Those of us with a superstitious nature will be frankly terrified at all the gung ho pre match triumphalism spreading through the Arsenal world this weekend. Thank goodness we have a manager who has been there, seen and done it all before and who hopefully will prepare his team for today’s big tussle free from the crazy assumption that because we’ve had a better start we can’t lose. I can’t imagine this species of mania which is sweeping through social networking right now will be helpful to the players this afternoon. I do understand that a lot of it is fun and banter between fans and even I indulged myself a little with the resident United supporter at work. I told him I thought our biggest challenge was to pick ourselves up after playing the mighty Dortmund in midweek to face a lowly mid table English side. I suggested this was just the kind of banana skin we needed to avoid before the international break robs us of football.
Being a United fan he of course couldn’t understand my humour but he eventually got it and came out of his office ten minutes later with this snappy comeback: ‘Oi’. We attempted to chat about the upcoming fixture but we have a little history what him usually preferring to parrot the Sky Sports editorial line like he’s supposed to and me trying, as I prefer, to talk about the facts. This time though we kept it civil. I suggested that referee would be the crucial figure on Sunday and he surprised me by agreeing. His experience of following the red half of Manchester for the last thirty odd years has taught him the following piece of wisdom
“When Arsenal are the better team we will kick them, be more physical. If, on the other hand, Fergie thought we were good enough we’d try to play football against you.”
“I can’t see Moyes being any different” I replied “That was certainly Everton’s tactic when he played us at the end of last season”
He didn’t gainsay me and for once we parted on reasonable terms. The sad thing was of course he was grinning, delighted at the prospect of the team he loved waving the white flag and attempting to injure and unlawfully intimidate an excellent footballing team out of the game.
I love that if we go two down in a match we are very likely to lose by at least three goals. Yes, you read that correctly; this pleases me. Why? And why do I mention it in the present context? It’s because we are talking about two things one of which is footballing philosophy. Our philosophy is always try to outplay the opposition. Even if it isn’t working and we are being closed out of the match we never stop trying to pass the ball and play the game in the way it ought to be played. If we are losing by the two goals I mentioned earlier then we will play five up front and gamble everything on getting back into the game despite the obvious space that leaves behind us. That is the right way, that’s the Arsène Wenger way, to keep trying to score, to try to influence the result by remaining positive and true to your principles. Contrast that to the ‘glory’ of Man United who are happy to divest themselves of even the semblance of a footballing philosophy the moment the going gets tough and instead resort the lowest and the most pernicious thuggery seen on a football pitch.
I said just now that we were talking about two things. The other is the way the match is officiated. The only way the illegal and violent tactics employed with varying degrees of success by Ferguson’s sides over the years could ever hope to overcome their more skilful and talented opposition is, put simply, if they were allowed to get away with it. When we won the title up there they were prevented from kicking us for the whole ninety minutes by some firm referring early in the match. On other occasions the officials have behaved with scant disregard for the rules or in feeble capitulation to a bullying manager and a noisome crowd, or of course in a corrupt fashion. We may never know which of these was the most dominant cause of some of the travesties we’ve been forced to endure but as I say with fair, firm and consistent refereeing we should have a proper match on our hands where the teams can find out in a footballing contest who is pre-eminent at this stage of the season. I cannot imagine that with the old manager gone the baleful and inappropriate influence that inhibited officials in the past will still be so prevalent.
I know George doesn’t like Cesc and made some pretty unpleasant comments after the young man gave an interview recently but personally I think he had some very valid points and made them in the careful and articulate way you’d expect from a man brought up under Arsène Wenger’s indulgent tutelage. That’s Cesc I mean not George. On the subject of today’s opposition our former Captain had this to say “Seriously? People thought I’d leave Barcelona to play under that goggle eyed loon Moyes? Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ” Ok, ok so maybe I’m paraphrasing a little. The quote I was looking for was actually this
“Haha!” (see I got that bit right) ” With Manchester there is always talk about a dip … a dip, a dip, the end’s coming, it’s over … and they always end up right up there. You can’t trust them. Ten years ago I arrived in England and for ten years I’ve wondered, for ten years people have said: “Look out, this year Manchester might collapse.” But it never happens. That’s one battle I gave up on long ago. Whenever anyone says to me: “Manchester won’t be the same this year,” I say: “No, no, no, Manchester will be up there for sure.”
Along with the rest of the interview this rings very true. I will never write them off regardless of what happens this afternoon because you can only get stung by the same wasp so many times before you stop thinking it might turn out to be your friend. Personally, I hope we see the same type of Arsenal away performance that undid both Bayern Munich and Dortmund recently but if we have to dig in and battle for a draw then so be it. We will go into the international break in a strong position whatever happens today and when real football returns we can expect to see some reinforcements riding over the hill as the infirmary doors are thrown open and players start to stumble out blinking in the light of day.
If you’re wondering why a piece so hedged around with caveats and careful moderation could appear in a blog called Positively Arsenal, I should reiterate something I mentioned years ago but a few of you may not have read. I last made a public pronouncement of certain victory before a football match in May 1978 and it’s a mistake I have never since repeated. Sometimes the sting goes just a little too deep.