No alarm went off, there were no gimmicks and no literary devices, when I woke up this morning I simply slowly returned to consciousness. The cold air in my room was the first thing I felt. Then, as Proust once put it, memory, like a rope played out from heaven, offered me an escape route from the abyss of not-being and I drew myself back to my life. Oh yes, I remember now. I’m a father, I live in Tacoma, I miss London, I’m a Gooner, and Arsenal snatched a 3-3 draw from the mouth of victory last night throwing the Arsenal supporters into something of a civil war. Or perhaps an uncivil war.
With that last thought fresh in my mind I figured it best if I slept another hour. Perhaps if I got back to sleep quickly enough, I might dream of Highbury fields and periwinkle petticoats. Instead, all I could dream was about was the Catch 22. Not the horrific rape in the novel, nor the cheeky ending of the movie, but rather the simpler themes: contradictions, not knowing who the enemy is, greed, corruption, you know, the stuff that all Arsenal supporters dream about these days.
It’s a strange time to love football if you’re an Arsenal fan.
Do you love the thump of a boot hitting a ball or do you love to be proven right about how some player is shit in front of 10,000 people on twitter? Do you love a perfectly weighted ball and an Arsenal player bursting into space behind the defense or do you love to talk about players acquisitions and amortization schedules?
Ah, but therein lies the Catch 22 — you can’t be an Arsenal supporter right now and escape the daily drone about footballing finances, amortization schedules, and the one-upmanship of people being proved right in the myriad forums about how your favorite player is utter shit or how their favorite player would certainly improve the team.
This happens because Arsenal have to be the most covered team in the history of the sport. Just being in London gets them plenty of press and on top of the professional journalists, every fan has a blog. Most blogs have multiple writers. The fans all have twitter accounts. And the ones without blogs or twitter comment on other people’s blogs. Or at the very least they comment on the Arsenal.com itself.
But the Catch-22 here is that the more people cover the Arsenal the less we actually fucking know. You probably know that Arsenal have money in the bank. Do you know why? Read that again. Do you know why? No, you don’t. Maybe that’s the money that Arsene Wenger is banking to pass on to Pep Guardiola so that he can bring in his own set of players? Hadn’t thought of that possibility? Oh well, now you have and know this: I don’t know that’s what they are doing with that money any more than you or anyone else knows that Arsenal’s board and manager are just a bunch of greedy cunts who only value money over trophies. Or whatever it is that you think you know about the hearts of men.
This age of hypercoverage of the game ironically abstracts us from the actual game. So much so that here I am moaning about the moaning about the moaning. Catch-22, you can’t write about the Arsenal without writing about the people writing about the Arsenal. Or can you?
What about yesterday’s game? How did I feel that Arsenal got a 3-3 draw at home to Fulham?
Giroud’s first goal left me with my jaw on the floor. An imperious header from a player who is coming into form, sure, but also the type of goal that I have been waiting for Arsenal to start scoring: a goal from a drawn up set play. In the last few years I’ve felt like Arsenal waste their corners and that if anything, a corner kick by Arsenal was a great chance for the opposition to counter attack. Giroud’s perfectly timed leap and Walcott’s perfectly whipped corner was exactly the kind of goal that will put opposition defenses on their back heel.
The second goal was a huge relief. Podolski has been struggling to get service at Arsenal and yesterday’s match was no different. Arteta made just two passes to Podolski all game and it feels weird to see this player who is Arsenal’s most clinical finisher being denied the ball time and again whilst simultaneously being asked to defend against opposition fullbacks who have been encouraged to attack down his side. But it was a great move from Arteta that set the goal up and a purely finishers finish. It was his first shot in what seemed like ages and such a lovely little touch from Podolski to put it past Schwarzer that I cracked a big smile for him.
It was at that point that I laughingly said to myself “ok, guys, just 4 more goals and we’ve got this!” And that’s when I noticed that this team seems to be trying new things. Case in point, I thought they were trying to sit back in two banks of four and defend the lead against Fulham. I can’t remember the last time that I saw an Arsenal team do that. The Invincibles? Yeah.
The Invincibles. If my memory serves, they didn’t care as much about possession stats or passing the opposition to death. I mean, they could if they wanted, but it wasn’t an integral part of the defensive setup. They, kind of, played how they wanted.
Every time I saw them drop into a perfectly aligned 4-4-2 I cracked a smile. Wenger, that old dog, was showing us a new trick.
My smile didn’t last long. Fulham earned a corner and rather than a well worked set piece, just kind of flopped the ball into the Arsenal defense where no one save Berbatov got a head onto it. The “what am I supposed to do” look by Sagna was followed with replays that clearly show that Berbatov got away with shoving Sagna off the ball while in the air. And left me wondering if that’s not a foul then I’m not sure what is, ever. I didn’t once think that any of the defenders should have done better, all I could see was the foul on Sagna.
From that point on I felt the err of inevitability, that Fulham would get a draw from Arsenal. Berbatov setting up the second was a bit of a downer. Podolski showed what he means when he complains that he’s not a winger as Berba beat him to a simple through ball and dropped a lovely pass to Kacaniklic who headed the ball precisely as you are told to: down and as hard as you can. Mannone got a hand on the header but couldn’t keep it out.
If anything, Arsenal seemed a bit lucky to end that first half just at 2-2 and that gave me hope they would start the second half better. They didn’t. If anything they were worse at the start of the second than the end of the first. Everything was being forced right and Fulham were attacking down the middle with aplomb, exposing Arteta’s lack of pace and defensive awareness. I felt bad for Arteta, who kept having his opposite number dribble right past him and several times was caught behind in the midfield.
So, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Arteta dawdled on the ball a moment too long in defense and compounded his error by bundling Ruiz over in the box after the Fulham midfielder stole a march on him. Phil Dowd sure saw that foul and pointed to the spot immediately.
Have I ever told you that I think they should ban players who stutter-step run up to take a penalty? Straight red card for me, every time. For cuntery. And if that’s not in the rule book then we should petition FIFA to add it: Law 18 — no cuntery on penalty kicks. That would outlaw the stutter run and the most disgusting penalty of all that horrible chip that people do now. The referee would brandish a red card and say “sorry son, next time try not to take a penalty like a cunt.”
From there I always felt like Arsenal were going to win it. Giroud had looked lively all day so when the ball finally went to the left side of the pitch and Cazorla played an inch-perfect ball to Giroud who was in miles of space, I nearly pissed myself with excitement. Then Giroud hit the post and I nearly died of the let-down. Two wildly divergent emotions followed by the third of joy as Theo latched onto the rebound and put in a perfect little chip which Giroud powered home.
“You know,” I thought, “for all that Theo complains about wanting to play centrally he’s really fucking good out on the wing.” Think about it for a second, his service to Robin and now Giroud is really critical to Arsenal’s offense.
There wasn’t much time to reflect on the goal though as Arsenal now had the bit between their teeth and started pounding shot after shot at Fulham. The Cottagers did well to keep Arsenal quiet until virtually the last kick of the game and Arshavin earned Arsenal a penalty when his cross hit Reither in the arm. “Harsh” was my first thought “but fuck it, it’s payback for their first goal” was my second.
Arteta stepped up to take the penalty and I immediately felt like he would miss. How does that work anyway? How can I feel something so certainly? There wasn’t any perceptible change in his body shape or anything, but the feeling was there in my guts like a kick in the nuts. And the heartbreak came. The final whistle blew. And Arsenal had another poor result under their belt for this season.
That’s where I should have turned the TV off, turned the computers off, and gone and done something with my day. But I didn’t because of the final Catch-22: we all want someone to commiserate with after a game like that. So I turned to the internet and the echo-chamber that is the Arsenal’s fanbase at the moment.
The noise was deafening. People want Arsene Wenger replaced. They want a new owner. They want to spend some fucking money. They want to have a protest. They want to boycott games. They will ban anyone who talks about firing the manager. On and on, such an outpouring of anger and vile bitterness toward the board, owner, manager, and players the likes of which I haven’t seen since well, last year.
Good luck with all that, folks. Me, I’d like to just enjoy the games a bit. And I know “how can you enjoy watching your team drop two goals twice in a week?” I can’t. But I enjoy all this talk about protests and firing Arsene Wenger even less. Arsenal are a weird team, that lacks consistency and has a hallmark of defensive frailness — this week. Last week it was a lack of offense. The week before, it was a lack of effort. Like I said, inconsistency. So, sure, get back some consistency by firing the manager.