I don’t usually watch Arsène’s duels with the press. Not that I don’t like hearing his dulcet tones and seeing that flash of a smile as he claps a stopper over some impudent line of questioning. Of course I derive a certain satisfaction from seeing him spear the occasional journalist, who doesn’t? Generally though I simply can’t bear to watch him wheeled out to face these reptiles every week. Those self styled voices of the people who in fact do not speak for you and I any more than Tim Payton speaks for the majority or even a tiny minority of Arsenal fans. I cannot stomach seeing such a cerebral, dignified man wasting his time deflecting leading questions and smiling in the teeth of such monumental disrespect as that with which the British media treat him. It puts one in mind of a room full of deaf men throwing faeces at Johan Sebastian Bach. Brilliance gnawed at by vermin.
Yesterday I made an exception and I found a way around the problem. The trick is to mute the sound as Arsène gazes off to the left or right with that faint hint of amused tolerance playing around the corners of his lips and increase the volume as he gives the little shrug which usually precedes a response to some inane question or other. He was so relaxed and eloquent yesterday. Modest to a fault as he hinted that signing a new contract wouldn’t take much persuasion and at the same time suggesting that his further employment wasn’t a top priority right now. This is the single most important man at the club bar none and yet we never see a scintilla of arrogance, not a shred of hubris. He frightened us a little with talk of Theo being as much as five weeks away and by revealing that Aaron and the Flaminator needed fitness tests, but it wasn’t what he said so much as his air that grabbed my attention. He has such vast and supreme experience in the world of football that he knows all too well how swiftly events can turn around and just how shifting and insubstantial a run of good results can sometimes prove to be. Yet he looked like a man on top of the world right now. Like a Mafia boss who has just received word that the heads of the other four families have been wiped out, and until their lieutenants can reorganise he is the supreme authority in the city. Of course first can swiftly become fifth, we know that and he knows it better than anyone but he is a man who was born to be top. Made to lead. Destined for greatness. All I’m saying is the frown was gone the smile was back and it was like basking in unseasonably warm Autumn sunshine. I nearly took my shirt off.
Arsène mentioned his opposite number in this afternoon’s clash. He liked Laudrup as a player and singled out his Scandinavian and Dutch football education as important. The man has essentially learned to play the game as it should be played. I’ve only seen his Swansea side once this season and I have to say I remain an admirer of the way they try to go about their business. They are as shy of hoofing the thing out of defence as are we and that is to their credit. Unfortunately the game I watched was on this year’s Jonjo Shelvey Day and was such a crazy affair that I couldn’t form any coherent sense of their strengths and weaknesses. I do remember thinking that Michu seemed a shoe in for this season’s Dimitar Berbatov award. He strolled languidly about the place as if on a sightseeing tour of South Wales whilst somehow contriving to maintain an air of suppressed menace suggesting he could at any given moment produce a devastating blow seemingly from nothing. Overall though on the rare moments when one could focus on anything but Jonjo’s Flying Circus the match showed us that the Swans can be intricate, inventive and incisive up front but will give the opposition a lot of space to work with at the back. Naturally if I can see that, then their coaching staff can too and there’s no guarantee that they will make similar mistakes against us.
Unlike last week when we had to break down Mark Hughes and his merry men, the games against Swansea are among those to which I most look forward. You can take it as read that I’m happy to see us play regardless of the opposition but it is so much more enjoyable when the match is between two teams dedicated to passing football. I know I’m out of step with the prevailing blogging mantra of The Only Thing That Matters Is The Three Points but seriously, come on, if that were true then no one would watch the game at all. We’d all just tune into Sports Report and listen intently as James Alexander Gordon does his thing. I want to enjoy the football. I want a spectacle. Win lose or draw I want an hour and a half of entertainment. You could of course argue that we got that in our midweek fixture. Nail biting end to end, sliding tackling, blood and thunder entertainment, and you’d be quite correct. But the great man has spoiled us with season after season of Wengerball and now we’ve become habituated to champagne let’s be honest, Vimto doesn’t quite deliver any more.
So to this afternoon, or if you prefer this evening. The only question I have is whether or not Arsène will start with Serge in lieu of Theo. He hinted that he might not, three games in a week being quite an ask for one so young. If the boy has recovered from his exertions against West Brom, I suspect he will start. If the kid is to be our temporary replacement on the right wing then the more he plays and the better those around him get to know and grow confident in him, the happier things must be for the team. Having said that I bet I’m not alone on relishing another glimpse of Chuba Akpom running at an opposition defence. His cameo on Wednesday was blistering; brimming with confidence speed and strength and the boy is surely not far away from the first team. Don’t panic though I’m no armchair strategist, God knows we don’t need any more of those. In any event Arsène is entirely capable of surprising us all and playing both Arteta and the Flaminizer together, pushing Jack left and The Wonder That Is Aaron Ramsay out to the right with Mesut Özil behind Goal A Game in a sort of 4 2 1 3, or 4 2 2 1 1. Honestly? I don’t have a clue but that’s fine because no one does with the possible exception of Steve Bould and even then only if Arsène has thought to tell him. As I’ve said many times, if you want predictions visit a fortune teller.
All I do know is that we are in an extremely ebullient mood on our travels these days. We may not have turned the Emirates into a fortress but we have made of ourselves extremely unwelcome house guests to whose visits no one looks forward with any relish. And it isn’t only Arsenal fans who are aware of our away form. A quick skim through the Swansea blogs reveals they are all talking about our phenomenal record away from London. We can pontificate on the reasons for this, we can fear that the bubble must one day burst, or we can just sit back and relish the fact that slowly but surely we are starting matches with the opposition already wondering how they might get anything from the game. It’s a place we’ve been once before in our recent past. All of course thanks to the man with the warm smile and the confident air. I don’t say we’re back to that amazing period in our history where we just never believed anyone would beat us, but the signs are at the very least promising. The confidence is returning both in the stands and on the pitch. For now all we can do is to keep the pressure on and hope the runners in the pack start to falter.