I shan’t be watching this afternoon. My wife has made other plans for me and if you’ve ever met my wife then you know how wise I am to smile sweetly and just miss the match. To be honest it’s only Man United and I shouldn’t have a problem avoiding the score until the game shows on Arsenal Player. Used to be this would chap my arse in a most disagreeable fashion and I’d be entirely out of sorts until I’d caught up with the match. Used to be I didn’t really enjoy the recording either. Not being able to interact via the net with other supporters took the spice out of the occasion, the sense that everyone else already knew the result and I was late to the party hung like a pall over the game.
Not any more. Interacting with all but one or two people during a live match adds nothing to the experience and often serves only to detract from my enjoyment. It has become apparent over the years that supporters lose their perspective and the ability to enjoy what they’re watching. Most simply cannot wait to show the world just how hopeless they are, in fact to share just how little they actually enjoy the act of watching a football match.
Combine this with the quite astonishing tendency people have to write off a performance if the result goes against us and I wonder if I shouldn’t just watch all the games a day later on Arsenal Player. Take our fabulous display against Swansea. I was completely gripped, the tension was incredible, the attacking play relentless, ingenious, fast and intricate. It was mesmerizing to watch – goodness only knows what it must have been to defend against. The Swansea midfield and defence probably felt as if they’d been run over by a truck at the end of that game. I was a little flat going into the match but ended up riveted. Sadly it seems that because Swansea defended so well and with more than a whiff of good fortune and then took their chance to snatch an extraordinarily unlikely victory our own fans have written us off and ignored the wonderful football we produced. The old adage ‘it’s the result that matters’ was wheeled out and whilst this feeble mantra has an attraction as a kind of subnormal logic which would appeal to a brain dead rock it seems to me that when we decide to immerse ourselves in ninety minutes of excitement and entertainment then the excitement and entertainment are surely of the greatest import.
I am, obviously, in a minority. If you don’t take any pleasure watching the match and believe only in the result then I say to you (again, I’ve said this often and will continue to say it) then just wait until the middle of May and go online and read the scores. There is no need for you to watch any football nor join in any discussion. If the result and the points are really all that count then count them and leave the rest of us the hell alone. Please.
The main reason I don’t mind missing the live game today is it’s against Man United. Even though most of the worst of their villainous crew have departed and the sorcerer in chief has retired to enjoy his wine and horses I still can’t warm to the lesser of the Manchester sides. It’s true I am growing a little fond of their manager. He has a disdain for the press which rivals my own contempt and says nice things about Arsène Wenger and that always gets my attention. He is struggling to force some pretty substandard players into the style in which he believes and has achieved stupefying success given the squad he inherited. I think getting a top four finish (the dreamed of Nirvana for every premiership team at the start of the season, and a huge achievement for everyone, except it seems, Arsenal) with the players he has should have seen him crowned manager of the season without any opposition. A truly astounding achievement.
So can we do the unthinkable today? In my absence will you be watching Arsène take a side to Manchester and return victorious for the third time in a season? I don’t see any logical reason why not. We are in scintillating form – just ask any Swansea defender! We have a fantastic group of players and the greatest manager you and I have ever known. However this is Manchester United. The thorn in our side for as long as I can remember. This is Old Trafford the graveyard of so many of our dreams over the years and a team who have, this season, surely led the most charmed existence of any side in the history of the game. A team who have been outclassed and outplayed over and again and yet still come away with three points. Make no mistake this will not be the walk over it ought to be. If it is then I will of course make a public apology for such a rash and baseless prediction. After all, that’s what bloggers do when they get it wrong isn’t it? When their wild speculation which they pass off as fact is found out by events they always issue a grovelling retraction, right?
Anyway, on to the standard pre match stuff. Formwise we have plummeted, having sat on top of the table for so long that I began to wonder if something had broken and we’d got stuck. We now sit in fourth position behind Leicester, Swansea and some other team. But as three sides are all on 13 points that’s a little bit misleading. Our opponents today are ninth having won three and lost three, so going on current form we should be a good bet for at least a draw. I’m sure Arsène will send his players out to win though. One of the purest delights of watching Arsenal since the great man came along is that you know we set out neither to draw nor to minimise damage in defeat. I love that if we go three down it might well end up being six or eight because that means we have gone all out to try to get back in the game no matter what the odds. When it works you end up with a match to savour, an event to live long in the memory, when it doesn’t you just forget the defeat and move on. That is why being a football fan is such fun. You don’t have to wallow in the negatives, to relive failure. The moment the final whistle blew on Monday I was looking forward to the next game. Yes I still remember the dazzling pass and move football with which we tried (unsuccessfully as it turned out) to break down the visitors but the result has been washed away. Any fan who spends any of their time scrutinising defeat has mental health problems and probably killed their pets when they were a child.
So you’re on your own this afternoon, I won’t be there to share the triumph or the tears and I hope you won’t go texting me the score before I get chance to catch up on Monday, that would be mean. Three points would be great but once again please try to remember you watch football for the joy of watching football not like a train spotter to just collect data. The game at its best is a living, breathing, unpredictable, unscripted blend of athleticism and physical art. We are lucky to have on the side we’ve chosen to support some of the greatest proponents of that art so why not do yourself a favour and actually enjoy watching them perform?