, 2019, 22:38 #115426

    Somehow I’d forgotten that Leicester recently won 0-9..... so maybe 8-1-1??

  2. Dick Dastardly

    Nov 08, 2019, 21:35 #115425

    Dunno about a 2-7-2 formation but 2-7 could be the result tomorrow. Funny enough the last team get that score against us was Leicester. "A little case of history repeating" as Shirley Bassey did sing once. Come on boys, we can do better than that. 1-0 to the Arsenal.

  3. Radfordkennedy

    Nov 08, 2019, 20:17 #115424

    Marky....good posts be honest we generally take the shape of a 2-7-2 when caught on the break!

  4. markymark

    Nov 08, 2019, 20:02 #115423

    I’ve just also been hearing about Thiago Motta playing a 2-7-2 system at Genoa . Apparently it’s having results . It sounds like some crazy shit but hey . I vote we try it against the Foxes. Poor old Vardy running into a wall of bodies? Crazy tactics for crazy times I reckon

  5. markymark

    Nov 08, 2019, 19:53 #115422

    Just been reading the Barney Ronay article in the Guardian re Mourinho. Barneys always worth a read imo . One comment got me thinking whereby it was a question over players ego’s. The thought was that Arsenal might do well to have a King Size ego lead them. I suspect Emery cannot get himself understood and has little charisma. There is little to excite , inspire or develop. Maureen might be like an H Bomb coming to Arsenal but he may at last install a belief that largely disappeared post 2006. I’d buy a ticket to see Mourinho. I’d probably tear up a ticket if offered Emery

  6. Bard

    Nov 08, 2019, 18:50 #115421

    Great posts guys. My take is that Its all become a sort of sporting Reality TV show. The fake dramas, the upsets, the self pity. It's all irrelevant. The Xhaka drama stupidly orchestrated by Dick with his capt crap was down to one central issue for me. The game is there to be won, you are sub'd, get the f*** off as quickly as you can so we can try to win the game. Its not a time to be having a tantrum. Bottom line at Arsenal is that its more important to make a scene than it is to win a game. Depressing doesnt even cover the half of it. We need a manager who has some serious cojones.

  7. TonyEvans

    Nov 08, 2019, 17:18 #115420

    Redshirts - it’s on my Xmas present list! We’ve had some amazing players and teams over the years, and the 1989 vintage was one of the best. 2019 could go down as the worst ever.

  8. John F

    Nov 08, 2019, 17:13 #115419

    Great post Red shirts it is now on my Christmas list.The DVD is good too.

  9. Radfordkennedy

    Nov 08, 2019, 15:28 #115418

    Ron..Tony...agree totally with all you say no matter how much it may cost the club financially if the coach is unable or seemingly unwilling to address the chronic defensive frailties and alround timidity of this team, he simply has to go.We are all old enough to remember even during lean times you had to play bloody well to beat us our reputation was built on being up for a battle if you want one.Sadly today's T20 'product' has destroyed that

  10. Redshrtswhitesleeves

    Nov 08, 2019, 15:26 #115417

    Hi fellas, any fan of a certain vintage could do a lot worse than pick up a copy of 89, the new book by Amy Lawrence, to remind of how great our club was. Of course we all know the story inside out and back to front, but some great insights from the likes of Adams, Dixon, Winterburn, Merse et al. The pride, passion and will to win of these fellas drips of the page. No mention of fancy hairdo’s, beard grooming or coffee machines with this lot, just a siege mentality and win at all costs mindset installed by GG. They didn’t go on and on about ‘values’ and ‘mental strength’, they just demonstrated it every Saturday on the pitch. The perfect antidote to the last 12 years of under achievement, excuses, let-downs and meek surrenders!

  11. TonyEvans

    Nov 08, 2019, 14:37 #115416

    RK - right with you on what you say. Arsenal today - weak, rudderless, soft and easy to play against. So much for a 'new broom' sweeping clean - the stench of Wenger is still all over the club. As I said before nothing less than a 'root and branch' job will be enough to see a return to an Arsenal side the likes of you and me might recognise! For starters we have to have a manager that is the polar opposite of Wenger, not a clone of Wenger!

  12. itsRonagain2

    Nov 08, 2019, 14:21 #115415

    RK - Hi. The club thught it was ever so 'London cosmopolitan Trendy' didnt it when it went all continental back in the late 90s/ turn of the Century time. A good many of us feared the club was losing its grip doing that, despite the influx of yr Henrys et al and the quality of the football undoubtedly benefiting. The weak belly and origins of flakey Arsenal was created when it threw its britishness in the bin hole in my view back then. We ve never had a proper leader or few physically imposing players since we lost our roots. Those who used to say Wengo was anti english were right and ive always thought it. He tried to roll back that perception with his ' english spine' bollocks several years ago except that the spine he used comprised 'yes Sir' type players who had the spine of an earthworm, not the type of players who we re used to. Yr exactly right where you say the roots of the clubs travails now were sown many years ago. Despite his flaws Dicks catching the rebound of all of Wengers folly and prejudices. That bloke will go down in history as a partial destroyer of Arsenal in my opinion and those who allowed him to do it for so long, inc the fans who wouldn't see what was before their eyes all have a part of the blame.

  13. Radfordkennedy

    Nov 08, 2019, 13:31 #115414

    I cannot remember the year but I can clearly recollect Eddie Kelly being subbed and he jogged off removed his shirt and threw it down at the coaches feet then disappeared down the Highbury tunnel. But the crowd booed the dugout not the player, and to be honest the point that all the media hacks seem to be missing is the crowds reaction at Xhakas subbing is the pressure valve starting to leak not necessarily with the player but with the whole set up, years of being lied to, years of sub standard dross, all that anger and frustration is really coming to a head,I've always felt nothing will change at Arsenal till our feet touch the bottom, well I think we're there now.Personally I'd like to see the end of intercontinental Arsenal and get back our British identity with regards to a coach and his staff, literally hack off the layers of malaise and ineptitude and start from scratch, the club will do the opposite of course, but I just prey someone will come in and say' right that's it it all stops now' . I can't see anything else other than a heavy defeat against the Foxes and I'm hoping that's when someone upstairs pulls the trigger.

  14. itsRonagain2

    Nov 08, 2019, 13:30 #115413

    Sadly, theres always a chance of a strop at Arsenal because for vast majority of matches and one of the 11 on the field could be subbed at any time after the 1st 10 mins, not for tactical reasons but for their average/poor displays. Player subbed might naturally think ' why me'? The problem is worsened if it is a case where the players think the Coach doesn't know what he really wants or what shes doing, compounded of often by the subbed player trying to play in a role that he cant really play. Endemic problem at Arsenal for years and years.

  15. John F

    Nov 08, 2019, 12:42 #115412

    No sign of a strop by Torriera but it is being reported that he is unhappy at the club and wants out.Who can blame him when he was playing well at the DM position early last season for some unknown reason Dick started to consistently sub him and then tried to make him a box to box player.

  16. Colonel Blimp

    Nov 08, 2019, 10:57 #115411

    These footballers, such fragile egos. Who do they think they are, rock stars or something? Some more famous footballing strops: Neville Southall (Everton GK for our younger readers) came out at HT at Goodison on his own v Leeds and sat against the goalpost. William Gallas' schtick at St Andrews that 2-2 draw that saw the title challenge's wheels start to come off. Chelsea GK refusing to be subbed in the LC final. Pierre van Hooijdonk (Forest striker) 1998/99 refused to play for the team as he didn't think they were good enough to stay up (he was proved right).

  17. markymark

    Nov 08, 2019, 9:52 #115410

    The 60-70 minute substitution is seen as an insult isn’t it. The social media and press still see it that way and so do the players. It does appear to jar against the modern era substitution allowance where you can haul off almost a third of the outfield. Personally I think more than one sub at a time rarely works and has blown up in Unai’s face on a few occasions