Saturday, September 23, 2023

Pre-season starts today

It is the first day of pre-season. A tanned Arsene Wenger arrives at the training ground having spent some glorious days hurtling into the sea down a rubber slide off David Dein’s boat. He remembers the fun times, the sunshine, going “WHHEEEEEEEE!” before splashing into the ocean. But now that’s all done, the serious business of a new season is all-important.

There’s a pile of post on his desk. The usual, bills, more bills, a poorly scrawled postcard from Manchester saying ‘I am sorry boss please take me back, I always felt chinniest at Arsenal’. He laughs, tears it up, puts it in the drawer marked ‘Stuff for my book’.

He drinks a coffee, begins to think about the season ahead. What number will Cech wear? How much time is Calum Chambers going to need with Steve Bould as he’s moulded into a centre-half? Can he continue with Santi Cazorla in midfield? Has Theo signed his new deal yet (the negotiations were intense but the provision of a helicopter and a private beach should swing things)? Why is Flamini?

It’s still early, so the sound of an expensive car of some kind pulling up outside surprises him, but pleases him also. One of them is showing the kind of desire and dedication the whole squad will need if they’re to win the title. He goes back to his planning. Should he pay all that money for Morgan Schneiderlin or is there enough left in Arteta’s legs to provide cover for Coq-


He looks up.


What the hell is that noise? He can’t concentrate. It’s muddling his mind. Szczesny at centre-half. *BANG* Ozil left-back. *BANG* *BANG* Kieran Gibbs as midfield enforcer. *BANG* NO.

His brain is scrambled. He gets up from his seat to try and find out the source of the noise. The training ground is quiet. Colin Lewin is in his office cursing Shad Forsythe (‘Used to be so busy till that American came along. Think they’re so great, making our players all fit and that’ he says as he prepares to slowly overdose one of the youth team with salt just so he can fix him), but other than that there’s nobody around.


Wenger hurries towards the source of the noise. It’s coming from the indoor arena. What if there’s a pipe come lose in the renovations and the place might explode?


He prepares himself for the worst.


This is the club of his life though, and if it’s down to him to fix it, even if it costs him dearly, he’ll do it. He smiles to himself: I played Denilson for years, this sacrifice is nothing compared to that.


The noise is insistent, persistent. It’s getting louder, more frequent.


He reaches the door of the arena, pauses, prepares himself for the worst.


Oh God. He pushes his way in, wincing, ready for an explosion, a gas leak, noxious fumes, sabotage, terrorism, something, anything awful.

“¡Hola Boss!”, says Alexis, still in his Chile kit from Saturday night, a Copa America winners medal around his neck.

“Alexis!”, he says. “Jesus Christ, you scared me”.

“Nobody here,” says the club’s leading scorer from the previous season, “so I play against wall. I’m win but is close!”

“But you shouldn’t be here.”

“Why not?”

“Pre-season is only starting for the players who didn’t have a summer tournament. You’ve been away with Chile all summer. You just played on Saturday night. 120 minutes in an exhausting final before scoring the winner with a cheeky penalty. You need some rest, some time off.”

“No, todo bien!”, he says before launching the ball against the wall, trapping the rebound on his chest and rifling it on the volley into the top corner of the goal 60 yards away.

“Wait Alexis. Listen to me. You have to have a rest. You must go on holidays, relax, let your legs recover, come back stronger. We have a long season ahead. You are bound to be tired both physically and mentally.”

A look of dismay crosses the Chilean’s face.

“Seriously”, says Wenger. “I insist. As your boss I am telling you to take some time off.”

“But … but … football?”, he replies mournfully.

“There will be lots of football. Stop running while I’m talking to you. Get back in your car, go on holidays, try and do nothing for a little while. You will feel the benefit of it, I promise. This is not punishment, it’s for your own good. Understand?”

“Entiendo”, he says downheartedly. He knows his manager is right, but … but … football. However, he understands the need to do what he’s being told to do.

“Ok”, he continues. “I take a little rest.”

“Good”, says Wenger. “Enjoy yourself. Play with your dogs. Do some Instagram videos lip-syncing to your favourite cheesy artists. You have my permission to have fun”.

He takes off his Chile shirt, his perfect nipples capturing the sunlight that is beginning to stream into the arena, and turns towards the exit.

“Hey boss?”, he says, pausing in the doorway.

“What is it?”, says a relieved, but strangely proud, Arsene Wenger.

¡Hasta mañana!”

ps – James is still away on his holidays, so we’ll have an Arsecast Extra for you tomorrow.

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