The Arsene that Laughs Last, Laughs Loudest

“If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?” — Poet William Shakespeare, who was no doubt actually speaking to Arsene Wenger.

Forget what you think you know, everything you know, about revenge. Sometimes, it’s all you’ve got left. And considering the sorry state in which Arsenal currently finds itself, I would maintain that revenge may just prove to be the last, best option.  Like many of you, I have invested much of my available free time studying yesterday’s heartbreaking loss to Swansea. I’ve analyzed it, I’ve read the analyses of others. I’ve read the trascripts of the press conferences. I’ve done thousands of push-ups and run miles and miles in the rain in a desperate attempt to cool off.  At a bare minimum, the loss was an unfortunate reminder that the Gunners are probably not going to make it into the top four. At worst, it was a wake-up call to those of us who needed a reason to believe in miracles and failed to get one.

Nevertheless, I have learned to view sports differently than I once did when I was much younger and ignorant. I realize now that sometimes, you have to accept a loss with some semblance of dignity and take a win where you can find it, if you can find it.  I understand implicitly that, in every sporting competition, there is going to ultimately be an inevitable winner and loser, and a tie is barely even acceptable.  Yes, in case you didn’t know, our beloved Gunners have lost yet again. We will not make it into the top four, and some of our most hated adversaries, our arch-enemies, will dominate the Premiere League yet again. The Undertaker is at the door, telling us that death is imminent, and for that reason, he needs to go ahead and measure us so he’ll know how to build our coffin.

Can there possibly be reason to be optimistic? Indeed, my friends, there is, and a darn good one at that: REVENGE.

Oh yes, sweet revenge. On Sunday, January 22, 2012, even the United States will broadcast the big match-up between Arsenal and Manchester United. Everyone and their mother knows that Manchester United is universally accepted as the most popular team in the world (thanks in large part to pretty-boy David Beckham, who is not only no longer even with Man. U. but failed to live up to the hype at L.A. Galaxy, where it was assumed he would single-handedly boost the popularity of the MLS.) The bottom line is, Manchester United is currently in second place (just behind Manchester City), and even though Arsenal may not have had the winning season we all would have dreamed of having, this is a win that will still count.

Arsenal has had to suffer the sting of two consecutive defeats—one at the hands of Swansea, one at the hands of Fulham. Being completely dominated and man-handled leaves one feeling like a battered victim of a heinous crime, but the fact remains that everyone perceives the losses as avoidable, as if the games were practically given away. Some even seem to be implying that Arsene is throwing the games for some diabolical purpose I can’t begin to imagine.

If you followed any of the post-match coverage following the Swansea-Arsenal debacle, you already know that Wenger is doing everything he can to mitigate the circumstances, trying to bandage wounded egos and rally the troops a week before Manchester United arrives at Emirates. Wenger’s words are brilliant in their simplicity: “wake up and focus.” It just doesn’t get any clearer, any more clean-cut than that.

Any of us that have ever had a coach have heard the same thing a million times. No one enjoys a loss, and some people have a much more challenging time accepting defeat than others. The mark of a true warrior is not necessarily always how many victories you have under your belt, but rather how one picks himself up after a defeat and continues to fight.

Just seconds ago, I read an article by Nick Webster on the Fox Soccer website. Nick, who I’m sure is a nice enough bloke, took the liberty as a fellow sports writer and close follower of the Premiere League to “grade” the teams in the Premiere League based upon the season to date, paying particular attention to recent performances. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but Nick, in his divine omniscience, gave Manchester United an “A+.” Naturally, he gave Arsenal an “F.” I guess we’re just going to have to agree to disagree. But, for what it’s worth, it will make an Arsenal victory over Man. U. that much sweeter. In Nick’s opinion, Arsenal is becoming “a laughing stock.” Remember, he who laughs last laughs best, Nick.

The last time Arsenal went up against Manchester United, I think we all know the result. Manchester United played as if their very lives were at stake, and when the dust cleared, the Gunners had been handed their arses on a platter. I doubt there’s a single player in Arsenal’s line-up that has been able to forget about that defeat, and you know the numbers 8-2 are going to be repeated countless times before Sunday’s match. I don’t know whether to equate a beating like that to a slaughter, but I don’t know that there’s a more effective word for articulating it.

Arsene Wenger’s young squad is in a bad way, and you know the Arsenal desperately need a reversal of fortune. Hardly anyone will expect Arsenal to put up much of a struggle against Manchester United, much less trot off the pitch with a decisive victory. But don’t count out the Gunners just yet. Revenge is a good motivator, and if Arsenal focuses its frustration, channels it and allows it to transform into anger, then perhaps next Sunday will provide the opportunity we so desperately need. The Gunners need to maintain their composure, make the right decisions, and okay, I’ll just go ahead and say what we’re all wanting: kick some serious Manchester United arse. Fans would do well to wake up and focus as well.

I’ve visited a handful of Manchester United fan-pages and news sites, and trust me, no one is expecting much of a fight from Arsenal. That’s right, I said no one. Including Arsenal fans. My fellow Arsenal fans have thrown the team under the metaphorical bus, and I hate to say it, but that’s just not right. Arsene Wenger is getting blamed for seemingly all of the team’s faults, and I dare say, I haven’t seen as many people calling for a person to be burned at the stake since, oh, the Salem Witch Trials.

In the United States, hardly anyone cares about football (what the Yanks still affectionately refer to exclusively as “soccer”), and trust me, you’re not going to see coverage of the Barclay’s English Premiere League. But this coming Sunday, there will be televisions all across the U.S.A. tuned to the Manchester United game against the Arsenal, and I may be the only guy in the pub actually pulling for the Arsenal, but that’s okay. That just means I’ll be the only one celebrating an improbable Arsenal win. And all the fair-weather Arsenal fans that are caught out in public strategically wearing their stand-by Manchester United kit will have to rush home to exchange it for their Arsenal kit to save face. If you’re reading this, and you’re offended by that, then you know who you are.

On a final note, I actually stumbled across a site which has taken it upon itself to place Arsene on a suicide watch, and considering the season to date, his current probability of committing suicide is in the “moderate-and-climbing” range. Aside from the sheer absurdity of such an analysis, I don’t blame Arsene for being depressed, or frustrated. But I’m willing to believe the old Frenchman has a few tricks up his sleeve yet, and in the grand scheme of things, I would say Fate owes Arsene and the Arsenal a win. I haven’t been doing much betting lately (probably because I’m broke), but if I put a single dollar down on next week’s Manchester United match-up against Arsenal, my money’s on the Gunners. If little shepherd-boy-who-would-be-king David could beat Goliath, then Arsene’s squad can beat Manchester United. And when Arsene laughs, I will be laughing right along with him.

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