A FEW weeks ago I had this column more or less written. Arsenal had just smoothed their way to a classy win over Napoli while Barcelona by their impeccable standards had been merely methodical at Celtic Park. This was my stunning theory: The Gunners were the new Barcelona – Ar-celona, indeed – while the Catalans had turned into boring, boring Barsenal.
Then I thought, hmm, maybe too premature. Arsenal fans – proper ones, not those like me who are promiscuous about their support-from-afar for English teams – had probably heard enough false promises and seen enough false dawns and were waiting for definite proof of the great revival. Better leave it a bit, I decided.
And now? Arsenal have seen off Liverpool, their most serious rivals in a category you might call: “Fed up with the Fergie succession, underwhelmed by the Mouinrho pout, tired of all Man City’s money – whatever happened to whatstheirnames?”
They’ve beaten Borussia Dortmund, the Germans it’s cool to like, the teutonic team-of-tomorrow who live behind the – so we thought – impregnable Yellow Wall. A triumph, admitted Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp, of orchestra over heavy metal. Next stop today: Old Trafford.
Well? It’s still early days. The leaves haven’t fallen from all of the trees. Theo Walcott could return from injury, trip over the last leaf and be out for another three months. There could be loss of form, suspensions, more problems with manager Arsene Wenger’s duvet-coat zip. Olivier Giroud will probably need a rest from lone strikering and keeping his hair so immaculate, which would let in superstar-in-his-own-head and a man in serious need of a rug re-think, Nicklas Bendtner. Jack Wilshere could be caught on camera taking snuff. But, as of this moment, aren’t Arsenal a sight for sore eyes?
One small thing. Aaron Ramsey, right, when congratulated on TV for a great performance or a fine goal (invariably both), will say thank you. It’s a pet hate of mine that players and managers frequently don’t. You’d think their dullard media-training would stretch this far. That or basic politeness.
Ramsey, I guess, cannot believe his luck. Everything he touches is turning to goals – screamers like the one against Liverpool. Except it’s not down to luck, rather hard work, courage and belief after a horrific leg-break which had stalled a promising career and threatened to end it. All of these things and the support of a brilliant manager.
Already, because votes are cast so early, there’s talk of Ramsey being Player of the Year. Already there’s talk of those three-heel-flicks-in-row against Norwich, finished off by Wilshere, being Goal of the Season. But this Arsenal – Wegner’s umpteeth re-casting – crave a trophy, a proper grown-up one – and it has to be the Champions League. The manager used to be teased about having no hobbies next to Fergie’s many (save for scouring Sky Sports for a game, any game, from anywhere in Europe). Such devotion to the concept of continental competition deserves its ultimate reward.
The FA Cup used to be a proper, grown-up trophy (it still should be) as it was in 1971 when Scotland’s fitba-denied armchair fans were grudgingly allowed to watch extra-time in the Arsenal-Liverpool final. Wembley’s cabbage patch was bathed in brilliant sunshine and it was still 0-0 – perfect. I didn’t know who I wanted to win. Liverpool scored what seemed like the first goal to beat a goalie at his near post in recorded history. Great! Scottish involvement! Who cared about the ignominy or that Bob Wilson was a sort-of Scot? Then two more Scots, George Graham and Eddie Kelly, fought over who’d netted Arsenal’s equaliser. Then Charlie George got the winner and I didn’t care that he wasn’t in the least bit Scottish, not with that shot or that hair or that take-me-among-the-cabbages celebration. Arsenal were officially my second team.
That was finalised in just half an hour. Almost as quickly, I flitted to Leeds and then Liverpool, to Man U and back to Leeds and back to Liverpool, to Notts Forest and then to no one in particular but never, ever Chelsea, before returning to Man U and sticking with the great, gum-chewing Govan aesthete pretty much for the duration. Sticking like a blob of Bazooka Joe to a red-brick dugout wall, no less.
Curiously, I didn’t drift back to Arsenal, not even during Thierry Henry’s pomp or the unbeaten season of Les Invincibles, but now they’re my other team again. Ar-celona. Let the orchestra play.