My wife is an Arsenal fan. She is magnificently wonderful in every single way and I wouldn’t change a single thing about her but there is no getting away from the fact that she supports Arsenal.
She is not quite a dyed-in-the-wool supporter so she is hardly one of those nauseating Away Boyz (if you haven’t heard of them before, check them out on Twitter or YouTube and prepare to wet yourself laughing) but she did have a season ticket at Highbury around a decade or so back. She gave it up as she grew tired of the macho posturing that surrounds football and fell out of love with the game to a large degree, preferring now to watch the odd game on TV and her love of tactics often sees her tuning in for Gary Neville’s analysis on Monday Night Football. But deep down, despite her apathetic facade, she will always be a Gooner as a recent conversation between us proved.
She asked me in a very nice way why I couldn’t support Arsenal “just a little bit” because, after all, she ever-so-slightly hopes Chelsea win their matches if only so I don’t spend my time sulking around the house and shouting at the dog in the event of a loss. I ever-so-politely informed her that this would never happen. Not even if my life depended on it. When Samuel Eto’o and then Juliano Belletti – both players that would coincidentally go on to play for Chelsea – each hit the back of the net for Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final to break Arsenal hearts, I veritably leapt into the air to celebrate as if it was the Blues themselves that were destined for the trophy even though my contempt for the Catalan club was (and still is) pretty high. The reaction wasn’t pre-mediated, it was coded into my DNA. I couldn’t have prevented myself even if I had wanted to.
What I did say to her was that I would try to be more objective when talking about Arsenal in front of her and as an example I confided that sometimes one could almost feel sorry for Arsenal supporters due to the litany of false dawns they have had to experience during the last ten years in the face of Arsene Wenger’s quasi-fundamentalist approach to football. After being accused of being patronising (which was probably fair), the conversation then switched to why I was always so disparaging about “Le Voyeur” (my term, not hers, funnily enough) and that I should be more respectful of him and his achievements. Rather than issue countless pieces of evidence to back up my usual position regarding Wenger, I once again agreed to try to be more objective on the matter in the future and even procured a well-reviewed biography on the man to try to learn more about him and even up the argument. The fact that it remains unopened is purely coincidental, of course.
As it turned out, this new era of rapprochement was torpedoed almost before it had begun due to events both during and after last weekend’s clash between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. The main problem is that despite the Frenchman’s obvious intelligence and deep-thinking about the game, he is such an astounding hypocrite that he undermines anything positive that he does by spouting what can only be described as unrefined faeces. He speaks of dignity and class yet thinks it is entirely appropriate to march into the opposition technical area and manhandle the opposing manager. Such behaviour when enacted by him is excusable apparently and does not warrant an apology. Le Professeur is in danger of turning into Le Hooligan.
Then there is Wenger’s evangelical stance on bad tackles. On the surface, his zeal for stamping it out is admirable and is very hard to disagree with. However, his view only seems to apply when it is one of his player’s on the receiving end. Apoplectic about Gary Cahill’s poor challenge on Alexis Sanchez, he didn’t even comment on Danny Welbeck’s two-footed lunge on Cesc Fabregas. It was swept under the carpet as he attempted to deflect the blame for his side’s 2-0 defeat elsewhere.
One of those excuses centred on Chelsea’s “financial power”, a Wenger favourite that he loves to trot out in defence of his team’s latest disappointment, always citing his own club’s parsimony as an extra virtue in his quest for footballing martyrdom. His problem, once again, is hypocrisy.
Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, who combined to score the second goal of the game, were purchased over the summer for a total of £59m. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil- Arsenal’s last two big signings that both started the match at Stamford Bridge – cost the Gunners £72m. I’m no businessman though I would venture that Chelsea have been more astute in their financial dealings of late than their London rivals. Factor in the huge difference in net spend – normally another Wenger fave – during the last transfer window between the clubs (Chelsea’s exploits cost them £10m while the Gunners splashed £46m) and his accusation of an uneven playing field starts to unravel.
Sanchez is a fine player that will do well at the Emirates and Ozil is a World Cup winner that possesses exceptional talent even if he has struggled at club level in 2014 and seems unsuited to the rigours of the Premier League. Their ability and status is why they command such sums but the real issue is that Wenger has spent all this money without addressing the areas of most concern, namely defensive midfield and depth to support the back four. Starting the season with just 6 defenders in your squad does not speak of joined-up thinking. It is not Chelsea’s fault if his own transfer policy is fatally flawed so rather than cast erroneous aspersions at others, he would do better to look at his own shortcomings.
Of course, he might be referring to the accumulation of talent over a period of time that Chelsea have been able to call upon and obviously since Roman Abramovich’s takeover the Blues have outspent Arsenal. Although it is worth noting that the back five that started the game for the Blues – Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic – cost a total of £31m to acquire. At an average price of just over £6m each it hardly represents largesse and yet Arsenal have failed to score against Chelsea in their last four meetings in all competitions. Chelsea’s success against their neighbours is less about financial power and more about good organisation and a willingness to adopt different approaches depending on the opposition. It is, ultimately, about excellent management and it is no coincidence that in 12 meetings between Mourinho and Wenger, it is the Portuguese that is unbeaten during that spell with seven wins to his name.
Now I can already hear some people saying that Mourinho is no better than his rival when making excuses for his team. I don’t accept that argument entirely though it has to be admitted that he is not always the most gracious loser around. The difference is that nobody really takes Mourinho’s utterances at face value, instead assuming some Machiavellian plan designed to upset rivals or spread disinformation. By contrast, Wenger has cultivated an image for himself as football’s cerebral conscience during his 18 years in England. Whether you love him or loathe him, every slightly crazy thing that Mourinho says merely enhances his own mystique, whereas for Wenger he merely looks like a man at odds with his own nurtured persona.
That Wenger tries to play an aesthetically attractive brand of football is noble, if a little naive, and when he talks about football in general and the problems that afflict it, he is a man worth listening to. The contradictions arise when he comes up against an opponent that will not simply roll over and allow his team to paint pretty patterns on the pitch. At that point all reason is abandoned so when he starts talking about Arsenal or their rival’s in this context – as he did on Sunday – he becomes about as coherent as a wino on a park bench supping his eleventh can of Special Brew.
So to return to my wife I must say sorry. You are gorgeous, you are wise and for you I would do just about anything. Just please don’t ask me to be too complimentary about Arsene Wenger.