A guest post by Varun Shukla (@WengerArmy)
I am in possession of a very unique fragment of knowledge. It’s so unique that they put it under top of the line surveillance in a secret underground complex 6000 feet under Highbury Square. Electric fences, sabretooth tigers and a few TX-1000 Terminators are just a portion of the security apparatus surrounding the place. This complex is believed to be under the aegis of Pat Rice (who else?)
Obviously, Arsenal Football Club will deny any knowledge of such a place, or what it protects. When asked why electronic devices go bonkers near the old Clock End, a polite, apologetic smile is all that is offered and Per Mertesacker appears out of nowhere to escort you from the premises. I persisted, called up the guys from Inception, and a PHW dream later, here we are. Just in case you’re wondering, that dream did NOT involve Mr. Hill-Wood bonking Dim Payton over the head with a diamond encrusted cane. Not even close.
So what is this big secret?
The world shall soon know why Arsene Wenger is the terror of plastic water bottles all over the world
Before we get there though, there are a couple of interesting subplots I’d like to discuss.
The Playoff Final
On the 27th of May, a Championship playoff final was held between Watford and Zaha Crystal Palace. It was a crunch game, deciding who got to play in the Premier League the following season. It was also (by and large) a very dull game- all they did was lump the ball all over the place. The standout moment for me wasn’t even about the game. At the 74th minute, the camera cut to show the two managers standing in their respective technical areas. The angle of the Sun was such that there was a line halfway from either manager. Ian Holloway fell in the shadow and Zola stood in the light. It was the sort of moment about which Wordsworth would write a poem. I am not Wordsworth. However, that moment did seem to suggest that the light of the English top flight (see what I did there?) would be shining on Watford while Palace were to be consigned to the darkness of the Championship again. It has become apparent to me now that I was horribly wrong. Palace won, their fans went through the roof, and probably still haven’t come back.
A Relegation Battle
In a completely different universe, I started my first season on FIFA Manager 13. Now, before you hang me from the rafters, hear me out. Admitted, game programming has a long, long way to go before it can come anywhere near to simulating the real thing, but this is the closest one can get. It is far more realistic as it encompasses almost all aspects of managerial life from team line ups to strategy, Club Staff, merchandising…almost the whole deal.
In my first season, Southampton offer me a 3 year contract with the aim of avoiding the drop in the 1st season. Easy, I thought. Wrong on the 3nd count as well. It couldn’t have been more difficult. What with some player getting injured out of nowhere, some throwing tantrums for ‘preferred positions’, some losing interest in playing, it was a tough ride. And this is without mention of the agents buggering you, the board making constant demands (in some cases restricting finances) and the fans breathing down your neck. I was soon involved in a 4 way relegation battle with Stoke, Reading and West Brom. The top, or even the middle half of the table were mythical places to me. That 17th spot became my Holy Grail. I actually felt a sense of loss when the relegation was confirmed, and all the emotions and pressure during the course of the ‘season’.
A couple of points to consider:
1. This was just a simulation- nowhere close to the real stuff
2. I am not a closet Saints fan
The question then is why did it matter to me so much?
Answer: Football is nothing without the emotion and memories attached to it. A few become so entrenched that it becomes a way of life. One example of this is- almost any manager. And since ‘we all follow the Arsenal’, it is Arsene Wenger. That might explain why the Palace fans and staff celebrated like they’d won the Champions League- it was a great moment for the Club. Similarly, Arsenal getting 4th isn’t a small achievement, especially in the modern competitive environment. Credit to the manager that CL qualification is now considered the ‘bare minimum’ of our season objectives.
Another realization that hit me square on the noggin was this. No matter how tactically brilliant you are, how much money you have or how many ‘star’ players grace your roster, it’s all worth a donkey’s arse if the players don’t apply themselves on the field. And the worst part? You can only stare in horror as it all falls apart. No wonder Arsene is so jumpy during a game- flapping hands, doing 360’s, decimating bottle upon bottle of water. Overcoat zippers must tremble at the mention of his name. Arsenal waterboys would rather put on a Spurs shirt than face the wrath of Wenger. I wouldn’t want to be the 4th official either.
How much of your patience would it take to put so much effort into preparing the team for a game, only to see them unable to deliver because of a few mistakes? A shot taken too early or too late, a failure to mark your man, a forward run where there should be tracking back etc. All you have is to rein it in, be patient to the media, keep your players happy and try to get them to deliver a performance next time. Now imagine the pride you’d feel on seeing everything come off perfectly, to know that the players having given their best, to know that each one of them is willing to give even more?
It is only then that that one gets an idea of how important the words ‘belief’ ‘character’ and ‘spirit’ are- the very words for which some choose to call our manager senile and weak. I’d bet anything that Wenger would be itching to play himself when a chance is missed or a goal conceded. He must be thinking “Curses, you blasted piece of plywood, I told you to go THAT WAY” But he can’t play. All he can do is hope for the best.
And the best is what looks like happening this time. For the first time in many seasons, we have with us a group of players who are willing to apply themselves on the pitch- to work as one towards winning stuff. Case in point- Vermaelen gets benched. He could have made noises wanting to leave, but he didn’t. He’s willing to fight for his place. Walcott could so easily have left us for more money and crap, but no, he stays.
There is, refreshingly, no protracted outgoing transfer saga that could negatively affect us, nor any inflated egos to endure. Ironically, Spurs and Liverpool are the victims this time, as Bale and Suarez seek a transfer.
Added to that the new commercial deals, and the way we finished the season, gives me enough reason to hope.