Big match today, and before I get to the pre-match press conference I just want to say with 100% confidence that my American readers will be able to see the game live and possibly in high definition on your local Fox Sports Net (FSN) affiliate. Fox has pulled out all the stops and are wildly promoting their Champions League coverage with water bottles, mouse pads, USB drives, and tee shirts that look like they were drawn in my daughter’s art class. If that doesn’t work, I hear they’re going to follow up with a whist drive, a car boot sale, and a major, and I mean major… leaflet campaign.
Right, now that that’s sorted and you can even go to one location on Fox’s web site to find out who is carrying which game, it’s time to get on with the match preview.
It’s funny how we get different versions of Wenger depending on the mood of the team and the size of the challenge ahead. In yesterday’s press conference we had a clearly ebullient Arsene Wenger, flying high off his team’s 6-1 destruction of Champions League challengers Everton. This is the fun Wenger to cover, he’s philosophical, funny, and even lets his guard down a bit and we gain some insights into the man.
Now, I may be reading too much into this, but there was a point when he was asked about his system of bringing youth players along where he said a phrase that seemed almost well worn. As if he’d turned this phrase over in his hands many times in the past. He said that there are three things which guarantee success: Talent, Attitude, and Opportunity.
Maybe it’s just coincidence that those three words spell out “Tao” but it’s a bit of a strange coincidence if it is. After all, my own readers have pointed out that there’s some kind of connection between the way that Wenger coaches and the Zen Master Phil Jackson coached the Bulls and the Lakers. Yes, I am aware that Zen and Tao are not the same thing, but you get the point.
There’s still a lot of folks wondering about Wenger’s seemingly endless resolve to create this Arsenal team in his own image. Especially in the face of what has been pretty much ubiquitous criticism of that very system for the last 4 years. Rest assured, Wenger heard it, and promptly ignored it:
My belief (in the team) is full. If I had read, or listened too much to opinions I would not have done what I’ve done.
In so many ways this is possibly the truest measure of the man. I have often called him an iconoclast and occasionally even likened him to the founders of the Punk movement for his stalwart position on how football should be played and how a team should be built; football should be total, attacking, beautiful, even graceful movements. To accomplish this players should be technical, precise, quick, intelligent, confident with the ball, and strong and decisive in the challenge. And in Wenger’s world view, the best way to get players who can achieve that is to make them from scratch which will limit the potentially corrosive effect of negative attitude. Then, you throw them in and give them the chance to show what they are made of, whether that’s a 16 year old given a start in a League Cup match, or sticking to your guns for a whole season in order to grow Song and Denilson, he’s going to present players with chances to prove themselves.
Talent, Attitude, Opportunity.
You have to admit it looks suspiciously like the title of the book he’s going to write when he does retire from the Arsenal.
As for tomorrow’s match, he urged us to remember that though the result was great on Saturday, and though his belief in the team is great, it was but one game. He even claimed to see room for improvement both offensively and defensively. When pressed about Tony Mowbray’s supposed cunning plan and keen insight into Arsenal’s new-found pressing game, Wenger deflected from this single game and talked about the need for defense in general, saying
A team cannot concede 37 goals and win the Premiership, no matter how good they are going forward.
True in the Premier League and actually even more true in the Champions League where one goal in the wrong park can make the difference between moving on or going home.
Despite the talk about defense, I fully expect goals today, Celtic are an attacking team owing to the fact that Tony Mowbray is nearly as much of a footballing philosopher as Arsene Wenger and this should present us with some very real chances to score. Conversely, much has been made of the home field advantage and Arsenal have been susceptible to strong wing play which Celtic have in bounds. Look for the crowd to get to their feet every time a Celtic player bombs down the wings and puts in a nice cross.
Wenger feels, though, that it’s down to Arsenal to control the crowd, and to an extent that’s true.
The atmosphere will be very heated but at the end of the day it’s XI v. XI on the pitch and that’s what matters. We have been all over Europe at very heated places and we know by experience that what will matter is how well we play and so, if we play well we can keep the atmosphere low key. It’s only down to our performance.
As I’ve said before, Arsenal went to Fener and played our game and came away with a 5-2 win and polite applause from what is typically an insanely raucous crowd. I’m not suggesting a similar score line, rather just that an Arsenal goal would go a long way to take some of the wind out of the Celtic crowd.
An average game will not be good enough against Celtic. It is a game we try to win, it’s as simple as that. Because it’s not a game where you can go into it and give 90% and then make up the difference at home.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s an exciting opportunity for Arsene’s current crop of talent and I’m guessing that Wenger has them pulsing with the right attitude.
Talent, Attitude, Opportunity, the Tao of Wenger will be tested today