Arsène Wenger cares about Arsenal far more than you do or ever will. He cares more about the club than the season ticket holder who goes to every game home and away. He cares more than the supporter conceived in the shadow of Highbury stadium and born on on May 26th 1989. How can I say this? Why do I think Arsène cares about the club even more than, say, his own career? Well, we all know he was offered well paid jobs at high prestige clubs with budgets managers dream of and turned them down. That tells us perhaps of his loyalty rather than how much he cares. The fact that he allowed his own reputation to be dragged through the mud by staying on through the financial crash as the new stadium drained his transfer budget to next to nothing, well, there is that.
The real reason I feel the way I do about the great man bubbled to the surface following a remark he made last week when being pestered about having young players on loan during an injury crisis. It was one of those ridiculous questions that even a British print journalist might shake his head at but which his editor will insist on anyway as it appears to cast Arsène in a bad light. The narrative boys and girls, stick always to the narrative.
Arsène cares more about the club than you or I because he cares about the entire club. You and I have no duty or responsibility to the players young, old, injured or fit we care only about winning the next game and finishing above Chelsea, Man United and Spurs. And you know what? That’s fine. That’s all we’re supposed to care about isn’t it? Arsène however has a duty of care to all of his playing staff not just the first teamers and he takes it seriously. Why? Because he cares about the club. Every nut and bolt, every single aspect of the development of players and the way that Arsenal FC is perceived in England and beyond.
When being quizzed as to why players were out on loan when they might be better employed with us covering our injury crisis he stated that when a youngster reaches the point in his development when he is ready for first team football you have to let him go. He isn’t going to sit on a whole bunch of lads who’ve been carefully nurtured since they were in short trousers when their career progression demands that they get regular game time. He feels a responsibility to these players and regardless of whether you or I want to see Chuba on the bench because suddenly we have two out of four central strikers out injured, Arsène has to care about the individual players as well as the first team.
He let’s them go and in doing so he lets them grow. And of course because he takes the long view and not just the short term nervy panic with which we approach each individual fixture he has the first team in mind as well as the player’s development. Would Francis Coquelin have come back to us as good a player if he’d sat on the bench hoping for a string of injuries to give him his chance rather than playing all those games on loan?
Either way Arsène is rightly seen as a father figure to his players, a man who nurtures and cares and it is hardly surprising so many footballers both the very best in the world and those showing early promise clamour to come and experience his guidance. How the squad will cope with their visit to Germany tonight is difficult to predict. In past seasons we have faced this kind of tough away fixture after torrid times at home in two legged ties. This time we travel on the back of an excellent home result without the imperative to go at them and get a win.
I’m not saying we should play for a draw from the start but it wouldn’t be a disaster and the players aren’t stupid – that will be in the backs of their minds. Expect Bayern to be up for it after getting taught a lesson at the Emirates on the last occasion that they faced us. They will be determined to straighten things out with us and will be buoyed up by our injury problems. Theo’s pace was a massive problem for the German side last time around and they would have been terrified of losing the ball every time they attacked if they’d known he had been lurking. Olivier Giroud poses a different question for defenders but his game relies on holding the ball for others to sprint past him which of course offers more time for the break away to be snuffed out.
With this in mind, might Arsène play Alexis through the middle with Joel alongside him and put another cog into the defensive machine maybe allowing Santi to drift to the left? Or maybe let Kieron play on the left and provide better defensive cover for Nacho? Joel certainly helps out effectively in defence and I’m sure Matty Debuchy would be happy to have him there. Arsène said in a news conference he dislikes pulling players out of position in this way as it disrupts the feng shui of the team. All right he didn’t put it quite like that but you catch my drift I’m sure. I doubt he’ll drop Olivier but it’s fun to play fantasy manager sometimes and wonder at the options.
The important thing is we defend once again as a compact unit, ferocious but restrained, tenacious but disciplined and with Cech back to his very best (at least one goal saving stop in each of our last four games and generally calm and reliable) we should have an excellent last line of defence.
My only concern right now is the same players getting hammered week in week out and then not getting a rest when the bloody internationals come along. As Arsène said Aaron needed a rest and Andorra would have been the perfect game to miss.
International managers literally do not give a flying fishes fart about the health of their players. Some people say why should they? They have a contract and a responsibility to win their games. Bollocks says I. Giving broken players back to their clubs time and again with a shrug because you know those clubs will pick up the bill for fixing them and anyway you won’t need them for a while by which time they should be ready for you to use and abuse again is no way for anyone with a shred of honour and dignity to behave. It isn’t good enough to talk about their contracts and their boss’s demands and their own interests, simply not good enough. Life is about more than narrow self interest otherwise why do we think so highly of Arsène? Because he is an honourable human being and not only for his success on the football field.
In any case I do wonder how the boss plans to rotate in the reserves in the more attacking positions in the coming games. He can’t destabilise the side with too many newcomers, we already have Joel needing to do nothing but improve every game. He can’t afford to drop his levels, we need to continue our momentum and he could have a big part to play in that. But others will need to be rested from time to time. Kieran and Calum can both do a job towards the end of a match in front of the full backs and Mathieu Flamini can come in while Santi steps up to replace Mesut but who stands in for Larry?
As Shotta said on Monday that man needs to stay fit and firing at least until the strains of Auld Lang Syne echo across the land. Even when Theo and Danny return from the sick berth they can’t be expected to dive right back in, they’ll need easing back. It’s a conundrum but one which you can bet the manager has considered and has planned for meticulously. Honestly how the man keeps going in the teeth of at least one major injury crisis every season I do not know. Imagine if another, more petulant, childish manager were faced with such genuinely bad luck, and then imagine if idiots both online and in the press queued up to imply it was somehow that manager’s fault that his players were injured – such a lesser man would be storming out of press conferences or issuing ‘no comments’ before you could blink.
So lets hope for a clean sheet tonight and no one added to the butcher’s bill. A modest wish for one so instinctively optimistic and positive as me? Well perhaps but I can temper my enthusiasm when the occasion demands it. I can’t for a moment imagine us going gōng hé at one of the best teams in the world in any case and neither can I see a keeper as good as Neuer fluffing his lines so spectacularly again so I would suggest my expectations are merely sensibly cautious. I’m still hopeful of a good result but I’ll settle for a point. Give me a win and you’ll be peeling me off the ceiling. I do however have one eye on Sunday’s game. The best team in Middlesex are always a tricky obstacle to overcome and I want everyone back in one piece for that one. Do I sound like I’m prioritising the Prem over the Champions League? Well, we all have our favourite players don’t we, so why not our preferred competitions?
I hope you enjoy the match and if you have the amazing good fortune to have travelled there in person have a wonderful evening, if not I’ll see you here at kick off.