Feed on
Posts
Comments

Arsenal played the first game of their preseason trip to America Saturday evening at 7 pm in Baltimore, Maryland’s M&T Bank Stadium. The unlucky opponents were our Premiership co-strivers Everton, who were playing their first preseason game, period. A crowd of nearly 40,000 watched the two teams wage their on-pitch battle; though the stadium was only filled to about half-capacity, the majority of those attending were wearing the red and white. It was a warm, humid night that necessitated the now-standard preseason water breaks midway through each half.

Given that Arsenal travelled to the States with only one Academy tyro (Reuell Walters) it was no surprise to see that Mikel Arteta opted to start with a fairly strong team. He gave first Arsenal starts to William Saliba, and Gabriel Jesus, and offered Thomas Partey a welcome return:

Turner

Cedric — Saliba — Gabriel — Tavares

Partey — Xhaka

Saka — Ødegaard — Martinelli

Jesus

Lampard set out what seemed to be a very strong team, with Calvert-Lewin up front ahead of Gray, Davies, Doucoure, and Alli (boooooooo), with a back five of Godfrey, Mina, and Holgate in the middle flanked by Nkounkou and Patterson. England favorite Pickford started in Everton’s goal, and he was called into action repeatedly in the first half.

We started by far the brighter of the two sides, having within the first two minutes two chances, first from Martinelli then from Saka blocked from inside the penalty spot after good wing play down the left. We were on top of Everton, pressing them every time we lost the ball, winning it back through forcing errors or with our pressure on the ball. Every time we went forward we carried threat, from cutbacks, diagonal balls, and crosses, and for the first twenty minutes was really one-way traffic. Jesus stole the ball just outside their box and laced a shot off the far post. Everton were reduced to a couple of counter-attacks, and a dive by Alli attempting to win a penalty. The first of those counter-attacks was offside, the second Turner saved well from Nkounkou, leading to a corner and a Mina header wide in the 23d minute.

Soon we were back in their faces, forcing them to pass into touch or straight to Arsenal players. Doucoure tried to hit Gabriel with his handbag, but Gabriel just laughed and suggested he should pick up something from Fendi. At the 30 minute mark we’d had 2/3 of the possession, had outshot them 3-1, and were clearly the better squad on the pitch. The crowd could occasionally be heard, but no doubt the intermixing of two sets of fans whose knowledge of chants is less than encyclopedic led to the library atmosphere. Until we scored.

After some nice work by Partey through to Saka that was cut out by Pickford, the Everton goalie threw the ball out to be intercepted by Martinelli; he carried the ball to the endline and tried a cross that was cut out well by Mina for a corner. Mø took the corner, Pickford flapped, and it landed at the feet of Jesus (how weird it does feel to write that). His first touch was a miracle, and his second raised the roof of the net like Lazarus from his tomb. Ok, ok, no more. I can’t wait to see how Trev handles it, though.

Arsenal 1-0 Everton (Jesus 33′)

Our second goal followed just three minutes later. Gabriel threaded a long pass to Jesus in the midfield and he turned quickly down the left channel towards goal, with Martinelli and Saka in support to his right. Jesus flicked a perfect pass beyond Gabi to the feet of Saka, who made no mistake from three yards out. The announcers said there might have been a question of offside, but Saka was clearly onside when Jesus sent the pass. It was a lovely goal, and so good to see glimpses of Arsenal’s future in the way they played.

Arsenal 2-0 Everton (Saka 36′)

And that was it, largely. We traded fouls for the rest of the half, though Godfrey on Jesus led me to wonder if the latter would have to be substituted right then. But he rose and from the resultant free kick Mø fired high from just above the D.

To start the second half the teams combined to make 17 substitutions. Arsenal ended up…well, I couldn’t really tell the formation. 3 center-halves, a full-back, and no recognized creator in midfield, with Maitland-Niles joining Mo’neny and Xhaka. Eddie came in up front with Pépé on his right. Everton’s changes of note were to change Pickford for young Billy Crellin, and for our old boy Iwobi to come in for the still-scum Alli.

All those changes seriously put paid to the flow of the game. Turner was given a fright in the first minute from the active Rondón, who tried to lob the Arsenal keeper after winning an Arsenal mistake inside the halfway line. Turner saved well. After that it was choppy, stop start, and Everton had more and more of the ball, even if chances were few and far between. Rondón tested our defense again in the 66th minute, but his shot was blocked.

In the 71st minute Arsenal made again a raft of changes, bringing off Saliba and Gabi for Marí and Nelson; Lokonga and young Walters replaced Xhaka and Magalhães. Eddie worked his socks off trying to make something happen, and had a couple of shots blocked and passes nicked away at the last moment. Right at the end of the match Pépé had a shot saved after intricate work from Nketiah. And there were more handbags, with Sambi thrown to the ground by Tarkowski; our players gathered and showed Tarkowski where to get off. From within the scrum the ref whistled for full time.

So we won 2-0, and showed some movement at times that teams better than Everton are going to find hard to defend against. Our front group of Gabigol, Jesus, Saka, and Mø, with support from Partey and Xhaka (today) pressed intelligently and interchanged well, leading to two delightful goals. Partey looked very good, moving well within a crowd and usually finding the right pass. Turner made a sharp save and, while not tested much, passed this next test. I wasn’t particularly impressed with Bellerin or Nelson when they came on, but Eddie showed continued sharpness, guile, and a hunger I don’t recall seeing last year until the end of the season.

Our defense wasn’t really troubled by Everton’s (lack of) forward play, but I noticed Saliba was calm and cool and controlled the back line well for his first attempt. Nuno was rocking up and down the left side, and had some nifty footwork that allowed him to play passes inside that could have led to good things. I still don’t think he’s our future there, but good for him for persisting and trying to raise his game. Cedric was strong, but largely anonymous, and I think he’s going to cement the #2 spot behind Tomi when it comes to the season. The most revealing thing of the game was young Walters, who was excellent going forward and quick to defend, getting into the right spots and picking a few good passes. If he comes good in the Europa League and League cup games he will be a welcome addition to the squad.

I enjoyed the first half much more than the second, and for a training exercise it made me wonder about charging £5.99 to watch. Arsenal should perhaps rethink that policy/process, or at least pick better teams against which to play. Lampard’s men were sorely outclassed in nearly every phase of the game, even as it was clear Arsenal were playing the game of exploration at a deeper level than they were the game of football. But it certainly gives me the taste and desire for more Arsenal football, and I’ll be happy when the season starts and our results become meaningful. Oh, and I am really glad we dodged the bullet that is Calvert-Lewin!

The HolicsRopeyLeague Returns!!

Older than time and more prestigious than Crufts, the HolicsRopeyLeague is back. Family friendly footy fun! Any and all Holics are welcome to join and pit their wits against the experts (who they? Ed.) over the 2022/23 Arsenal Premier League season.

Only two simple rules: (1) No spuds (2) At least one player from The Arsenal in the squad.

If you joined the league last season then you will be automatically placed in the league once you enter a team for this season – it’s just like the Hotel California 🙂

For first-time entrants – please just post a comment asking for details and we will e-mail you the entry code for the HolicsRopeyLeague. It’s a very easy process and the more the merrier!  See you there.

Let’s begin with a bit of fantasising. You, reader, have been commissioned to write the biography of Jack Wilshere.

How would you begin? Would you follow chronology — the young lad born in Hitchin, an obvious football prodigy, and chart his career through time from there? Would you begin at the moment he ran onto the field to become the youngest player in Arsenal history? Might it be that very special night, undoubtedly the greatest night in Emirates history so far, when Arsenal came from behind to beat Barcelona in the Champions League? That was a Barcelona side containing Messi, Villa, Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets and a whole host of superstars. Yet that glorious evening no star shone more brightly than Jack Wilshere. You have other options. Would you begin when he was first called up for England or when he gave a sublime two-goal performance against Slovenia to evoke comparisons with Gazza? Perhaps that wonderful team goal slotted home against Norwich would be your starting point?

Maybe on the other hand you are of a more gloomy persuasion. You’d start when Jack broke his fibula, the regular recurrences of ankle injuries, the moment when Arsene Wenger told him that he would not be getting a new contract at Arsenal or possibly you’d even begin now as Jack retires from the game to open a new chapter as a coach at his beloved Arsenal.

All of  those moments are viable options for a starting point and in that selection — and there could be many more moments I could have chosen — it is easy to see that the overriding theme of any appraisal of Jack Wilshere as at July 2022 is “what might have been”. Of course that’s not entirely fair. Jack has 34 England caps, 2 FA Cup winners medals, he made 125 appearances for Arsenal and also represented, at different times, West Ham, Bournemouth and Bolton before retiring in the employ of Dutch club AGF. At his bewitching best he was one of the most exciting and skillful players we have seen in English football in the last twenty-five years. Comparisons with Gazza are not exaggerated or fanciful, as he was a stellar talent and though his career was peppered with indiscretions most were relatively minor and not the sort of extraordinary behavioural own goals that littered Gazza’s career.

There is also, especially for a lot of Arsenal fans, an elephant in the room. Might it be that had he been handled differently, been taken better care of and protected from himself and the destructive tackling of Premier League opponents might he still be playing for Arsenal today, our midfield colossus and the elder statesman still in his prime? When I asked for views on this from a number of Arsenal fans it is very clear that many believe that several of his injuries were avoidable and that had he not been driven into the ‘infamous red zone’ his career may well have had a totally different trajectory.

To examine this aspect of Jack’s story I’ve called on Trev’s deep physiological and orthopaedic knowledge, and I will share his thinking shortly.

But I want to begin this look at Jack’s career with a personal memory. I don’t know if it’s just me or not, but when I see a great player or a great team performance it is framed in my mind with the date and circumstances of the match. Ian Wright’s record-breaking goal, the debut of Dennis Bergkamp, the first appearance of Patrick Vieira and indeed the first appearance of Liam Brady are filed away in what my wife believes is a storehouse of useless information, most of it relating to Arsenal.

My first chance to assess Jack in the flesh, so to speak, was a League Cup game in November 2008 against Wigan Athletic. I went to the game with two old chums, one a very old friend who had seen a huge amount of football much of which was at Arsenal, but whose heart belonged to Palace  and another, who had stood on the terraces at Highbury with me for several seasons and had experienced with me the extraordinary 1979 FA Cup Final. Arsenal had beaten Sheffield United 6-0 in the previous round but I had been at a board dinner in Exeter and so missed the entry into Arsenal folklore of Jack Wilshere. For some bizarre reason I remember the following day’s Evening Standard suggesting that Jack was a throwback to a simpler and more old-fashioned football era and that his name was reminiscent of a pilot character in Biggles!

It was with keen anticipation I watched Jack’s appearance against Wigan in a fledgling team that featured Aaron Ramsey in midfield, Carlos Vela wide and most exciting of all a young Danish striker, Niklas Bendtner, in the main striking role. It was predicted that he had the ability to become the greatest striker who ever lived. Sadly, he was the only one making this prediction.

My Palace mate started purring within seconds of the start as Jack’s silky touch became apparent and he glided across the turf evading challenges at will. Just before halftime he produced an extraordinary long pass to Jay Simpson which left him in the clear to open the scoring. Even at that early stage all of the Wilshere attributes were on show. Most exciting for me was that burst of acceleration which took him past opponents just as they expected to nick the ball away from him. His first touch often took him immediately into situations where he threatened danger. What happens with young players is that we fail to appreciate them for themselves but immediately find a comparison so that we can convey to others what sort of player they are or who they remind us of. For me the obvious comparison was Liam Brady.

If you know how highly I rated Liam as a player, you will appreciate what a compliment that was. Both were predominantly left-footed but good enough and quick enough that one-footedness was a blessing not a liability. And when they needed to use their right foot they were able to do do to sublime effect. Remember Brady’s cross to Stapleton for our second goal in the 1979 Cup Final? Wilshere had a similar moment in 2014 against Manchester City where he glided onto a ball in the inside right channel. Wrong side we all thought but he struck the ball past Joe Hart with real class into the top corner. Also like Liam there was the feistiness that had to be there when you are a small ball-playing midfielder operating in the jungle of the Premier League. There were flashes of temper and indiscretions — Brady sent off against Hadjuk Split at Highbury after intense goading from the Yugoslavs, Jack saw red against Birmingham at the Grove for a piece of petulance. But that is a part of a ball-player’s make-up that has to be there if you hope to compete and to win respect from opponents.

Jack was immediately fêted as a superstar. I wasn’t the only Gooner who saw in him the second coming of Brady. This was a burden for him but it was exciting for the fans — a Hitchin-born superstar that had been an Academy sensation and been playing out of his age groups right from the early stages of his career.

One of the claims about him was his ordinariness, how he’d had a sensible upbringing and strong family roots. He needed these as the tabloids started to hone in on his private life, and as I am sure he will admit he was probably naive to allow himself to be photographed with hookah pipes or in what looked like boozefests in glamorous resorts with his close mates and other players. He was in a fracas which saw him arrested but to the disappointment of the tabloids it emerged that he was acting as a peacemaker rather than an aggressor and he just received a caution. But he was fair game for the tabloids, especially in the light of his fame, growing notoriety and with so many people keen to take the definitive picture showing him behaving inappropriately.

There were two concurrent themes as Jack’s career developed. The media are always looking for that generational player who is good enough to turn the footballing world upside down. Could Jack Wilshere ascend to that throne, when players like Currie and Keegan and Barnes and Gascoigne and Gerrard and Rooney had all failed at the highest level to imprint themselves on world football consciousness? Many of those players were profoundly talented but did any of them, with the possible exception of Keegan, achieve world superstar status? With his burgeoning ability which saw him not only capped for England but also identified as the heartbeat of the side there was a time when Wilshere looked to be that special generational player.

The other issue, inevitably, was his injury challenges. That is why his occasionally erratic behaviour off the field was a particular concern. Could he look after himself better? He clearly had an inbuilt fragility and many felt this might be being exacerbated by an inappropriate lifestyle. Arsène Wenger, who Jack credits as a great mentor, was so keen to ensure that his charges looked after themselves properly that it is hard to believe he did not receive sound advice and guidance. But youth is often wasted on the young, and from time to time the headlines made grim reading — albeit that Jack was a target. Fatherhood came early to him; it was clearly a huge motivation for him, and helped him to moderate his lifestyle. Despite the witch hunt against him his excesses were never that serious. In fact Arsenal fans came to love him even more after successive Cup Final celebrations led to him leading an impromptu and expletive laden rendering of an anti-Tottenham song! Yobbish behaviour it may have seemed but in the increasingly tribal world of North London club football the red half saw him as a hero and the white half as a pariah.

To flesh out those two issues he made his England debut in 2010 (aged 18) and played a major part in qualification for the Euros in 2016. That Slovenia game where he scored two sublime goals after entering the game as a substitute was his high water mark in international football. Injuries decimated his career and began to take an increasing toll.

His injury problems began with a stress fracture of his ankle in 2011 which proved very problematic and he missed the whole season and was out for 17 months. He then got an injury which terminated his 2012/13 season early. This is where Trev’s insights as an experienced physiotherapist are so helpful and I am most grateful to him for these comments some of which appeared in the blog many years ago.

“In the human body, the muscular system does a few things, some of which may not be immediately apparent. For example, the muscles store the ingredients required to generate medium term energy – that is to say, while the sugars needed to fuel a 100m sprint are all in the blood stream, the 1500m runner will derive their energy from the muscle stores, and the marathon runner will eventually burn up fat reserves.

“The muscles also create a pumping system which cleans the body of the waste, such as acid and oxidant, created by generating energy. Most obviously, the muscles generate the forces which move the body around, and slightly less obviously, the forces which prevent it from moving too.

“To explain that last point – whenever an injury occurs in the body, be it bone or joint damage, trauma, bruising, strain or inflammation, the muscles around the injury site go into a protective contraction – ‘if it can’t move, it can’t incur any further damage’ is the theory. This protective contraction reflex, or spasm, also kicks in whenever a joint is stressed to more than 70% of it’s flexibility or strength limits.

“That contraction may resolve itself as the injury state improves – sometimes it does not. There are ways of “kidding” the body’s nervous system into releasing the protective contraction, and it is important that this is ensured as the body returns to health, otherwise continued contraction and compensation for injuries can result in postural changes.

“The body will try to accommodate imbalances as far as possible which, over time, can lead to changes in many parts of the body. Eventually, something has to give but detecting and correcting all the affected parts can be a difficult and lengthy process.

“None of that is peculiar to Arsenal Football Club, but the more injuries a player suffers the more complex the problem becomes. And it is our young players that seem to be more injured than most.

“I believe that is because Arsenal players tend to have been promoted to first team level at a younger age than at most other clubs. Connective tissue – the tendons and ligaments that give stability to joints – does not mature and harden in young males until the age of around 21.  Arsenal’s style has been based on ball retention, committing and unbalancing opponents, thus inviting challenges and moving at high speed. All this results in higher risk of catching, tearing and twisting injuries, sometimes, in Arsenal’s case, to 16-20 year olds.

“Once that connective tissue is damaged as a teenager, it is very hard to get a perfect repair. Any resulting instability, damage or trauma in a joint will result in the soft tissues reflexively contracting to immobilise and protect the joint. Contracting  muscles, operating at a shortened length, are more likely to suffer further tears or strains.

“The Arsene Wenger model of recent years has tended to be to use leaner players for their quickness and agility, and we have had a lot of smaller, shorter players who rely on technique and passing rather than the more mature power runners of his earlier years at Arsenal, when we didn’t seem to suffer these injury pile-ups.

“At the time when Jack was playing, most of us in Dave’s old bar said we needed more height and power in our central midfield. The obvious advantage was to be more able to clear the ball from set pieces, win headers generally, and be able to stand up better to the likes of a Yaya Toure, Matic, Schweinsteiger etc etc.

“Jack’s style of dribbling and ball carrying invited anyway a lot of challenges – not to mention rotational fouling – and coincided with a number of managers like Allardyce, Pulis, Hughes and Ferguson who were only too keen to tell their players to “get in the faces” of Arsenal’s ball players.

“The taller player, though, has another advantage in that box to box role, namely, a longer stride. Even at the elite level of sprinting, Usain Bolt covers 100 metres in 41 strides, while his competitors take an average 44. That means 3 extra stresses and loading of the ankle, knee, hip and spinal joints for every 100 metres run.

“How many more times will Jack Wilshere’s weight, with his shorter strides, hit the joints in his body over the course of a game than, say, Matic’s? And in case you think it’s trivial, bear this in mind:

“At a brisk walking pace, each step will induce a force of around 2.5x body weight through the knees.  While running, the force increases to around 5x body weight, while jumping off your bottom stair at home onto the floor will induce a force of around 10x body weight into the knees.

“Its easy to understand how young, smaller players are going to cause more wear in their joints than their taller counterparts.

“Over the period when Jack and his smaller team mates, like Walcott, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain were playing for us, his taller, heavier counterparts at Chelsea lost ONE QUARTER of the player days through injury that we did.”

These injury problems sadly came to define Jack. His injury struggles at Arsenal became almost continuous. When a player is increasingly absent and continually breaks down you see the harsh reality of football fandom. Supporters retain affection but lose faith and that is what happened to Wilshere. He started to disappear from the consciousness of Arsenal fans and when he wasn’t given a new contract the majority of fans reluctantly accepted the decision. His subsequent time with West Ham and Bournemouth wasn’t successful enough to support the contention that if only he could get fit there was still a special talent ready to be unleashed. Sadly Jack couldn’t get fit enough to prove that and his displays were never eye catching enough to suggest he could ever return to his former level.

A lot of football stories end in sadness or failure but there is real hope that Jack Wilshere’s won’t. Arsenal seek a good infusion of DNA into their reserve and youth teams and Jack has been given a marvellous opportunity as head of the Under-18 team to stay with the club he loves and to improve the next generation of Arsenal players. Great players rarely make great coaches, but they sometimes do. Arsenal fans everywhere will be fervently hoping that this is a story with a happy ending and that Jack’s legacy is strong despite the fact that it hasn’t been passed on in exactly the way we envisaged.

Just as Wilshere evoked memories of Brady with that surge and superb left foot, maybe we will see another great Wilshere-like talent emerge to become the player that sadly injuries did not permit Jack to be.

Embed from Getty Images

So, 6 weeks after the end of the season, we get to see the latest version of Arteta’s Arsenal. As every summer I can remember since early childhood, the wait for the pre-season to begin is bittersweet. On the one hand we have the long, warm evenings to enjoy, a blessed relief here in the UK, let me tell you. On the other hand, the advent of football heralds the shortening of the days and the slow decline into long cold nights, warmed only by the prospect of watching football.

The ground looked very busy, if not full and the weather was glorious.  Arsenal lined up for the first half:

Turner

Bellerin        Ruell Walters    Mari    Tierney

            Lokonga         AMN

        Nelson         ESR    Pepe

                Nketiah

We started slowly, exhibiting the rust we should expect for a side comprised mostly of players 1 week into pre-season. However, there is slow and there is snail-like, and after a mere two minutes, Nurnberg showed they would be a threat with a very good cross from the right and a header from the striker which really ought to have troubled Turner, but went wide. This was repeated after 5 minutes and the more I looked at the team, the more I thought thus side was composed of players waiting to be called to the gate from the departures lounge. Nothing was clicking and in the 9th minute a fairly harmless deep ball into the box saw a little confusion between Tierney and Turner.  I thought the former was expecting the latter to come out and claim the ball, which he signally didn’t. Again, maybe just new teammates getting to know one another.

Our first significant action occurred on 14 minutes when Tierney advanced on the left. ESR made an intelligent run inside and was put in by Tierney towards the edge of the box, cut in and fired a curling effort towards the top right of the Nurnberg goal as he looked at it. The keeper made a good save. There followed a period of a few minutes only enlivened by the commentary team talking about Bellerin’s long hair, with co-commentator and famously shiny-headed former player Perry Groves opining, sagely “It’s very overrated, hair.”    Wise words.

On 23 minutes Nurnberg took the lead with a superb effort fired in from 25 yards. Now the ball did appear to swerve somewhat, but I rather thought Turner flailed around a bit in the manner of a hairdresser looking desperately for his comb, to maintain the hair-based motif. Again, not wholly convincing on his part.

At around halfway in the first half, I stopped to take stock and it dawned on me that I had barely seen Nketiah or Pepe. Things got worse in the 29th minute when some sloppy play in midfield, by Lokonga I think, gifted them the ball and allowed them to score on the break in the manner we have been used to seeing teams score against arsenal for the best part of the last 20 years. The attacker fired in from 20 yards after breaking from just inside our half and finished with aplomb. While I think it was the kind of angle from which we are used to seeing Ramsdale save, I can’t in truth blame Turner as it was a very well-directed shot across him into the bottom right.

Straight after the second goal, something strange happened. Tierney was subbed for Cedric. Now I couldn’t see any signs of injury or limping, and maybe it was pre-planned after his latest 6-month absence but even so.  In fairness Tierney had looked a bit off the pace, more so than the general ring-rustiness being exhibited by the rest of the team.

The first half continued in much the same vein with players – I thought ESR in particular – being sloppy and holding on to the ball too long rather than looking to move it quickly. We had one good break where Pepe fired a shot over just before half time, but overall, the first half could best be described as uninspired and uninspiring. It had been something of a trial (with thanks to C100 for that one).

The players came out for the second half and there were not as many changes as I had thought. However, our saviour was among them.

Embed from Getty Images

Turner

    Gabriel        Mari        Cedric

        Lokonga     Elneny        AMN

    Nelson             Nketiah            Martinelli

                Jesus           

As soon as the players came onto the pitch there looked to be more intent. Groves wondered out loud whether Arteta, no stranger to the tonsured look, had had the proverbial hairdryer out at half time.  Let it go, Perry, let it go…..

And we only had to wait around 90 seconds for the difference in approach to be felt. Jesus raised the pace and pressed the defender midway in their half into an error, having won the ball, he drove towards the box and played the ball into Eddie who played a first time pass back to Jesus on the 6th yard line but wide of the goal, who then lashed it in to the near post above the flailing keeper.  What a start.

Jesus then really began to show his class and perhaps some leadership, taking the game to Nurnberg, showing for the ball, and constantly harassing. 

In the 54th we drew level with Elneny absolutely belting home a shot from what must have been 30 yards, after Lokonga had galloped forward up the left and played the ball in for Jesus, whose blocked shot pinged out to Elneny to hit first time.

The passing and moving had now become fast, accurate and slick. Everything it wasn’t in the first half. And 2 minutes later we took the lead following a penetrative run by Eddie who knocked the ball back as the keeper advanced for Martinelli to put in a cross which looked like Jesus headed in, but which was given to the defender who scooped it into the top of the net. As this was the high point of his day, I shall call it Schindler’s lift. I’m here all week. Try the veal.

It turned out that from that point, more Nurnberg defenders wanted to get in on the comedy act and when, in the 63rd minute a shot from Eddie cannoned back off the bar it hit another one and went in to put us further ahead. I wondered at this point when the clown car would come on and whether there would be buckets of confetti tipped over the crowd but alas in vain.

We then had another round of subs in the 68th minute with Turner, AMN, Lokonga , Nelson and Eddie being replaced by Okonkwo, Patino, Salah, Marquinhos and Balogun, respectively. On 73 Nurnberg grabbed one back. One of their defenders was allowed to run the best part of 60 yards out with the ball, which was subsequently crossed in, hopefully hit back in the air to the far post where it pinged about in a manner which would have made Roger Daltrey proud before an entirely unmarked forward was allowed to hammer home from 6 yards. The ghost of Mustafi, it would appear, has still not been exorcised.

Then in the 74th minute another Jesus goal, a thing of beauty as he added a delicate touch to a finely threaded cross-cum-through ball from Martinelli to put it into the roof of the net from 6 yards.   

Conclusions.

It is always difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from the first match of pre-season. At the same time, the difference between the first and second half performances can, I think shed some light. Jesus came on and was a real focal point and set the tone for the performance. His movement, energy and awareness enabled the team to pick up significantly and play some attractive football. This all rather draws attention to the absence of the above in the first half.   Pepe and Bellerin were pretty much invisible, although Bellerin does appear to have finally mastered the art of taking a throw in properly after a year away. Well done, you. Prizes for all. I won’t miss either of these if and when they leave.

So, it’s now onwards to the US tour where I imagine the team will be joined by some of the players still away following involvement in meaningless, post-season, contrived, non- tournaments like the Nations League.

The Unbridgeable Divide

From: https://www.reddit.com/r/soccer/comments/q6syo/do_mind_the_gap/

Who is best placed to prosper out of Arsenal and Spurs going forward? 

I’ve found the last few weeks very dispiriting from a football point of view. Some people compartmentalise seasons and believe that everything is wiped clean at the end of a campaign. Unfortunately, that’s wrong. Football nowadays is a continuum. Occasionally there are breaks in the playing of matches and occasionally you have opportunities to change and hopefully improve your team. But how and if you do this is increasingly dependent on how you did last season and whether you have the right sort of appeal to the right sort of players who can improve your team.

The disappointment at the end of the season was compounded by the fact that we were overtaken and replaced in next year’s Champions League by our biggest rivals, the Marshdwellers. The 3-0 defeat in the North London Derby was one of those nights that lead you to hate football temporarily. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong and what made it worse was that it looked awesomely predictable from the kickoff. I will return to that awful night later but what I want to do is to look at Tottenham as they are currently placed and how we stand and give an opinion on who will do better next season and why, then project on what the futures of the clubs might be beyond that. 

Let me make it clear that despite my huge bias in favour of Arsenal I’m going to try to be objective. Don’t expect me to be a cheerleader automatically for Arsenal out of loyalty. I’ve always tried to be honest about my team. It’s fair to say that when things look wonderful there is usually a problem looming around the corner and when things look gloomy and negative hope very often springs up as the club regenerates itself. We are going through that process now after some volatile years which, to use an Arteta phrase, have been ‘like a rollercoaster’. It’s a fair, if obvious, analogy. Tottenham have seemed to be in that situation for a large part of the time since George Graham was appointed manager at Arsenal and they began a succession of appointments to try to compete with us. For something like thirty years there really wasn’t a competition.  It was a rivalry based on tribal loyalty (of course it always was) and spite, usually from N17 or from wherever they come.

If that is the first suggestion that my bias is showing, look at the trophy hauls of the clubs. Arsenal have won 13 league titles and 14 FA Cups (a record). Our record in the League Cup and in Europe is modest. So is Tottenham’s. But whereas we have 13 league titles, they have only 2 and as the clock on our website shows, the last of those was won over sixty years ago. Only about 10% of their fans were alive when they last won the title. Clubs like Huddersfield, Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland and Blackburn have more top-flight titles. 

While Tottenham have won 8 FA Cups, they haven’t won one for over thirty years and they haven’t been in the final for thirty years either! In that time we’ve  been in ten finals and we’ve won nine of them . So historically, despite Tottenham achieving the first modern domestic double in 1961 and becoming the first English side to win a European trophy, Arsenal dwarf Tottenham in terms of achievement. There is no comparison. That massive divide explains a large amount of the motivation that Tottenham have to overhaul us.

It was common practice for Arsenal fans to celebrate St.Totteringham’s Day when Tottenham could not overtake Arsenal in the league . Arsenal celebrated that landmark continuously from 1997 to 2016. But in the last six years St.Totteringham has not been seen. Tottenham have finished above Arsenal and in the last two seasons have clinched that honour on the last day of the season. It was much easier to take them excluding us from the Europa League Conference than it was from the Champions League! 

What caused this shift in fortunes? 

Since 1986 Arsenal have had four permanent managers. Tottenham have had ?……it’s 21! That’s about one every eighteen months! George Graham was much more successful against Tottenham than his predecessors and then came Arsene Wenger. Wenger at one time racked up a 21 game unbeaten run against them and lost only 9 league games in 22 seasons. Mauricio Pochettino kidnapped St. Totteringham but the perception for many years was that St.T lived in Wenger’s garden shed and emerged every spring to join in the festivities.

Drilling down a little it’s possible to put some context beyond the numbers. I think the clubs were very well-matched for many years until the mid-80s. Arsenal were superior in the 70s when Tottenham got relegated and when they came back with Ardiles and Villa they went through a purple patch in the early 80s. It was George Graham who drew Arsenal away from the Spuds after David Pleat was sacked for kerb-crawling. George won most of his derbies and Arsenal won 2-1 at the Lane four times in 1987! One of those was the Rocastle game which took us to Wembley. We then became title winners and David Dein proved a much better business brain in football terms than Alan Sugar. Arsenal prospered and Tottenham played catch-up. Except they never caught up! The exception was the 1991 semi-final at Wembley when Gascoigne was phenomenal and scored that goal. But we won the league that season and only lost one game despite having a two point deduction and a skipper in prison for a few months! 

Sugar removed Venables and pooh-poohed much of the strategy that Arsenal were adopting. Tottenham embarked on a managerial quest that took in such luminaries as Shreeves, Ardiles, Perryman and Francis. Having rubbished our incursions into the continental market, they went Romanian and then brought in Klinsmann who was the first of their centre forwards with severe balance issues. The labyrinthitis that so affected the German still lingers on. Son and Kane have fallen prey to the virus in current times. Meanwhile after George’s demise due to accepting unsolicited gifts from Rune Hauge, Sugar derided the purchase of Dennis Bergkamp which was one of the most enlightened in Arsenal’s history. Klinsmann departed and Sugar claimed he wouldn’t wash his car with his shirt. It was a bit embarrassing to sign him back a couple of seasons later in an attempt to save them from relegation!

Bruce Rioch had a season at the helm at Arsenal and then gave way to an unknown Frenchman initially derided by Sugar – one Arsene Wenger. Tottenham worked their way through the likes of Christian Gross, David Pleat several times, George Graham even. George actually delivered the League Cup for them but gave way to Glenn Hoddle. Hoddle presided over possibly the most bitter moment in Arsenal/ Spuds rivalry – the defection of Sol Campbell. When Sol was revealed as a Gooner it laid bare the huge difference between the clubs in attraction for ambitious players.

Sol was inevitably derided bitterly by Spud fans for his defection and in many instances the level of bile went way beyond what was fair and reasonable. His decision to join Arsenal saw him win the Double in his first season, become an Invincible and score in a Champions League final. In many ways the wounds from his departure from the Lane have never healed. 

Over at Tottenham an offshore investor ENIC bought an initial 27% stake in the club and installed an ambitious young man, Daniel Levy, in the chair. He remains there to this day, and has the longest tenure of any current chairman in the Premier League. We will return to Daniel later and try to assess just how well he has done.

The Wenger years were even tougher for Tottenham than the Graham years. He won 3 titles, 7 FA Cups and took Arsenal regularly to the Champions League year after year, reaching the final in 2006. The accumulated revenue generated by that level of success has bankrolled the club in leaner times. We took a decision to move to Ashburton Grove and that move took place in 2006, ironically just after the Lasagnagate fiasco where the Totts blew a golden chance to edge us out of Champions League qualification.

Meanwhile the Totts were still regularly changing managers – Santini, Jol, Ramos (who delivered another League Cup in 2008, their last trophy) and then ‘Arry Redknapp who at last took them into the Champions League. The lack of stability at White Hart Lane was a product of the desperation to compete, Levy’s impatience and poor judgement and the dubious activities of one or two of their managers. To general surprise, Redknapp escaped with a not guilty verdict in a tax evasion trial but was replaced by Vilas-Boas who had already failed at Chelsea. It was not until Mauricio Pochettino joined from Southampton that we saw a sustained upturn in Tottenham’s fortunes. This coincided with a perceptible decline in Wenger’s powers exacerbated by the loss of his confidante Dein. In 2017 St.Totteringham failed to call even though Arsenal won the Cup for the  third time  in four seasons. Furthermore Tottenham had a potentially world-class striking partnership forming between Harry Kane (who had been with Arsenal as a young boy) and the Korean, Son Heung Ming. 

The rise of Pochettino and the decline of Wenger marked the first time that Spuds fans had sustained bragging rights in North London for around thirty years. Those years had been brutal if you were a Lilywhite and the pain intense. Understandably there was rejoicing in the Spud kingdom. They started to think realistically about winning league titles but surpassed their own expectations by getting, albeit very fortuitously, to the Champions League Final. Amazingly, they scarcely raised a whimper in losing to Liverpool. The Spuds had moved into their own mega stadium after almost two seasons of renting Wembley – The New White Hart Lane (aka the Toilet Bowl to Gooners everywhere) and this was for many Spuds fans a reason to crow. It is marginally bigger than Ashburton Grove presumably because they haven’t had to allow space for a trophy cabinet? 

Wenger’s departure to be replaced by Unai Emery saw a fabulous match in his first derby at our place, which resulted in a 4-2 win for the Gunners, but we could not overtake Tottenham that season. When results started to decline for both clubs, Pochettino was replaced by our nemesis, Mourinho, a spent and malevolent force and we brought in Mikel Arteta for his first managerial role. Mourinho initially had the better of their limited encounters but a 2-1 win for the Gunners was one of the reasons Levy fired Mourinho just before another losing a League Cup Final to Manchester City. If the Champions League Final was a tepid performance, this effort was quite pathetic . 

Levy vacillated about who to choose to sit on the managerial conveyor belt and alarmed by Antonio Conte’s demands made the appalling decision to employ Nuno Espírito Santo. A humiliation at Arsenal led to his demise and eventually Levy had to bite the bullet and finally employ Conte. The Italian made an immediate impact and shortly we will evaluate his likely future career at the Totts.

Recent developments 

Since the season ended with Tottenham finishing agonisingly ahead of Arsenal there has been a marked difference in acquisition activity, although as I write this appears to be changing. Conte has made it clear that he hasn’t come to Tottenham to develop a long-term project. He is coming to try to win silverware immediately. He has acquired the 33-year old Ivan Perisic to be a left wing back, looks likely to acquire Djed Spence as right wing back, has signed Bissouma to play in midfield with Bentancur who, with Kulusevski was acquired from Juventus to very good effect and they are being strongly linked with Richarlison of Everton. Fraser Forster has become their back-up keeper. Tottenham now look a more pragmatic and solid side than they have looked for some time.

These are decisive moves but very little long-term appreciation of the asset acquired is likely to happen  in  most  cases.  The likelihood is that they may hit the ground running when the season begins. Arsenal have begun the window cautiously but the only purchases so far are Matt Turner the American goalkeeper, a new Vieira – this time Fabio a young midfielder from Porto, and Marquinhos a winger from Brazil whom everyone is filing as ‘one for the future’. We may also have William Saliba back at the club next season for the first time since we signed him in 2019.The internet is awash with rumours, the strongest of which suggest we may sign Youri Tielemans in midfield, although Sky are now suggesting that Vieira is the only midfielder we will sign. If this is the case my levels of pessimism will rise dramatically. If Xhaka remains a first choice midfielder we can wave any hope of serious progress goodbye. 

We are also linked with Gabriel Jesus upfront and Aaron Hickey as a back-up left (or right) back. Arsenal’s buying modus operandi is very clearly to acquire younger players with high sell-on value who fit into a prescribed style of play. Tottenham used to, pre-Conte, have a similar philosophy but Paratici their Director of Football has obviously got a much more open cheque book than most Spud managers have. The financial rigour for which Levy is famed is giving way to a dash for honours acquired at what may prove to be an unacceptable price. Uncertainty around both clubs’ transfer activity several weeks before the season begins means lots of judgements about how next season will unfold are rather wild speculation. Nevertheless, I have tried to look at the pros and cons of each club’s situation 

Arsenal 

The plus factors:

There is a really positive feeling among regular supporters and new belief in what might lie ahead. The stadium is fun to visit. Arsenal made progress last season winning 22 games and amassing a points total that would have given them Champions League qualification in several previous seasons. Arteta is possibly going to be a generational coach and has a clear vision which he communicates well. Their transfer template largely worked well and Ramsdale, White, Tomayisu and Ødegaard are good acquisitions who should get better. We have plenty of talent to sell who could be of interest to other clubs. It would be reasonable to expect we might raise £80 million in transfer fees. Our wage bill has already been substantially trimmed. Homegrown talents like Saka, Smith Rowe, Nketiah and Martinelli (sort of) all improved markedly last season. Gabriel had an excellent season and Tierney was very good until seriously injured. Thomas Partey began to play like a world class midfielder and Charlie Patino made his bow. We have many exciting talents bubbling under most notably Norton-Cuffy, Hutchinson, Flores, Cozier-Duberry and Biereth. Arsenal, with a good transfer window should be a stronger team next season. They might have a better chance to secure a place in the Champions League through victory in the Europa League.

The minus factors:

Arsenal were four points ahead of Tottenham with three games to go and blew it. Their performance at Newcastle in particular was execrable. They only won one game where they conceded the first goal last season and scored a total of three equalisers all season (still losing in one of those games). If this team goes behind it loses and it loses in clumps – the first three games of last season, United and Everton, Palace, Brighton and Southampton and finally Tottenham and Newcastle. Performances are very inconsistent, we lack a regular goal scorer and we need more dynamism in midfield. We will hopefully / probably play at least a dozen games more than we played last season when we still finished with four key players injured. We have several very injury-prone players.

We need to find a twenty goal a season striker and build a more flexible squad. Arteta has made a porridge tactically of some key games and it is hard to believe we can perform so poorly in some vital matches ….and then there’s the equalising issue! Do we have the spirit that successful sides engender and have we got the right sort of character to succeed? My conclusion at the moment is that we do not. We also get many more red cards than other teams despite a lack of vicious, undisciplined players. A recent calculation suggested we got a red card every eight games under Arteta. So there may be an unconscious refereeing bias against us. 

Next season we can expect an improved Manchester United and Newcastle who may challenge us hard for Champions League places. The top three are likely to be unchanged. But there will be five CL places on offer. 

The World Cup falling in mid-season will create massive disturbance but will give a mid-season break to players not participating, 

e.g. Holding, Tierney, Ødegaard and Elneny. But we could have as many as 15 or maybe more players in Qatar. 

Tottenham

The plus factors:

Being in the Champions League will give them opportunities to sign some players we can’t attract, plus it will provide extra finance. They have an elite, proven coach who has radically improved their performance in games against top teams (they didn’t lose to either of the top two last season and did the double over the champions). Their Technical Director has a strong track record at Juventus and has already acted very decisively in this close season. They are asking over £20 million for Harry Winks whereas we sold a significantly better player in Guendouzi for £9 million. That suggests an ability to horse trade that we don’t seem to possess. They have an intimidating stadium and one of the best attacks in European football. They scored eight more goals than us and also conceded eight less. Their midfield is currently much stronger and deeper than ours. Bissouma is likely to strengthen them enormously.

Conte has unsurprisingly improved the defence, especially players like Dier, Davies and Romero. 

The minus factors:

Possibly the biggest is that they are Spursy but that’s hard to claim after our end to the season and our last opportunity before that under Unai Emery to qualify for the top four. Certainly S***s do not have trophy winning DNA. There was a big risk that the club would implode if they failed to qualify for the Champions League last season with players like Kane and Son looking to move and Conte realising that rebuilding them was a long-term project under a Chairman who has no idea what winning silverware looks like. That risk has largely evaporated and the feel-good factor has been intelligently maintained by their transfer impetus. Morale at the Toilet Bowl is probably higher than anywhere but at the top two clubs. But a poor start may set off Conte’s inclination to moan, other big European clubs may come looking to see if he wants to jump ship, he may get fed up living away from his family in the Landmark Hotel and S***s may not have the same luck with injuries they had last season when neither Son nor Kane suffered serious injury and his chosen first team was available to him almost completely during the run-in. Tottenham are hugely dependent on Son and Kane who scored 40 of their 68 goals between them. Their third top scorer was ‘own goals’! 

The World Cup will involve Lloris, Davies, Romero, Bentancur, Kane, Son and maybe Richarlison and Perisic. They could have similar numbers of players to us out in Qatar. It puts a particularly great strain on their precious striking resources.

Conte suffered second season syndrome at Stamford Bridge although he won the FA Cup and then departed. His idea of what is a reasonable spend for an ambitious club is highly likely to diverge from Daniel Levy’s! Almost every other Tottenham manager has found this over time! If that does happen we’ve seen the film before … at Chelsea, Juventus, Inter Milan and it started to happen after the defeat at Burnley. Tottenham are loaded down with debt. It’s interesting that they didn’t sell out a lot of home games last season and the combination of a glitzy new stadium and a pandemic has created a financial burden that no amount of NFL games, Rugby League finals or pop concerts will reduce significantly for a while. Levy has always been miserly/sensible (delete what you think is less applicable) on setting wages and that can’t change given the financial pressures on them. Tottenham fans fluctuate in their views on how good a job Levy has done but everyone is ecstatic at the job Conte has done. The fact remains that until you bring silverware home consistently you can’t be said to be a big or successful club. Unless ENIC sell the club and that must be a long-term goal, it’s hard to see them becoming a football superpower and if/when Conte leaves they are likely to be plunged into another crisis. 

I would predict with some confidence that Conte’s Tottenham is not a long-term project. They can’t aspire to the sort of success with their resources and the age of their squad that Conte would desire. He doesn’t want to reach the quarter finals of the Champions League – he wants to win it. If Tottenham did win it, it would be equivalent to Leicester winning the Premier League in 2016. The question is how long he waits before he jumps ship to a better project with more immediate hope of instant success. PSG sounds like a very possible move. How about a job swap with Poch? 

So, what does the future look like? 

My honest view is that I’m increasingly fearful that we won’t make the top five next season. It is by no means impossible and we might find the transfer window works out better than I expect it to but Conte is currently a more experienced and stronger coach than Arteta and he has two great strikers at his disposal. Arteta hasn’t got any and if Jesus and Nketiah are our strike force next season they won’t score the same number of goals that Son and Kane will. Arsenal fans have been patience itself as they have responded to the positivity of the Arteta regime. But another season without the CL will increase the risk of Saka or ESR or Martinelli looking for a more immediate elevation into top European football. I think we may win the Europa League next season but finish below Tottenham. That’s not what you wanted to hear but I believe the evaluation I’ve made makes sense. I just hope I am being far too pessimistic.

 But there is a real silver lining. In three years time, if we can retain our top talents or replace those who leave with comparable quality we might be significantly ahead of Tottenham as we reap the benefit of careful husbandry of our resources and an exceptional group of prospects. And one final point. While the rivalry with the Spuds is intense we must not let it define us. Tottenham are not a club we should be focusing on. We could finish above them and still be far short of being title winners. While it will always be exquisite to beat them and agonising to lose to them, Arsenal are a club that focus on the top table. Even if Tottenham pull up a chair there next season I don’t expect their fragile superiority to last long. We have much bigger fish to fry than the sprats down the Seven Sisters Road!

Appendix – Trophies won 

Arsenal 

Inter-Cities Fairs Cup – 1969–70 (1)

UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup – 1993–94 (1)

FA Community Shield – 1930, 1931, 1933, 1934, 1938, 1948, 1953, 1991, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2020 (16)

FA Cup – 1929–30, 1935–36, 1949–50, 1970–71, 1978–79, 1992–93, 1997–98, 2001–02, 2002–03, 2004–05, 2013–14, 2014–15, 2016-17, 2019-2020 (14)

First Division (until 1992) and Premier League – 1930–31, 1932–33, 1933–34, 1934–35, 1937–38, 1947–48, 1952–53, 1970–71, 1988–89, 1990–91, 1997–98, 2001–02, 2003–04 (13)

League Cup – 1986–87, 1992–93 (2)

Tottenham 

Football League Champions: 1950/1951, 1960/1961 (2) 

 FA Cup Winners: 1900/1901, 1920/1921, 1960/1961, 1961/1962, 1966/1967, 1980/1981, 1981/1982, 1990/1991 (8) 

Football League Cup Winners: 1970/1971, 1972/1973, 1998/1999, 2007/2008 (4) 

European Cup-Winners’ Cup Winners: 1962/1963 (1) 

UEFA Cup Winners: 1971/1972, 1983/1984 (2) 

Football League Division Two Champions: 1919/1920, 1949/1950 (2)

FA Charity Shield Winners: 1920/1921, 1951/1952, 1961/1962, 1962/1963, 1967/1968 (joint), 1981/1982 (joint), 1991/1992 (joint) (7)

Since Tottenham last won the League title, Arsenal have won it six times

Since Tottenham last won the FA Cup Arsenal have won it nine times. 

Jacques and his master are driving down a quiet winding road along the Dalmatian coast. It’s springtime, the rugged Dinarides mountains on their left are sparkled with blooming Brnistra shrubs, and on their right the turquoise waters of a calm Adriatic sea are punctuated with the small fishing boats that are moored along the coast. Jacques, as ever, is the man behind the wheels, expertly maneuvering the clunky Peugeot that his patriotic master had insisted on. As they approach a sharp bend on the road Jacques notices a humble tavern next to a small road leading off from the highway into a picturesque seaside village. He slows down and takes the village road, comes to a stop in front of the tavern, turns off the engine and sprightly gets out of the car. His fellow traveler, jolted from his reverie on the passenger seat, follow him out but not without expressing his annoyance at this sudden stop.

[Master]: I don’t think I remember having asked you to stop now.

[Jacques]: You did not. But this tavern looks like one of those where you can find a warm plate of grilled squids and some cold dry white wine any time of the day.

[Master]: But it’s only 11 in the morning! And you ate an elephant’s breakfast just a couple of hours ago. Unbelievable …

[Jacques]: Monsieur, if you must compare my young and healthy appetite to an animal’s I rather prefer it to be a lion than an elephant.

[Master]: Why not hyena? You seem to be devouring everything lately …

[Jacques]: It’s the healthy sea air, and all the lovely exercises I get at night when you are snoring in your room.

[Master]: Rascal!

[Jacques]: Don’t be mad Monsieur. Let me show you something. Look up at the mountains towards your left.

Jacques points his right index finger towards high up at the nearly vertical cliffs where there are no trees or shrubs. Master’s gaze follows him impatiently, but once he realizes what Jacques is pointing at, he too is equally amazed and amused. Someone, most definitely a madman to have risked that climb, but one not without artistic talent, has drawn up in the mountains a gigantic mural of red-and-white squares neatly arranged within a perfect circle.

[Master]: What is that? Icon of a local pagan religion?

[Jacques]: You can say that…a godless religion. I understand that the grave and philosophical concerns have kept you preoccupied lately, but have you not at all seen this sign before in these parts of the world in the last few days we have been here? It is everywhere.

[Master]: Now that you mention it, I do recall this pattern…but it is too ubiquitous to pay any special attention to, until you see a replica of such a daring scale and placement…

[Jacques]: It is the emblem of a local organization.

[Master]: A secret society?

[Jacques]: Just the complete opposite. It’s a football team. They call themselves Hajduk.

[Master]: Oh no! One more of these groups of mad men. Europe now seem to have fallen completely at the mercy of these roguish lads everywhere…

[Jacques]: Ladies too…

[Master]: What a pity! I wonder what my good friend Denis would have said about this football mania of these times. Something very profound and witty at the same time…

[Jacques]: Well, we are no longer living in Monsieur Diderot’s time. Or in his imagination for that matter…

[Master]: I preferred it so much more, even though life on the road is now much more comfortable. This new man has a pitifully limited mind compared to him … and what a horrid imagination, naming himself after Faust…

[Jacques]: It’s true he doesn’t hold a candle to Monsieur Diderot’s genius, but I like him all the same.

[Master]: And let me guess, like the rest of the hoi polloi he too is a fanatic for football. Well of course, otherwise we wouldn’t be discussing such inanities this morning…

[Jacques]: You must admit that something that inspires a man to climb up there – (and here he points back towards the mural on the mountainside) – just to draw a sign to express his love cannot be so easily ignored.

[Master]: Is that him? The new one? Faustus…

[Jacques]: Oh no no! He is not that inspired. And besides, his love is dedicated to another team…

[Master]: Are their signs visible on the mountains too?

[Jacques] (pointing to the tavern): Let us go in. You made me thirsty as well.

Jacques and his Master walk in through the open doors into the small white-stone cottage with wide windows overlooking the sea and a single spotlessly clean wooden table with a few chairs spread around it. They choose two chairs opposite each other but then moved them slightly away at an angle from the table so that they can both face the windows while not completely losing sight of each other. A waitress brings two glasses of water and asks what they would like. Master asks for a strong coffee, Jacques orders a plate of scampi and squids, a bottle of white wine, and two glasses. Once the drinks are brought in, he pours wine in both the glasses and hands one over to his master.

[Jacques]: À votre santé!

[Master](breaking out in a forgiving smile): Santé! Rascal… so, what about this other team? Is it in these Balkan lands too?

[Jacques]: Far from it! It is in a place you never could bear to visit.

[Master]: Marseilles! Awful…

[Jacques]: Not really…Londres!

[Master]: How horrible! I am being imagined by an Englishman…poor Denis!

[Jacques]: That is a very parochial view, if I may say so Monsieur. Monsieur Diderot himself had no problems with other cultures and people…and anyway, he is not an Englishman, and he doesn’t live in Londres.

[Master]: How intriguing!

[Jacques]: Hardly! The team he is in love with has devoted followers from all over the world. From the Americas to Africa to Asia, even many of them are in France …

[Master]: What strange times! Colonials and French cheering for a bunch of Englishmen…

[Jacques]: Well, you should also know that many of the athletes who play for that team are too from far flung nations. Brazil to Scotland …

[Master] (taking a large sip of his wine): I see. So not much of English connection then. I can live with that.

[Jacques]: It is still an English team, with English roots, English affinity and history. But not only…

[Master]: I must say I find it hard to be at ease with this shape-shifting world. So, you are saying there are many people around the world who also follow this English team without themselves being English or connected to Angleterre anyway…how odd! Why though?

[Jacques]:  It’s not odd. Did your friend Denis not have anything but the greatest admiration for the Flemish or Dutch masters even before ever leaving France? It is the same.

[Master]: But that’s art! Timeless, universal…not ersatz war of athletic fights.

[Jacques]: You do sports injustice Monsieur. A plebeian pastime it might be in its origin, but it too can appeal to the universal and noble strands in our mind…it can inspire beyond boundaries.

[Master]: I will need time to accept your bold claim.

[Jacques]: You mean you will need examples to be convinced.

[Master](scathingly): You are right, let’s speak our minds.

[Jacques](excitedly): Whenever do we not! Alright, Hajduk is an example. Did you know they were formed by a bunch of Dalmatian students studying in Prague after they watched a match between the two big Prague teams, Slavia and Sparta!

[Master](now a bit amused by Jacques’s excitement): Go on…

[Jacques]: Take the example of your friend Monsieur Diderot, your favorite Denis. Didn’t he spend a lot of time, fruitlessly, trying to persuade his friend and benefactress tsarina Catherine to reform her empire towards his lofty values of enlightenment? Even making a long journey to the Scythian land…

[Master](visibly frustrated): Oh, you oversimplify. You know very well the complex nuances of their relationship … and in any case I don’t see what connection that has with your claim about a football team’s universal connection.

[Jacques]: Well, a leopard doesn’t change its spots. That old rapacious empire is still an old rapacious empire.

[Master](pretending to yawn): You bore me! I thought we are not going to indulge in geopolitical speculation. This Faustus really has a rather common mind.

[Jacques]: Have some patience…there is a football team called Shakhtar Donetsk that has been displaced for more than 8 years, and now that is of course the least of their concern. Their most capped and decorated player is from this region, and he started his career in Hajduk.

[Master]: That proves nothing about the universality of footballing art.

[Jacques]: I agree it is not the strongest example. However, I thought I will bring that up to remind us that while we are enjoying this lovely – (here Jacques spreads his two arms wide around his chair, gesticulating animatedly) – view and wine there are millions of people suffering because of a senseless war.

[Master]: As I thought, a very ordinary mind …

[Jacques]:  That may be so, but I find we should try our best to not easily forget or ignore the pain of others…

[Master]: Simple-minded platitudes … vapid moralizing. Reminding ourselves ceaselessly of the sorrows of others neither leads to solving the conditions that lead to suffering nor does it help us understand the world.

 [Jacques]: If you cannot simply and directly empathize with the human suffering, I am afraid you start losing your humanity.

 [Master]: That is what great art is for. To give our absurd lives and absurd sufferings an arc of meaning. To create a deeper connection with the fleeting reality. 

[Jacques]: Football can do that too. Give our senseless lives an arc of meaning, as you said. And when football is played in a certain way it can give an aesthetic joy that is no less sublime than the movements of ballet.

[Master]: And this English team you started talking about give our simple-minded Faustus such joys and meaning?

[Jacques]: Him, myself, and a million others. Tens of millions of others.

[Master]: I am guessing their emblem must be a swan swimming in a lake. Or snow-covered mountain peaks. Maybe a solitary boat floating on quite azure sea…

[Jacques] (laughing mirthfully): Now who is being simple-minded?

[Master]: A kingly lion racing across the Serengeti?

[Jacques]: In this century they call it a logo. And our logo is a cannon, and I think I should draw one of those on these mountains.

[Master] (finishes his glass of wine in one gulp and stands up): Jacques, I forbid you to…

[Jacques](ignoring him, talking to himself): What an interesting idea!

The waitress returns with two plates of seafood. Jacques looks longingly at the food as the waitress arranges the cutlery around the plates. Master slowly sits down. Jacques makes a joke and the waitress laughs. The curtain draws as we hear a faint murmur of conversations between the three of them.

                                                                        ~ The End  ~

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »