“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
― Martin Luther King, Jr.
Positive anything is better than negative nothing.
― Elbert Hubbard
One of the biggest thrills in the life of a footy fan is riding the great spin cycle of renewal. We wake up on the morning after a disappointing result and even as the bitterness of memory steals over us spoiling the taste of our Honey Nut Loops there is already a tiny kernel of hope germinating somewhere deep beneath the scorched, blackened soil of our desires. By day two only the armchair experts, masochists and the terminally depressed are still picking over the corpse of their shattered dreams and by day three we are nearly restored to health. How does this happen? It’s a simple but wonderful alchemy. I am already unable to remember how I felt as I watched us unravel against Man City and Liverpool last season and yet I cannot hear more than four bars of Pharrell Williams singing Happy without being instantly transported back to those wonderful days in May. Every emotion from the final itself to the players and fans united outside the Emirates on that Sunday of celebration is imprinted in my emotional scrapbook and ready for me to access any time that I please.
Women apparently report a similar phenomenon in relation to the pain of childbirth. I’ve heard them say that the extraordinary discomfort is immediately forgotten while the joy remains with them forever. Now I’m not suggesting that losing or winning an important football match can be compared to the moment a mother brings new life into the world. Admittedly I have only been a spectator at either event and both look messy and hard work. I know for a fact the human race would have died out a long time ago if it was left to me and the rest of the men to do any of the real work. As my friend Jon said to me when asked if women should take pain medication during labour “I needed gas and air to get through the conception so it seems only fair”. Well quite.
I wouldn’t be without the misery of Wednesday night. Not for all the tea in Whittards. Don’t get me wrong I derive no perverse pleasure from spending weeks counting down to such a big night only to be left feeling sick, angry and bitterly disappointed but I do recognise the importance of that pain. It is the certain knowledge of how rancorous is the taste of defeat that makes our victories so much sweeter. It is, in short, much more exciting walking a tightrope over a hundred foot deep canyon filled with pointy sticks than walking one six inches from the surface of a child’s paddling pool. Experience tells us what is at stake prior to kick off and that is what makes the weaker among our support go to pieces before a shot is even fired. You only need look at the gibbering reaction to the announcement of the team line up before each and every match to see this phenomenon in full swing. But to those of us fortunate enough to have achieved a great and unlikely age that same experience tells us that the next game or indeed the next season is just around the corner and we can once again tie our happiness back onto the rail tracks of fortune. Sometimes we get rescued before the train comes. Sometimes not.
I think that’s more than enough from my big book of vaguely football related metaphors. How about we do a bit of what I’ve been talking about and actually look forward to today’s game. Firstly, don’t forget this is an old fashioned traditional five past two Sunday afternoon kick off so if you’d planned to be home from your trip to B&Q by four you need to start back-pedalling sharpish. There will be lots of tedious predictable tripe about wanting to see a response or a reaction to what happened on Wednesday night. Plenty of people will be trotting out the usual clichés ignoring the fact that players are conditioned to put the last game behind them and focus on the match in front of them regardless of recent results. It is an essential tenet of their training. Arsène may throw such bones to the walking brain dead in the press corps but when fans repeat the baloney they’re usually just projecting their own emotions onto the players. That is what makes them assume we’ll go into battle against Everton with our knees knocking in fear of a repeat disaster. What tosh. Olivier Giroud knows he isn’t suddenly a poor striker just because he had one bad day at the office. Per knows that if we’re chasing the game then pushing up and closing down the opposition before they can instigate a counter has worked too many times to mention. Just because it failed once on Wednesday night won’t affect the way he plays the game.
Everton come to the Emirates languishing in fourteenth place in the current form table with Liverpool top and us second. A glance at their last six results shows they almost always draw at home and usually lose away from Goodison. However their most recent away win was one nil at Selhurst Park and we know all too well what sort of mental and physical strength that kind of result demands so they will be no pushovers. We know Martinez likes his teams to play proper football, retain possession and move it intelligently. We also know they aren’t afraid to stick the boot in when things aren’t going their way. Having said that my exclusive sources tell me that Tony Hibbert may be missing for the game this afternoon so they might not be as brutal as in previous matches. In conclusion, while we can expect a decent footballing contest and while Arsenal are without a scintilla of doubt the better team we cannot assume this will be a walk over.
Before I go, let me explain the flurry of quotations at the beginning of this article. Football, it seems to me, is all about choices and that goes for us as well as the manager and players. We can’t choose the visceral reaction we experience in defeat nor the explosion of joy when Aaron scores the winner in a cup final but we all choose how we respond to those emotions. Anyone who goes into the rest of the season assuming we will lose in Monaco, fail to hold onto third place or progress past Man United in the FA cup is choosing to make those assumptions. No one knows the future. If I choose to believe we can succeed then that is my right so to do and if you choose not to then that is your right, but don’t pretend it isn’t a conscious choice you are making. None of the harbingers of doom have any divine prerogative to claim to live in the real world nor should they paint positive supporters as fantasists. They are making a choice, they are choosing despair and choosing to wallow in it. If I were one of them I’d have to ask myself why? Why assume the worst when you can just as easily assume the best? Why look at a game like the one we just endured and ignore anything the players did well and only focus on what the opposition did better or on where we tried but failed? Why get angry and sarcastic with fellow fans who continue to hope and support the team no matter what? Why send triumphant messages to me on Twitter when the opposition scores? Choice. Behave like that by all means but don’t pretend you are not choosing to do so. Once you accept that then you must accept that you can choose not to behave in such a craven, weak and despicable way.
Bob Wilson told us what makes a proper football fan. The people I think of when I listen to Pharrell Williams are the ones who have shared the laughter, smiles and tears with me over the years and never wavered. The ones who chose courage, who chose to stay firm, above all the ones who chose to support.