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I have never understood the oft uttered cliché that ‘life is short.’ If we are to adopt the spectrum of the existence of the universe as a barometer, then sure, human life is short. Humanity itself is a recent phenomenon using that vast apparatus. But it’s hardly a fair measuring scale. By definition, life is the longest, most drawn out thing any person being ever does, no matter how premature the demise may be in comparison with the majority of humans.

I was struck by @arse2mouse’s closing thought in his article about the Cardiff match, pontificating on the form of Wojciech Szczesny. The Pole in the goal is undoubtedly enjoying a purple patch, an almost tangible wisdom permeating his play. Tim C says he felt vindicated by Szczesny’s form because he always thought Wojciech needed to be pushed harder and, in his opinion, dropping him from the starting line up back in March gave him that inspiration. An entirely reasonable, evidenced point.

Conversely, those (like me, I guess) who always felt that the vagaries of time and temperance would redouble Szczesny’s abilities feel vindicated by the patience afforded him. That too, is a reasonable and evidenceable point of view. This, my learned namesake suggests, demonstrates the circuitousness of football arguments. Especially in the ‘I told you so’ age of the internet. But then I got to thinking, aren’t all arguments circuitous? Isn’t all human conversation?

Like I said, life is long. There are 168 hours in a week. Even the most beleaguered company executive will spend less than half of that time working. We need to fill the gaps and what better way to do it than to argue? To impart knowledge, to receive it, to share opinion and to call each other cunts on the internet. As such, the only thing that ever provides a definitive conclusion in life, is death. It’s the only way we can stop bickering with each other. If you’re familiar with the series The Sopranos, just take a look at how the writers decided to end it. There is no such thing as a satisfactory conclusion.

Democratic countries tend to hold general elections every 4 to 5 years, simply as a pressure valve to relieve our incessant bickering. It is part of the human condition. “What does all of this have to do with the price of fish eyed German playmakers?” I hear you cry. Well it is because I’m going to start a circuitous, unsolvable argument and I wanted to justify it by pointing out that, existentially speaking, all arguments are dizzying, unsolvable and ultimately futile. Save for the fact that Moonlight Mile is the best song the Stones ever wrote, which has been proved irrefutably by science.

There is a delightful feeling of optimism at Arsenal at the moment. You feel that with the squad and the resources we have, even if Arsenal don’t win a major trophy this year, we are a force to be taken seriously again in the medium term at least. It reminds me of Arsene Wenger’s first season in a way. We are all so giddy to feel like a competitive force again, that we’re just enjoying the ride. It feels like we’ve marched out of the (relative, well furnished) doldrums and the age of (relative) austerity and into a brave new world.

The club of course, long ago pinpointed 2013-14 as a new age, where the shackles of stadium debt, though not entirely released, would be loosened significantly by the lucre of renewed commercial deals. Loath as I am to look back amidst this feeling of future optimism, the question I want to consider is, was it ever right to doubt Arsene Wenger or to want him sacked? Did doing so, in hindsight, reveal a lack of foresight and perspective? Did he change or did things just change to engender this new optimism?

I would put myself at the more patient end of the scale when it came to my faith in the manager, even leaving aside those that reside in the sewers of the internet – their default setting for everything shouty and sweary. I think most people with critical faculties recognised that a new stadium and a couple of oligarchs were always going to impinge on our ability to win big trophies. Wenger has made mistakes along the way, like every other manager in history.

However, on the Gooner fanzine podcast back in early August, I uttered the words “I think this is Wenger’s last season at Arsenal and that maybe for the best now.” The atmosphere prior to the signing of Özil was feverish and I contemplated whether the emperor’s clothes were becoming tatty and frayed. The capture of the world class German seemed to lift the gloom in the fan base. Yet we were playing well before Özil arrived. This piece
points to the Bayern Munich home game as the dropping of the tactical penny, predicating our current flourish.

“Project youth” was a sound enough theory I felt. Unfortunately it reached this kind of dis-economies of scale, where the young players worth bothering with lost patience with it and left, whilst the constituent parts that weren’t stuck around on big contracts like an unpleasant odour. Maybe the likes of Fabregas and van Persie should have kept patience with Wenger’s long term plan for a year or two longer. Subsequent messes, such as the summer 2011 transfer window, would probably then have never happened.

There again, both may look at their subsequent medals acquired and decide that, as well as Arsenal are playing right now, they were vindicated. (See, circuitous). Is our current shape just an inevitable part of Wenger’s long term vision that many were too blinded by hysteria to see? One of the common complaints levied against him surrounded his alleged stubborn dictatorship on the training ground. A speculative complaint.

Yet it’s hard not to feel that Steve Bould has had some influence over our new, more effective defensive tactics. (Though it’s equally speculative to do so). I’m not suggesting Wenger might have responded directly to the whims of the fans. He’s not that stupid. But did he finally loosen his grip at London Colney with pleasing results? Did he just finally hear an idea worth implementing? Maybe it’s all just a coincidence that we’ve pieced together to suit our respective agendas? Did he change or did things just change?

Likewise with the signing of Özil. Did Wenger change and finally relent with that top class signing we felt was needed? Or did circum$stance$ just change to allow him to do it? We know that there was money at his disposal in previous windows, but it’s surely significant that the club’s messaging around financial largesse was heavily geared towards this summer? It seems faintly ridiculous that musings on the manager’s ability are revised based on the transfer market rather than the football pitch, where Arsenal have been performing for months.

Yet the truth of the modern game is that you simply can’t challenge for big honours without making with the dough. In Sid Lowe’s interview with Santi Cazorla, the Spaniard seemed to suggest that Wenger had changed this season. He spoke about the manager being “more demanding….he’s more on top of us.” You could argue that Arsene’s ‘new seriousness’ is a result of reflection on mistakes past. A conscious refinement.

There again, you could counter that, as purse strings have gradually loosened, he has been able to buy a more experienced level of performer for whom some of the mollycoddling that punctuated ‘project youth’ is no longer necessary. Maybe he knew it was always going to be like this? Whilst cup defeats to the likes of Blackburn, Birmingham and Bradford could never be argued to be ‘part of the plan’, it’s quite likely that much of the last seven years has gone largely as he thought, perhaps without the added trauma of Nasri, Fabregas and van Persie’s unwanted departures. As Spurs are finding, it’s not easy to replace your best player.

Cling onto 4th for a few years to keep the engine ticking over and release the handbrake once the petrol comes pouring into the tank. It sounds so simple, but there were some potholes along the way. Was it ever right to doubt the journey? You’ll notice that I haven’t really reached a definite conclusion. As I said earlier, there really is no such thing anyway. But let’s not let that prevent us from a protracted, internecine argument over the whole thing. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA


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