World Cup qualification proof we should give Arnold a chance

Critics within fan circles and in the media should now be offering up apologies to Graham Arnold, following years of overwhelming negative commentary about the Socceroos and his positioning as head coach.

Graham Arnold

Source: Getty / Getty Images

In the moments after the Socceroos’ emphatic playoff victory over Peru on Tuesday (AEST), Arnold’s tear-filled interview signalled the end of the intense media scrutiny and doubt surrounding his job as head coach which had characterised almost his entire time in the position.
Many were quick to judge Arnold's appointment in 2018 as a mistake, citing his short tenure as interim coach from the previous decade when the Socceroos infamously crashed out of the 2007 AFC Asian Cup in the quarter-finals.

Since the disappointment of Australia’s identical quarter-final exit to United Arab Emirates in the 2019 Asian Cup, a growing chorus of voices from fans and in the media had been waiting on Arnold’s demise and subsequent exit from the job, as the overwhelmingly negative coverage of the team suggested.

Over the course of his four-year tenure, themes of uninspired play and poor team selection have largely plagued the media conversation surrounding Arnold, as well as narratives of a World Cup qualification failure that would continue the demise of the national team and the game in Australia.

Comparatively, it was often implied that even if the Socceroos did qualify for Qatar, it would simply deter from talks of said decline without actually fixing the issues surrounding it.

However, despite coming close with Australia’s last-minute defeat to Japan and entry to the play-offs in March, the demise of Arnold and the Socceroos never arrived, and critics were rightfully made to feel sorry for their years of scepticism and negativity on Tuesday.
Leading up to the Peru game, Arnold's integrity came into question once again for a comment about the "Aussie DNA" to "fight, scratch and do whatever you have got to do to win the game," which was somehow misinterpreted as a blight on their playing style and that they were going to try and win ugly on Tuesday.

As many rushed to the conclusion that Arnold had run out of ideas, the fighting spirit which Arnold was referring to was conversely on full display in arguably one of the best Socceroos' best performances in recent memory, proving the intended positive connotation of the comment.

Many also took to Twitter during the game to state their grievances about the substitution of Andrew Redmayne in place of captain Mat Ryan during extra-time, not realising the possible stroke of genius that the substitution could actually be.

As many disparagingly pointed out after the fact, it was a gamble that paid off, but it was ultimately a well-timed and well-prepared gamble at that which paved the way for the Socceroos' eventual victory.

Having likely recalled Redmayne's penalty heroics in the 2019 A-League Men grand final against Perth Glory, Arnold justified his reasoning behind the risky tactical decision.

"He's a very good penalty saver and I did something that could affect them mentally," Arnold said after the match.
They were probably asking themselves the question, 'Why is this guy being brought on, he has to be good'.
"Maybe that was the reason they hit the post (in the shoot-out). It's a 1% mental effort to trouble the Peru penalty takers. It was a risk but it worked out."

The whole ordeal not only proved the doubters wrong but should also serve to inflect some much-needed positivity into the conversation about Arnold and the Socceroos, which has been sorely missing from almost his entire tenure as head coach.

Now that Arnold has achieved his goal of reaching the World Cup, perhaps others now should see that this much pessimism about the national team should not be part of the "Aussie DNA."

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Published 15 June 2022 at 11:38am, updated 22 June 2022 at 10:16am
By Jimmy Alexander
Source: SBS