Every few days I go into my kitchen and pull out a little decomposition notebook, open the book to the same page, and read my notes. Then I grab some bread flour, whole wheat flour, wheat germ, honey, butter, yeast, and salt and place them next to my scale and my bowl on my baking table.
This morning I carefully measured 250g of bread flour, 240g of whole wheat, 10g of wheat germ, and 8g of Kosher salt into my bowl. Then I melted a stick of butter, put 50g of honey into the pot and poured that into a bowl. I filled the bowl with water until the total came to 450g. I poured the liquid into the flour, added a teaspoon of yeast (5g or so) and mixed with my hands.
The dough is warm and sticky at first but as you mix, you stretch the gluten strands and it starts to become more cohesive. I splat the ball of dough on the counter, slide my fingers gently under one side, lift, turn, and flick the dough onto the counter, holding one end and letting the other end go oblong — like Gene Simmons flicking out his tongue. I then stretch the dough in my hands over the top of the part on the counter and wrap it neatly, like swaddling a baby. Repeat this until the dough starts to firm up and become elastic. It will still be oddly wet, but not sticky. Then you know the gluten has worked hard enough and needs a rest.
Home bread baking is often mistaken for a science but it is actually more art than science. Don’t get me wrong, there is a science to it and at the highest level, such as in a professional baker’s kitchen where every aspect like temperature and humidity is rigidly controlled, bread baking is almost pure science. But for us amateurs, we have a set list of ingredients and after that we have to be able to adapt to the conditions. Not all flour is exactly the same, for example. Even two bags labeled “bread flour” might contain different levels of protein (gluten) and require different levels of hydration to open the gluten up.
Kneading the dough as well is not something I can tell you to do a certain number of times or for some definite period of time. You knead the dough until the gluten tells you it’s ready.
And for me there’s an art to making your own signature loaf. That is what I’m doing with this loaf of bread above. I am perfecting the ingredients, the taste, the texture, the baking time, and all of the aspects of the bread to make my daily bread.
Football is a lot like bread baking. As a manager, you’re trying to make your version of the perfect loaf of bread, except you have a lot of factors that are out of your control. To make a basic football team you have to take 500g of fowards, 700g worth of midfielders, and 1000g of defenders and mix them all up. Sprinkle in a few of your own touches like a dash of Sanchez or a slice of Welbeck and as long as you bought top quality ingredients throughout you have the recipe for a pretty delicious bread.
But whatever you do, don’t forget to add an ingredient or use an ingredient that has gone stale. For example, the one guy on a football team who is crucial to the success of that team is probably your defensive midfielder. He’s the guy who starts your attacks, he takes care of the ball, he wins the ball back, and he covers for the other defenders when they go forward looking for a goal. People used to see this position as the water, pretty much any water will do. But it’s not like that any more. Now days this central midfielder is one of the most important players on the field.
If football is like making yeast bread, I think the defensive midfielder is the yeast. He eats all your sugars, creates the gases that in turn give your bread lightness and texture. Your loaf rises and falls on the strength of that yeast.
And if you go into the season stating that you want to make a recipe for yeast bread then you better damn well have some yeast. Fresh yeast. Good yeast. Yeast that’s ready to take on the challenge of a rather tough loaf. What you don’t do is try to make a loaf of bread with some tired old yeast. You throw that out and get some new yeast.
Right now we all know that Flamini’s old yeast makes for a rather dense, flat, and tasteless loaf. The bottle of Arteta yeast is better but it’s also old and there isn’t much left. You need enough yeast to make 60 loaves. Arteta isn’t going to make more than 25 and probably only 20 good ones.
It’s inconceivable that a baker of Wenger’s stature, a guy who worked with Parlor and Vieira, would think “I guess I’ll just make do with Flamini.” And don’t give me this line about how you can’t just buy yeast. Yes you can. You can buy anything. Arsenal have money in the bank and a surplus of attacking players. If you want yeast, you can buy some yeast. If you have to sell one of the dozen attacking midfielders who are making up squad numbers then do it. Also, sell Podolski, or let him go on a free, he makes £90k a week, money that could be used for a cake of fresh live yeast. Or maybe Stan Kroenke doesn’t need a £3m dividend?
No, this club has the money. They have more money than they have ever had in the history of the club. If they can’t find players who are better than Flamini it’s not because they don’t have the money. Instead what Arsenal have is a baker who wants to gamble with the old yeast. And so far the product is coming out flat.
The other thing you cannot do with bread is make a number of changes to the wheat and expect the same results. If your recipe calls for an 80kg sack of Per and a 70kg sack of Laurent along side a 50kg sack of Gibbs and a 50kg sack of Chambers you cannot just sub in a handful of Nachos, some Bellerin, and sell it to your customers as if it’s the same loaf as before. Yet, that’s exactly what Wenger said after the game, this is the same flour he was using last year:
Last year we had 17 clean sheets with the same defenders but we have not started to do that yet. Our defensive efficiency is not there and we cannot survive at the top level by always conceding two goals.
This response was really worrying. Does Wenger not notice that he has used eight different types of flour to make his first 12 loaves of bread? I don’t even know if Wenger is using flour in his loaves any more. Nacho and Gibbs have been so hit and miss all season that I’m thinking they might be some of that gluten free crap.
For example, in the Hull game Nacho was filling in for Koscielny as Arsenal’s bread flour. On the first Hull goal he is facing up with Diame and makes what could be generously described as a limp challenge. He dangles a leg out, then decides better of it and winces away as Diame strides past him. Bread flour’s gluten provides the structure to your loaf. Limp and lifeless, Nacho isn’t bread flour, he’s gluten free almond flour and you cannot make bread without bread flour, folks. I don’t care what those Glutenfreegan charlatans say, that’s not bread.
And finally, yet another mistake that amateur bread bakers make is that they think they can “switch off” during the rise, the proof, and the baking. Nothing could be worse. It may take time to rise your dough but you cannot simply let a dough rise on the counter and go shopping. If you switch off at this final stage before baking and let the loaf over-proof you get a crust-fallen loaf of bread. I see a loaf like this and I hear the Price is Right loser’s horn. The same horn I hear when an Arsenal midfielder holds his hands up and says “who was supposed to cover that guy? ME? No, I’m an attacking player.”
Unfortunately, Arsenal seem to be switching off so much that I’m not even sure they know where the on button is any more. As I detailed in my post about Arsenal’s set play woes, time and again Arsenal simply relax on set plays. But really, it’s not just set plays, this happens all the time at Arsenal.
Against Hull it happened again, Wilshere was supposed to cover for Gibbs on Hull’s second goal. Tom Hundredstone isn’t the lightest bun in the basket and I doubt he is capable of speeding past anyone down the sideline. Wilshere’s job, as a midfielder, is to cover his midfield runners. He should have been there to challenge Huddlestone on the cross. He wasn’t, they scored.
I could go on with this analogy for another 1000 words, that’s how many problems there are. But what I find most disturbing is that playing football “like Arsenal” used to be something teams aspired to. After today’s 2-2 draw against West Brom, Robbie Earle said that Manchester United are playing football “a little bit like Arsenal.” It was a harsh burn on our loaves.
But it’s no less than Arsenal deserve. Arsenal have been the whipping boys of the top clubs for years and now even the little clubs have figured out how to play against Arsenal. It’s so obvious now how to beat Arsenal that Pep Guardiola authorized the Telegraph to publish an exclusive breakdown on how he prepared his team to beat Arsenal.
Arsenal look like a team which has run out of ideas, lack discipline, are broken with injury, have a crazily cobbled together recipe for making a team, and ultimately already look like we are running out of steam. And it’s only October.
As Arsenal fans we’ve blamed the players (Denilson, Podolski, Arshavin, etc), we’ve blamed the board (no money), we’ve blamed the physios (how did they miss that injury?), we even blame each other (no wonder Gervinho has no confidence what with you slagging him off on that forum). But we change those parts and yet the same problems remain.
Could the problem be with the guy writing the recipe? The guy buying the ingredients? The guy baking the bread?
Could the problem be Arsène Wenger?
P.S. I baked a nice loaf of bread today. No, I don’t want to be Arsenal’s baker.