Elan. I like things to be done with it. I enjoy it when a certain flair, a superfluous decoration lifts an otherwise mundane event. Only this morning as I stumbled, eyes half closed with all too recent sleep, to buy my morning loaf (not, I’m sorry to report, from a ancient rustic baker up at four thirty am grinding the grains and proving the dough in his age old way, but rather from L & F Jones Convenience Store. It is that at least. Convenient, I mean) I passed a woman, disheveled of aspect looking as if she may have spent a cold and uncomfortable night on a park bench or indeed in the doorway of L & F Jones’ small and conveniently situated retail outlet. This is a sartorial effect affected by many of the good folk of Radstock and the surrounded motley of desirable hamlets and disreputable villages so I wasn’t in any way put out by her frankly startling appearance. Instead I threw back the gate through which I had recently passed and, with exaggerated politeness, a beaming smile and – was that the merest hint of a bow? – gestured her through in a manner more commonly associated with those Italian policemen one sees on travel programmes performing an elaborately serene white gloved ballet while precariously positioned at the centre of an apparently terrifying twenty four lane traffic intersection.
It was only as I made my way back clutching my wholemeal sliced that it occurred to me just how delighted the lady had seemed at either the minor kindness I had done her or the extravagant nature with which I had carried it off. I prefer to dwell upon the latter. Sometimes in life my silliness, my exaggeration, my deliberate unnecessary show-boating has brought me nothing but frowning incomprehension, and sadly has occasioned more than a furrowed brow, indeed I have even experienced naked aggression from those creatures (and we have all met them) for whom evolution has remained nothing more than a theory. These people seem to pass through life leaving knuckle trails of discontent as they glower and snarl at perceived threats and challenges to their dreary status quo. They rhyme arty with farty, believe what they read, judge books by their covers and mistake honesty for rudeness. I have little time for these folks for whom leaving the oceans was mistake, never mind coming down from the trees. I prefer the spontaneous passing pleasure exhibited by the discomposed and very possibly still inebriated lady as she lurched through a gate held open for her by a mildly insane and extravagantly overweight balding middle aged buffoon in a Yosemite Sam T-shirt. In these brief moments can we sprinkle the glitter of human happiness.
Which is of course why I am such a huge fan of Olivier Giroud. I know there is a whole heap of chatter about which player people would rather see leading the line today from the diminutive and untried Joel Campbell to the non existent striker who we haven’t even bought yet with honourable mentions for just about everyone else in between. However, once Olivier, or Larry if you prefer, has regained his match fitness there is only one man for me. Even in his current out of condition condition he has still managed to prove his worth. Look at the towering, muscular header in the dying moments of the opening fixture, special not only because he won the ball by the application of brutal athletic determination by out jumping some huge defenders but then to have the wit and ability to ensure the ball dropped perfectly to Mathieu Debuchy (who was extremely unlucky not to grab the winner and his first goal for Arsenal) displayed great calm, perfect footballistic instincts.
My love for Larry has nothing to do with injury time knock downs against a tiring team no matter how much I can appreciate their worth. My love for Larry comes into full fruit in moments like that in the game against West Ham on January the twenty third of last year. He stands in the D on the edge of the West Ham area facing away from the goal, receives a square pass from Podolski who lopes into the box. Larry, takes no controlling touch, doesn’t think about making room for a shot, instead, with a deft chopping action of his left foot lifts an instant and perfectly measured pass over three defenders and into the path of the on-rushing Podolski who, despite possessing a shot that could pass through a Soviet T34 Model 1942 medium battle tank and being clean through on goal elects to pass to Santi who is in a position to pull off a much more difficult but wonderfully improvised finish, this is after all the Arsenal way.
Then there was the game against the same opponents in April of this year. Fifty four minutes gone and the scores are level. West Ham have cleared a corner. Vermaelen picks up the ball near the half way line and lofts a huge high one diagonally into the area to where our man Larry is lurking near the apex of the six yard box. Does he control it on his chest – by far the safest, most reliable technique – or does he stick his head on it as you’d expect any centre forward to do? Not a bit of it. In an audacious piece of skill that made me laugh out loud when first I saw it he elects to catch the ball on his left foot as it descends at about a hundred and fifty five mph from the edges of deep space and then crash it into the net with his right. It was quite simply as good as anything you’d expect from Dennis Bergkamp and that tells you everything you need to know. I was going to mention his part in the best team goal ever scored in competitive football on this and any other planet – yes that one against Norwich – but I assumed that particular feast of one touch skill and audacity ought really to go without saying.
These are the things I like about footballers and they are the options instinctively taken by Olivier and other players like him. To do the thing with élan, with flair, grace, deftness and invention. Not to settle for the prosaic, the ordinary. In a world sometimes blighted by the mundane we turn to our showmen to ignite the powder of creative genius so that in those brief explosive moments of joy we are lifted up, we experience the transcendent vicarious thrill that is the holy grail of all football fans. This is why I hope we see our number twelve take his rightful place in the starting line up against Everton this afternoon. Not because we have no other options or I don’t think others can do the job but because if Arsène starts him it means he is ready, he has gained the fitness he lost during the long hot summer and will once again become that vital cog in our free flowing beautifully polished machine.
We have apparently been grinding out results of late, winning and drawing ugly is the mantra du jour and if there is some truth in this (and even I must reluctantly admit this is somewhat the case in the last two matches) then part of the reason for it is our fulcrum, the man who’s one touch passes and flicks and lays off provide the vital fluidity which sets us apart as a footballing side, has lacked his usual sharpness. He huffs and puffs where we need him to glide. Play him I say. Play Larry until he gets back to his imperious best and then you’ll really see something. I’m not a betting man but I’d happily wager that Sanchez and Ramsey will both start scoring freely once the main man is back on his game.
Of course I’m well aware that writing a piece about one particular player on the morning of match day is as good a way as any of guaranteeing that Arsène doesn’t even name him on the substitutes’ bench, but you see the difference between me and all the other bloggers out there is I don’t pretend to know the future. But I do know this, it’ll be brighter with Larry in the team than without him.
[ED] Thanks for that Stew, It was a real treat.