It was Liam Brady’s birthday yesterday. Apart from the small wave of memories which washed through me refreshing the parts of an old man which once sparkled with the spring waters of hope and ambition, thoughts of our erstwhile midfield maestro set the gears turning. Chippy is one of the faces which leaps to mind if ever anyone uses the words Arsenal and legend in the same sentence. I couldn’t help wonder which of our current squad about to attempt to bring Leicester City to heel might one day be mentioned in the same breath.
All this got me thinking about how arbitrary and subjective is this whole legend and hero and favourite player malarkey. There is after all no book to which one can go and check whether this player or that has ticked all the appropriate boxes to be considered a club legend. Why do my thoughts instantly turn to Wilson, Rice, Brady, Bergkamp, and Adams? Why do I then pause before adding Henry? Why doesn’t Ian Wright spring immediately to mind? My first love was Charlie George, I trembled when I met him during the stadium tour my daughter bought me as a present, but is he a legend? Should Tomáš even be considered given the number of games he hasn’t played? What about David O’ Leary? Robert Pires? Why do wingers often become fans’ favourites? Why so seldom full backs?
Liam of course dumped us for the bright lights of Italy didn’t he? Then he came back to work for many years with our youngsters so maybe that balances the whole thing out. I don’t know. I do know that when he came along he blew my teenage mind. I don’t remember his games for Bertie Mee, nor the period that followed in the early seventies when watching the football on offer at Highbury was reputedly more painful than being subjected to dentistry at the hands of an unqualified, drunken, short sighted sociopath.
It was the Terry Neil / Don Howe era that he enlivened for me and perhaps it is because of my impressionable age that he so cemented his place in my personal pantheon. When you are between fourteen and eighteen you fall in love with music and footballers in a way you never really do again. Bands in those days spoke to me like the voice of the Mysterons in an otherwise blurred and garbled world. Likewise the footballers who played with impudence and artistry have remained with me ever since in a way that succeeding generations have failed to do.
We all have our favourites of course. We have inexplicable suspicions about the efficacy of certain players and are as forgiving as star crossed lovers when our personal heroes fuck up royally from six yards out. It makes, or at least it ought to make, us realise that pointing out a player’s flaws then calling somebody a rude name for daring to do the same to our personal enfant gâté is just silly.
There is no yardstick, no gauge we can run over a player who causes us to slip farther forward onto the chair’s edge whenever the ball comes near him. We can’t prove he’s better or worse or more or less of a legend just because someone else doesn’t like him. Better to just shrug and accept that no matter how idiotic it may seem some people are blind to the talents of your man and insist on worshiping the bloke you consider a loose cannon. Deal with it and enjoy the football.
Scoring a hat trick against Leicester City didn’t make Dennis Bergkamp a legend but it was one of the building blocks which got him there. Given the huge opportunity presented by today’s fixture I would hazard a guess that any player repeating the feat would be similarly fêted, in the short term at least. That fixture ended in a three all draw and the stakes were not as high as they will be as we tuck into our roast parsnips this lunchtime. Today a draw will feel like a defeat and a victory will have the electrifying effect of reigniting a title tilt which has spluttered and guttered like a cheap candle in a draughty attic. I shall not even contemplate defeat. Like a man preferring to pretend the lunatic with the bloody knife is not behind him I shall keep walking towards, and staring at, the light.
We’ve reached a fascinating period in the Premier League calendar haven’t we? With Leicester and Man City having just played one another, the leaders visiting the Emirates with a five point cushion, Spurs facing a trip to the Ethiad – lair of a wounded beast if ever there was one – there is the potential for much upheaval or much reinforcement of the status quo.
I know how we will play. Or I can at least make a good guess. We always try to play the same game, sometimes we stymie ourselves with an inchoate apparently lacklustre approach and sometimes we are simply prevented from playing by a spirited and highly focussed opposition. Our game plan is always to out pass and wear down our opponents, bamboozle them and then strike. What interests me today is how the visitors will approach the game.
Given the gung ho style they displayed in dismantling a shell shocked City one supposes they will come out all guns blazing, brimming with confidence and a nothing to lose flamboyance. They have a very well organised defence, a lightning counter attacking game and a couple of guys in the form of their lives. Will the sudden pressure of this fixture get to them? Will Ranieri be happy setting out for a point? It’s an intriguing prospect. If we get back to our best and Leicester drop their levels just slightly or key players don’t perform for them then we all know what can happen. It happened after all in the match at the King Power last September.
It’s impossible to predict anything this season of course. Form seems to mean nothing, relative league positions even less. When we banged in two against Bournemouth I typed a one word comment – Floodgates! How wrong could I be? I assumed the tap would turn, the faucet open, the spigot be pulled from the barrel and the goals would flow, washing away the modest and disappointing scorelines of the previous weeks instead of which, of course, the game just ground on to a predictable, if welcome, conclusion with no excitement and no more fluctuations in our goal difference.
Would I settle for a similarly tedious sixty six minutes with the points already in the bag? I suppose so. I’d much prefer a tense, exhilarating hour with the winning goals coming in the final twenty five minutes but this is live sport not theatre, there is no script. Another masterful performance from legend in waiting Mesut Özil would be very welcome. Any title winning side needs a player of special ability to have a outstanding season and he is for me, the leading candidate in 2015/16.
A Bergkamp style hat trick or a bit of Bradyesque impudence from anybody would be rather nice too. Today of course the club’s greatest ever legend won’t be on the pitch he’ll be alternating between keeping Steve Bould company and striding the technical area. He can’t score the winning goal and put us right back into the race but it is for him more than for you or me or any of the players that I want that goal to be scored. He’s the man who deserves another title winning season, he’s the man the players should be busting a gut to reward, he is after all the reason we’re in the fight in the first place.
I hope you enjoy the game wherever you’re watching whether in the stands, over the croissants in Alabama or the nut cutlets in Belfast. Let’s all see if we can’t come together and help push the lads up that final slope, victory through harmony, boys and girls, victory through harmony.