For Arsenal fans, groundhog day doesn’t come any more real than August. There’s an eerie feeling like we’ve been here before. The circus of the silly season, will we or won’t we sign the Yaan M’vila du jour, will our talisman leave or stay. At least the curse of the club captain leaving has been stopped in its tracks, Per deciding that he’ll even do one better and retire into a training role at the club.
Meanwhile, Qatar seems to have stepped out of their damn minds, spending an eye-watering £198 million on Neymar. That’s before even factoring that he’ll be paid £550,000 per week after tax. A friend on Twitter was venting yesterday that the baby in her belly better start kicking something in there with this kind of money available in football. This summer alone, European clubs have spent more than the GDP of a handful of countries the UN categorizes as ‘least developed’. It only seems the other day when football was thrown into disbelief by Trevor Francis being signed for £1 million.
The new season may be here, but we’ve still got four weeks of the circus as hacks from the dailies and tabloids compete in the gutter for that transfer exclusive. I do feel sorry for them, the summer must be difficult. With columns to fill and advertising to sell, editors have turned out to be real ball breakers. I suppose the journalists have mortgages to pay, car leases to honour, private school fees to sort out. It would be cruel to judge them for providing for their kith and kin. As long as we understand that they do come up with some faecal matter on transfers for most part.
High apple pie, in the sky, hopes
I’ve always wondered who exactly “links” a player with a move? Most likely a lonely hack sitting at the corner of a pub writing under duress because he knows the next call is from the editor. “You know what? Alexis Sanchez didn’t look happy in that photo. He wants a salary of £500,000 per week and a new Gulfstream private jet. If he doesn’t get it, he leaves”. And the story starts and gets a life of its own as a paper here quotes another, a TV channel here quotes a paper, another paper quotes the TV channel – you get the drift. I’ve learnt to zone out the noise and only take note when either our BBC David says something or a transfer is announced on arsenal.com.
It feels good though, having the football back. There’s just something warm and fuzzy as we get into the mix. I’m glad we’re sticking with the “3 at the back” system as my son calls it. Every season, I start with high spirits, I say this time next summer, we’ll be Premier league champions. The missus jokes “Where have I heard that before? Oh wait, Delboy! You and your fools and horses”, comes the smirk. She’s a Chelsea fan you see and in my defence, I submit to you that this fact was only revealed to me long after we were hitched.
No matter, every match day gives me goose bumps. The anticipation, the hope, the pleasure, the adrenaline. That’s when it works of course. Some games, you just want to hide behind the sofa because what’s happening on the pitch is criminal. Some games are just “Meh”. But the ones that remind you football is beautiful, you watch and cherish over and over again. They are the games I call Wengerball in excelsis. When we move the ball with the speed of a thief and the skill of a card sharp; when opposing defenders don’t know whether to defend or admire the move that has just bamboozled his team mates; and you turn around to anyone who will listen and scream “Did you just see that? Dagamit!”.
Granted, it doesn’t happen often enough, but I’ve learnt not to be greedy. If I were to write my “Dear Arséne” letter for the season, I’d ask for three things. More of Wengerball, consistency and for crying out loud, game management. We need to really get into the habit of closing out games, of knowing that 3 points is good enough or one point will do. Like many of you, I don’t like the feeling of losing, especially when we assume the other teams won’t turn up. Last season, two of the most galling games for me were Watford and Crystal Palace. I’m going to pretend that the hiding from Bayern didn’t happen. If I keep affirming and believing it didn’t happen, maybe I can wipe it out of my psyche.
I’m not sure how this Europa league thing will go. I suspect our youngsters will get more game time and that has to be a good thing. The league cup isn’t nearly enough. I’m sure the Thursday Sunday cycle will throw us a bit, but these guys are professionals, right? Personally, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that we’re in the Europa league. We must have a better chance of winning it. It must be better than perennially exiting the round of 16 in the Champions League to Bayern or Barcelona, or Bayern or Barcelona yet again. For the last 7 years we’ve been stuck on that level of stupid and a change is as good as accepting that it wasn’t working.
If you don’t know me by now
I want us to take the Europa league seriously, but more importantly, I want us to challenge for the Premier league. I’m a romantic, I heart Arsenal and have to believe that we can do it. It’s going to be a roller-coaster ride, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything else. In fact, I would argue that Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs should be revised to include football right alongside food, water, shelter, wi-fi and sex.
All the best to the good ship Victoria Concordia Crescit this season.
Before I pen off, I must say, it’s good to be back writing for ACLF. In a previous life, I used to write this column using the nom de plume of Darius.