What is the greatest of all human qualities? Charity? Self sacrifice for the greater good? Giving with no expectation of personal gain? I suspect these and variants thereof would figure pretty highly on everybody’s list. How about humility, modesty and a humble willingness to allow one’s good deeds to increase anonymously the water in the well of human kindness?
All of this and more can and should be applied to many altruistic, humanitarian, noble, and self effacing people working the world over with tireless dedication to alleviating suffering and fighting injustice. But there is another entirely forgotten, overlooked and ill used species of human for whom no eulogies will be read and no tears shed. I speak of the humble football blogger who despite churning out a thousand words in anticipation of Saturday’s Premier league clash with Southampton is expected a mere three days later to come up with another carefully honed verbal sculpture. Not only that but he is presumed to be content writing about a game which (and it is painful merely to contemplate typing these words) he will not even be able to watch himself.
One of the many great achievements of Arsène Wenger’s tenure in north London has been continuous qualification for the Champion’s League. A staggering achievement for any manager at any club but when one factors in the years of thrift and expediency when paying for a new stadium during a global financial crisis it is quite simply astonishing. Our reward for supporting him in his endeavour comes on days like these, when our beloved team gets to pit its wits against the best of the best in European club football.
The fixture dwarfs the domestic cup competitions and throws a deep shadow over its déclassé neighbour The Europa League. To miss the opening of this season’s European campaign is unthinkable. To miss it and still step up and write for the pleasure of those lucky or sensible enough to be watching is an act surely worthy of sainthood.
But I don’t want to draw attention to my own plight. It is a given that charity and true selflessness are conducted quietly and away from the spotlight. I shall soldier bravely on knowing that at least my friends will be settling down on their sofas this evening with a chilled six pack of Bavarian Pilsner and a family bag of paprika Kettle Chips ready to witness the curtain raiser on our tilt at the European crown.
In case you have recently arrived from Alpha Centauri allow me to explain. Arsenal are travelling to Paris this evening to play against the Champions of French Ligue Une. Champions for the previous four seasons I might add and a side who boast such luminaries of world football as Adrien Rabiot, Serge Aurier, Ángel Di María, Layvin Kurzawa and Lucas Moura. Last year PSG coasted through their qualifying group just three points behind Real Madrid, the eventual winners. They brushed aside Chelsea in the round of sixteen before losing by the odd goal in the Quarter finals to Manchester City. It’s fair to say then that they’ve had mixed results against British clubs in recent times.
Given their resources and immediate history in the competition one would expect them to top the group and stroll into the the next round. I’d like to think that Arsène’s army can shove a stick into the spokes of that particular wheel, starting tonight. Unfortunately in the last two years we’ve not started well in the Champion’s League, losing both of our opening matches. However as I’m sure Shotta would point out these results were statistical anomalies when compared with an unbroken string of unbeaten opening games stretching back to 2003.
Neither side has been in great form recently. After a good start to their season our opponents were roundly gubbed by Monaco and suffered the ignominy of a late, late equaliser against St Etienne. As you know, but for the benefit of our inter galactic visitor I’ll say it anyway, Arsenal have yet to hit their stride this season. Ending up on the wrong side of a seven goal opening day thriller with Liverpool the subsequent games have seen us unable to find the net at Leicester, brilliant for forty five minutes at Watford and patchy against Southampton. I like to think that the first half at Vicarage Road is the true indicator of what is to come and once we regain our touch and composure the Wengerball will start to flow again.
It’ll be interesting to see who starts up front tonight. I thought the new boy showed a good work rate and some nice touches but looked, unsurprisingly, as if he was unfamiliar both with and to his team mates. Whereas in Olivier they have a man who’s game they know and understand. The biggest difference seemed to me to be in hold up play. Larry is possessed of preternatural touch and control combined with massive strength. He is adept at winning and keeping the ball and turning it around the corner for the midfield runners to carry the threat beyond the central defenders. Perez or Lucas or whatever we’re supposed to call him (I’m sure I’ll be told) seemed to look more for the immediate one touch lay off enabling him to spin in anticipation of the return pass, and go beyond the defence himself.
Both are perfectly acceptable strategies but in Olly’s case the players around him know the game and play to his strengths, whereas at times Lucas Perez caught them unawares. Will the bedding in process continue from the start or will the manager opt for continuity, familiarity and a man proven able to play alone up front on a difficult European night? We shall see. The other decision seems to me to be a choice between Granit and Francis and Santi. Perm any two from three. Given Santi’s age and his endeavours against the Saints on Saturday will we see a less creative but more solid anchor or will the tried and tested SC / FC axis be preferred?
If any of this has any bearing on the manager’s thoughts then whither Mo Elneny? Withering on the vine or flourishing under the Parisian spotlights? This squad really does throw up some fascinating conundrums. All will of course be revealed to those of you fortunate enough to be glued to your screens this evening. Some of us however, and I mention no names, are giving their time to a good cause and must miss the match. The less charitable among you may suspect that I agreed to this evening’s task in a moment of forgetfulness not realising there was a match tonight. I prefer to see myself as the martyr laying down his love of the beautiful game to help out a pal. But like Smashy and Nicey, while I may do a lot of good deeds, I don’t like to talk about them too much.