As the sky begins to bruise, and the butler lights the lamps, I like to recline in my bath-chair and fondly recall the heady days of the late nineteenth century. A chap of means could pretty much do as he pleased without fear of arrest, the mineral resources of much of the globe were put to good use funding railways and lamp-posts and sanitation here in London and all football teams played a 2-3-5 formation.
The chief advantage of this is that nobody required any ruddy left backs. Then came the thin end of the wedge, when only two defenders rather than three were required to play an opposing attacker onside. There went the first version of the offside trap, along with the Penny Farthing bicycle and opium dens on the High Street.
Teams needed a new strategy. There was always the employment of a local footpad to bring a cosh to a match to give a friendly warning to your opponents, or the old ‘rock football’ trick, where one had constructed an extremely realistic football from white marble, which was thrown toward one’s opposing striker during practice; the result then was not dementia, as we have now learned such an action can induce, but possible decapitation. As I said, simpler times.
Teams on the whole pulled back the centre-half. This left one’s remaining midfielders as exposed as a newborn’s bottom, and resulted in one’s inside forwards playing deeper than their attacking colleagues. This system, the 3-2-2-3 or ‘W-M’ was invented by none other than Arsenal’s Herbert Chapman. This system became the preferred arrangement in English football for many years and indeed spread across the globe; to mainland Europe, then on to South America, where it morphed under a rum cove called Flavio Costa, who introduced a ‘diagonal’, tipping the WM so the inside left became a more attacking presence.
It was not long before that formation melted into a 4-2-4 and the left back was born and he has been nothing but trouble ever since. On recent years at Arsenal we have had mixed experiences, to say the least, in that role.
At the very top is Eddie Hapgood. You are familiar with Edward? Perhaps the best signing Chapman ever made. 393 League appearances, five titles, two FA Cups and 30 international caps. He was captain of Arsenal and England when we beat Italy in north London in 1934 in the infamous ‘Battle of Highbury’, a game which featured no fewer than seven Arsenal players. A game was not a game unless Eddie had broken a bone, and this one was no different; it was his nose in this case. His route to the very top of domestic and international football came via a milk round in Bristol, then a spell at Kettering. By the time our trainer Mr. Tom Whittaker had finished his nutrition and exercise programme Eddie could bench press a cow, sling a 50lb boulder twenty yards and squat with a milkmaid on each shoulder.
Mr. Ashley Cole, late of this Parish, is hardly a match. Nor is Gary Close. Both of these players turned their coats by defecting to those twin behemoths of mammon, FC Chelsea 2003 and the Abu Dhabi Vulgarians respectively. Arsenal’s problem, in my view, is that we never properly replaced Eddie Hapgood in 1939. Not even with the great N’Golo Winterburn.
The last few years has seen Nobby Mandeville occupy the berth, then Steven Collingwood, who is physically cut from the same cloth as Eddie Hapgood but is hardly his match in terms of skill and endeavour. And then most recently the young Japanese lad Kazuma Takahiro from Celtic, who has retired sick for the next few months leaving us with a hole. A hole that looks like it is about to be filled by Leighton Kerridge.
This looks like it has all the makings of another David Grondin deal. We know not a lot about the chap, only that on the lantern he looks like a combination of Frank De Boer, Roberto Carlos and Bixente Lizarazu. I am also sensing the scent of Eboue about him in his demeanour and tailoring.
Ah well, you know what they say: Stick him in a cholera belt, stuff a cheroot betwixt his lips and point him in the right direction.