Gooners. RIP, almost. Well for another year any road.
There are questions that recur in life. Why when it is so necessary does water tasted so fucking bland? Why can’t Paul Scholes tackle? Who watches Homes Under The Hammer? But my favourite at the mo: How long has Arsene Wenger got?
'Taxi! S'il vous plait!'
There’s no way Arsenal would ditch the Frenchman completely – his presence runs through Arsenal like that yeller streak down Audley Harrison’s spine.
And your average supporter – and by that I don’t mean Croydon born and bred but Man U through and through, I mean those of us that are through a third set of dentures having ground down the previous choppers watching a never-ending clump of numpties let us down - we’re still thinking we’d kill to be still in four competitions come March, even if we’re out of three by, well, not much later in March.
But Wenger did two things when he came to Arsenal. He won trophies; and he did it in a nice way. I say ‘nice’ – that’s overlooking the fact that in Winterburn, Bould, Adams and Keown there was already in place a set of defenders so intimidating that Wes Craven could’ve thrown ‘em straight into a movie without giving the lass in make-up so much as a text message.
Hindsight’ll tell you that Wenger’s Invincibles were founded on Henry’s goals and more to the point a rock solid defence with the best holding midfielder the Premier League’s seen in Patrick Vieira. (If you tell me it was Roy Keane I’d be hard pressed to disagree so I’d suggest a tie-break between them. Give em a 12-inch deep-crust pepperoni each and he that has the least mozzarella left on him after twenty minutes is the winner. Although I think they already tried that in 2004.
And what sort of bloke would bring a pizza into work anyway? What next? A twelve-bore shotgun?)
Incidentally, anyone else notice that Sr Torres told La Marca that the atmos at Chelsea is far better than it was at Liverpool (obviously that was before that twinkly little tinker Kenny came back in). He said: “Here, you don’t have to prove you are a professional, it is assumed.”
Yeah, apparently that Jamie Carragher couldn’t hit a frigging elephant with an air-rifle let alone a student. And Nando says there’s lots of laughs and japes at the Bridge too. Like what, a sweepstake for how long it takes Drogba to get up after some defender breathes on him? Ho, ho. Or the who-can-take-the-laziest-penalty competition. (Anelka judges that one as it’d be unfair to let him compete).
Jeez, if them boys in blue are assumed to be professional then the world has truly gone tits up. Which of course it has for way too many poor souls, so let’s not dwell there.
Where was I? Wenger, yes.
You compare that Pizzagate 11 to the one he might put out today and where is the flinty midfielder? Where is the 25-goal a season striker? Where is the Campbell/Toure centre-back pairing. On Saturday Djourou wore the expression of a surprised heron chick and the eager Koscielny is horribly worrying, not least cos, like Lee Van Cleef before him, he is has a profile even when he's looking straight at you.
I suppose at least the last three results give the explanation for the question ‘Why the long face?’
There’s no doubt that this latest collection of Wenger Boys are all Arsene’s own work. He is pretty much to blame for their success or failure. The fact is all these kids have been brought up to keep the ball. Ping it about. One-twos, give-and-gos. Lovely.
Trouble is no one’s ever taught them how to do owt else. Now you might say they’re trying to emulate Barca (oops, man-size tissues out for the pundits). But even I’ve seen Barca bung Pique up front for the last ten minutes. And any road, Barca’s players do it way better. The little dinked-pass by Iniesta and the sneaky finish by Messi after Cesc’s ‘Sign Me Boys’ backheel last week... you don’t see Arsenal unpicking a defence that ruthlessly. At least not nearly as often.
And so teams do what they have to against the North Londoners. And that’s what Man U did on Saturday. He explicitly did it as it happens. Seven defenders on the park. One bank of four, one bank of five, lone striker, defend from the edge of your box and... let ‘em have the ball. Birmingham’s tactics in other words.
And then play it long and watch the Clouseauesque back four try and deal with you. It’s not sophisticated but by ‘eck it works. Arsenal’s travails against weaker teams in the FA Cup just illustrate their frailty.
Beauty is skin-deep they say in which case Wenger may have put together a side that is as beautiful as they come. But it’s a kind of, I dunno, that lass out of the Amelie films beauty.
Lovely to look at but, bless, you wonder if it couldn’t be a bit dirtier. (That’s a tad Keysish but you take my point.)
Now I should say that I love what Arsene has brought to our footy. We’re a better place, even with the hissy fits, the whinges and them terrible bouts of temporary blindness. But time is up for him if you ask me. And some bloke on 606 came up with the replacement:
Owen Coyle. Took Bolton – plodding alehouse grinders in the Allardyce mould. Taught them to use the grass but never eschews a big hump up to Cap’n Elbows when he needs it. Might just lead the Trotters to Cup Glory as homage to that epitome of all things un-Arsene Nat Lofthouse. And Arsene still overseeing like an elderly Merlin.
Of course fans of the victors’ll be making two bloody expensive trips to Wembley. Please get the semis back on neutral territory in a venue that suits the supporters , not the pockets of the bleeding FA!