Arsenal: Sacrificing Style For Silverware

A new generation of kids were fed their first dose of Great Britain’s unimaginative education system this week. The opportunity to bowl over new startled faces with crazy science experiments came and went. Blowing things up in the playground or ripping apart the insides of a rat were replaced with lab rules and safety guidelines. Looking around the class it was easy to spot the ones who will be drawn into the importance of grades and bled dry of any creativity they might have stepped in with on their first day of school. My mind drifted to Arsenal where inventiveness comes first.
Is this the year though for the Gunners to relinquish some of their originality and become more like the downtrodden slaves of that science classroom, led to believe results are everything? Chelsea are the champions of England but come under regular criticism from people who claim their football is boring. They may have put six goals past West Brom, although even then I was falling asleep watching the monotony of safe passes and retention football. It was the opening week of the Premiership and I was supposed to be animated. I wasn’t, and so I flicked over from ESPN’s coverage at Stamford Bridge to Coast with Neil Oliver on the BBC.
Arsenal are to football what Neil Oliver is to the BBC: unrestrained. With his long black William Wallace style hair, Oliver is probably about as outrageous and individual as the Beeb will ever get. Many Arsenal fans are proud of The Gunners’ own footballing individuality, a kind of freedom Arsene Wenger has strived to keep alive in his own Braveheart style battle against the rest. Yet the idealism of fast attacking football has been their downfall once to often. The importance of defending is sometimes forgotten altogether, none more so than away at Wigan last season in one of the most embarrassing instances as an Arsenal fan.
It’s not so much about giving up entertaining football, nor does boring football necessarily bring about results. The greatest title winning squad of Arsenal’s past have usually earned their accolades for the quality football they have played along the way. And it can be done again. This time however, more than ever, with Arsenal under so much pressure to bring silverware to the Emirates, it might be about finding the right equilibrium. Some of Arsenal’s most impressive victories in recent years have come about when a balance of attacking and defending has been found. AC Milan and Real Madrid for example, in that famous Champions League run of 2006 were two of the most accomplished conquests under Wenger.
Even this early on in the season it’s safe to say you are being entertained watching Arsenal. Would you give up a large chunk of that absorbing football for a chance to gloat over a trophy? A funny experience with a cab driver at the weekend helped me lean towards preserving the way Arsenal play at all costs. He was your typical larger-than-life cockney firing off one-liners. “I never had to use my brain since I left school. I was a plasterer. All I know is how to make things flat … Whenever a kid gets killed he was always gonna be an astronaut, never an arsonist … If I won the lottery, I mean proper won it, like £150 mil, I’d pay someone to follow Bob Geldoff around and give him agro.”
Most of the time he would be looking into the back seat of his black cab, fixed on his new crowd and not on the road ahead. It’s no wonder we went the wrong way. Perhaps he wasn’t title winning material but he was definitely entertaining and would be my preferred choice of cab driver from the pub any chosen night. So I ask you again, who would you rather be? Sad case year seven kid with all top marks and no personality? Or crafty cockney with an adventurous take on life but perhaps a little less in the trophy cabinet?
THE ARSENAL

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