Thursday, 2 October 2008

Endgame revisited

I have just looked back at my posts from August. Have a look at the 'Endgame?' one. I now discount my 'fear' projections: except for the signings of new players, I think that pretty much every one of the 'upside' list will be fulfilled this season - I especially think the Vela/ Bendtner combination is going to be excellent. That includes the departure of Arsene in a couple of years; I think he'll go at the end of his contract in 2011, most likely. I expect the Arsenal to go to Sunderland this weekend and win; and win well.

Stand Up

This summer I've been working on my family history. Going back to great-grandparents and further back, the Carter family came from the North Essex coast; the Bennions from Lancashire, and I think the Monks also hailed from Essex. But the Bakers, the Staples's, the Costens and the Pikesleys all came from London: and not any old part of London. They're all North Londoners, from Pancras district, and from Islington: from Camden Town, from St Pancras, from Caledonian Road and Pentonville. My maternal great-grandfather George Staples and his mother lived in Judd Street, just off the Euston Road, in 1891; my paternal great-grandmother Annie Pikesley lived on Tonbridge Street, which backs onto Judd Street, in the same year. It's little wonder, with all that North London blood and Thames water flowing in my veins, that I support Arsenal.
This has made me reassess, partly, my relationship to the team. Supporting the Arsenal was never an act of choice, of course; my Uncle Allan (Dad's brother) took me to Highbury back in 1975, and the team claimed me as a Gooner then. But now I realise that the Arsenal are part of my North London psychic furniture, although the team didn't move to North London until 1913 and my forebears, if they had followed football at all (quite possible, as they were railway workers, delivery drivers, domestics) might well have been Tottenham supporters.
No matter.
In a sense, then, I can no more give up on the Arsenal than I can give up on my family. But, as I couldn't stand living in London today, although it has a special place in personal and family mythologies and I like to visit it, I can't stand living with Arsenal day-to-day, but I like to visit them (symbolically). So, when they lost at home to Hull last Saturday, I groaned inwardly but got on with what I was doing; when they waltzed past Porto, playing some marvellous football, I went to bed happy and entertained but not aghast at the 4 chances from inside the 6-yard box missed, and not euphoric that the 'real Arsenal' had stood up.
Because this is the real Arsenal. When the first team's age is in the low twenties; when the hysterical Gallas is captain; when there is such a wealth of extraordinary talent in the club that complacency must be a constant temptation; when the entirety of the team (except for Toure and Cesc) has been changed since the 2006 Champions League final defeat; when nothing has been won since 2005; when all these are true, there is going to be inconsistency, there is going to be frustration, there are going to be inexplicable defeats as well as astonishing victories. I expect us to play well against Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool this year, but don't think we can win the league becuase the team is not ruthless enough against teams they are expected to beat: West Brom (lucky win), Fulham (defeat), Hull (defeat). This team do have mental strength: coming back from the Hull game to beat Porto in the way they did expresses that well enough. But they don't have the concentration, or not consistently enough, to win the league.
They might win the Champions League, though.
So, I now think: sit back, watch, enjoy the fabulous football. George Graham's Arsenal won FA Cup and League Cup in 1993, and the Cup Winner's in 1994: but would I rather watch a winning '93 Arsenal, or the current side? No contest. Winning isn't everything, and we should take the long view. Arsene remade the club and the team (several times), and this is the most beautiful incarnation yet. I needn't ask the question: ou sont les Steve Walfords d'antan?