The ineluctable modality of the Arsenal


Never mind a DVD of goals of the season, the corporate merchandise I most want to see right now is a compendium of self-induced footballing implosions, what future generations might refer to as ‘arsenalisations’. It would review the variable confection of sendings-off, long term injuries, defensive panic, own goals which characterise the era of late Wenger. The hyperventilation which greets counterattacks by the opposition – as if Arsenal’s midfield had never experienced an aggressive driving run beyond the centre circle, as if its defence had never seen a cross looping fast into the penalty area. The counterpoint to this nerve-shredding is Arsenal’s current stock in trade, the autistic probing in the opponent’s third of the pitch which deadens the supporter’s soul with its inane repetitiveness. Like a blind man fumbling for a keyhole.  Which doesn’t exist.

It is the most inoffensive mode of attack in contemporary football.

Yesterday, Arsenal were tearing into a uniquely weak Man United, occasionally finding space  to shoot directly at De Gea – and thus affording lazy journalists their ‘narrative’ of the game as one of resolute defending and ruthless counterattack. Additions from this match to my DVD – working title ‘Arsene’s Greatest Arsenalisations’  – Wilshere who was playing like a coked-up teenager eventually ploughed into Fellaini and seemingly got his ankle broken. Szczęsny smashed up his own ribs by clattering into Gibbs, with the floored and dazed defender then diverting a cross into his own net.

The ineluctable modality of the visible: the third chapter of Ulysses begins with the condensed cogitations of Stephen Dedalus’s mind. The material world is inevitably mediated by the eye’s diaphane, so we don’t grasp the substance of the object of our gaze but only its form as conjured by our imagination.  Arsene Wenger is football’s philosopher of subjective idealism: the world is only real insofar as he has perceived it; it is the lodestone, the key, to both his rise and of his fall.

So hapless events befalling his side, so recurrent as to feel inevitable are, in Wenger’s reality, merely incidental – insofar as they occur at all:

  • Rooney will always score against Arsenal.
  • Arsenal will not be able to score from a corner.
  • Ramsey will shoot over the bar.
  • Wilshere will hunker down and run at a crowd of defenders with those flailing arms, fall over and throw nonplussed plea at referee who waves on play.
  • Several key players in our small squad will get injured for long stretches of the season. Fringe players on massive salaries inexplicably never get played.
  • Players that we have sold will score against us, but it doesn’t work the other way round.
  • Goalkeepers will play blinders.
  • Stunning free kicks from the most improbable sources will fill our goal.
  • Wenger will draw from a compact lexicon during post match interviews: luck, lack of quality, hard to take, mental strength.
  • We finish fourth so that we can qualify for the champions league and get eliminated in the last 16.

Post-Highbury Arsenal seems less concerned with winning than wanting to preserve their pride, a search for vindication for methods and techniques which won’t deliver. Like Giroud’s preening celebration of his (very good) injury time goal when they still needed another to get a point. These days they end up with neither.

I am generally obsessed with football, but I lost interest for twice my life, first in the mid-80s and then again in the mid 90s, partly because I had other things on my mind – abortive stint in public school and religion and undergraduate misery – but mainly because Arsenal’s fortunes, in the dogdays of Neill-Howe and George Graham respectively, had become predictable, predictably abject. I realised that my emotional energy could more be efficiently channelled elsewhere.  In the mid Twenty-teens, a football sabbatical may once more be in order. My wife would not object.