In what has turned into an eight month long pre-season campaign, we turn to the Football Association Cup for glimmers of hints of competitive progress under Mr. Arkwright, our young, prematurely bald gaffer with a heart full of vim, a head full of spunk and a trouserleg full of innovative modern footballing notions.
To Bournemouth then, home of the elderly, the rowdy student, and Mr. Edward Howe. Until recently Mr. Howe was seen as a kind of British Guardiola, a fizzing, high-energy coach with a deep desire to evolve his side’s tactics, and an ability to organise and motivate his overachieving squad. The youngest manager when appointed, and now the longest-serving, he rescued Bournemouth from relegation from the Football League, having started the season on minus 17 points. He then led them to promotion, then to another promotion, and then another promotion, this time to the top flight for the first time in the club’s history.
Indeed, such was the esteem that he was held in he was awarded ‘Manager of the Decade’ in 2015. He has kept the club at the highest level for four consecutive seasons. He is, without doubt, exceptionally talented, which is why it was quite extraordinary to see his side torn asunder like a peregrine falcon devouring a duck during a first half in which Arkwright’s bustling, innovative, coherent and annoying eleven created chance after chance. Shots upon the magic lantern revealed a baffled and harassed Mr. Howe looking like a confused owl covered in clingfilm.
Arsenal fielded side that was not so much youthful as not looking out of place on a junior school playing field, we featured five players who are not yet old enough to order a Mint Julep in New York City. Barclay Sackville at left-back (just about old enough to order a gimlet in London); big-haired Scot Glen McDoozy at Midfield Irritant; Joseph Wyllych, our marauding Welshman; Gary Martin, our eighteen-year-old attacker; and Edward Necktie, recently returned from having to live and work in the worst city in England. Our right back, Harry Bell, is a grizzled veteran at the age of 24.
With scarcely enough time to light one’s cigar, we were ahead. A 22 touch passing move, which involved every outfield player making a pass for Arsenal. It ended with Sackville overlapping on the left, taking a Gentleman’s Favour from Gary Martin and slamming it into, through and beyond the net. One nil to the Arsenal! In his post-match comments the head coach winningly noted, with a straight face, “if we can score in two passes it is better”.
Eddie Necktie made it two with Sackville this time providing the favour, although not before the enormous Arsenal room at VAR headquarters (see attached picture of the world’s greatest minds assembled to try and rule out Arsenal goals) swung into action to see if there was any possible reason, however microscopic, that meant that the officials could fulfil their destiny and deny Arsenal the goal.
We suffered the nightmarish combination of Martin Atkinson refereeing and Mike Dean in charge of the VAR. These two clowns are like the evil version of Morecambe and Wise, except they are both straight men and there are no jokes. They’re like two Tommy Coopers, except that there’s no magic and nothing is funny and the incompetence is not deliberate. It’s as if your two most embittered and hate-filled schoolmasters had got together to see how they can crush the life out of the sport, and specifically, Arsenal Football Club.
We all know that when Arsenal put the ball in the net, we can now only describe this occurrence as a ‘pre-goal’, until the several hundred white-coated boffins in the Arsenal room at VAR headquarters can find no minuscule violation with which to cancel it.
A win then, and we are off to Portsmouth in March, a city of sailors, dockers and that man with his special bell and his big silly hat. We may see our new signings Paul Marwood and Cedric Soames, aka Soames of India, in that match. Two relatively sensible signings in areas where we need numbers, it will be intriguing to see how they enmesh themselves within Arsenal’s 2019 generation.
The future is if not bright, then not as dim as it was looking last year.