Friday, March 21, 2008

UF's Rivalries Series: Chelsea vs. Arsenal

As anyone who follows the EPL will already know, there are several potentially epic matches coming up in the next few weeks between title contenders and lifelong rivals.

In light of this, we here at UF decided to reach out to some longtime fans of the big clubs, asking them to explain what these rivalries mean to them from their perspective.

The series kicks off today with the Chelsea/Arsenal rivalry explained from the blue side of town, and with two essays detailing the Liverpool/Manchester United relationship.

Let the record show that the Arsenal fan for today was unable to participate at short notice, so their side of the story will remain quiet for now. If any serious Gooners fans care to retort, drop us an email to the address in the sidebar to the right, and we'll correct this asap.

In the meantime, I'll let the Chelsea fan, Q aka Autoglass, have the floor.

He grew up in Rochester, NY and had season tickets to the Rochester Lancers. He went to school in Boston, lived in DC, and ended up in New York City, spending ten years in Kinsale and George Keeley's watching the footie with the likes of RZM, Hirshey, Bigus and the lot. Last year he moved to California with the Beckhams.

15 years ago, he became a Blue (that story is for another time), and he enjoys sunsets, long strolls on the beach, curling up by the fire, and watching Bigus' Norwich City as they battle for avoid relegation to League One.

After the jump, his perspective.

First, I fucking hate Arsenal. I could, and have, gone on a tear ripping these prancing, preening, Euro-hairgel-jobs and their arrogant manager. I could point out the fact that they shrink from any sort of physical play like a bunch of schoolgirls alarmed that one could actually get hurt in gym class.

We could discuss Arsenal's "20 beautiful, breathtaking 6-yard passes and a boot over the bar." style. I could spend 1000 words on Arsene Wenger alone. About his scorn for the very English game that has provided him with his rare real successes. About the fact that various managers in England have their disputes with individual managers, but that every single one of them hate that arrogant gallic pedophile at the Emirates.

But I'm not going to do that. That is for my endless email flame wars with my mates.

I thought I'd dig a little more deeply into why "the" Arsenal are so loathsome (aside from the fact that they insist on calling themselves "the" Arsenal.). Some self-examination, if you will.

Arsenal are going through their annual late winter run of poor form. Four straight League draws to the likes of St. Mary's Convent for Learning Disabled Dwarfs. This happens every year. Yet, these results are hardly noted in the football world. While the press and the great mass of supporters natter on and on about other sides' stumbles, Arsenal get a pass.

Yet, another year goes by and Arsenal, somewhat quietly, crash out of every competition and add nothing to their trophy cabinet and meanwhile, crisis ensues at Liverpool, or Chelsea, or Spurs, or even United. "We aren't winning enough! What will we do?"

But we hear no gnashing of teeth from the Emirates. Gooners may be sad for a bit when they crash out of three competitions in a fortnight yet again, but they quickly bounce back to their arrogant selves.

This is because Arsenal are not about winning. This is because, at the Emirates, if Arsenal aren't winning, it's the game's problem. If Arsenal do not win something, it is because that competition (most notably an English competition) does not recognize and reward beautiful football. It cannot be Arsenal's problem. Let me explain.

I'm a Yank. I live in the States. I've been supporting Chelsea for 20 years (the why of that is another posting). In my time, I've noticed that a certain kind of Yank becomes an Arsenal supporter. Metrosexual media types. Urbane attorneys. Artistic poseurs. Types who make a statement about themselves with every choice that they make.

They select a fashionable side who have been somewhat successful but who reflect their own personal style, their refined tastes, their inflated self image. A side that says something about them. They seek to support a side who do things "better" than everyone else, a team who plays the game the "beautiful" way. These are people who listen to obscure jazz and are happiest when discussing an artist of whom you've never heard.

These types don't love football as the game is actually played. The game as actually played is physical. It requires grit and steel. It's tactical. Success requires overcoming attrition and hard tackles and opponents who take your measure, look you in the eye, dig deep and find the strength and discipline to keep to a plan and beat you.

In real football, the best side does not always win. But the sides that win over time are sides of character, steel, heart, and courage. Sides that play the way necessary to win a given match. Sides that don't place their own self regard, and an extra step-over, above a result.

Arsenal and their supporters have no time for this. They count passes. They sing of the poetry of movement and flow. They want young, callow players who will "express" themselves on the pitch. They glory in possession and having the run of play. They are different, you see. You, the Chelsea or Liverpool supporter, are but an ignoramus. Sad, really, that you do not understand how beautiful football can be. Much like you could never possibly understand the sublime music of Warne Marsh.

So, Arsenal go to Wigan or some such. Wigan play defensively. They know they will lose if they play Arsenal's preferred style. They don't give a toss if Wenger finds them to be negative. The game progresses. Arsenal are the better side. But Wigan's pitch is not perfect, and the Wigan players tackle aggressively. As the match progresses, the Wigan players (who, of course, hate Arsenal) dig deeper with each passing minute. Wigan have the gall to deny Arsenal space for their brilliance. Perhaps a leg is broken (sorry, I couldn't resist).

When the smoke clears, one of two things happens.

If Arsenal prevail, Arsene Wenger and the London media (who provide him with daily reach-arounds) glory in Arsenal's style and quality. Arsene will be sure to point out that he "rescued" his boys from obscurity and paid little for their services. The Yank support will turn off the telly and will put on some complicated jazz, pour a glass of Montrachet, and smugly congratulate themselves that, sometimes, style and fashion and a certain class of creativity are proven to be better than common sweat and toil. Much like how it is down at work: the cream always rises.

If Arsenal are held, Arsene will complain about the pitch, or the negative Wigan tactics, the officials, or the fact that everyone wants to "kick" Arsenal. He'll never concede to being beaten or held. Arsenal are never beaten, nor are they every truly matched. If Wigan held Arsenal, then this is evidence of an imperfect sport. Such a result could not possibly bother us. Meanwhile, our Yank Gooner turns off the telly, briefly curses what an ugly match it was, wonders if football is too "base" for him, and perhaps doesn't tune in again for a match until he reads of Arsenal returning to form.

Arsenal will crash out of the Prem and the Champions League in the coming weeks. This will be their third successive season winning nothing. But be patient with your Gooner friends, they are watching a different game than you. A game of flow and beauty. A game that you could not possibly understand.

Let them natter on for a while.

Then tell them that Warne Marsh sucked.


Bigus Dickus said...

Nice Q.

Chelsea are still big spending, trophy buying, boring tossers though!

Keith said...

Excuse me, didn't Aston Villa, who recently drew Arsenal at the Emirates, beat Chelski at the Bridge?

I thought so.

Bigus Dickus said...

They all will soon Keith. They all will soon! ooo hahahahahaha(evil laugh)

Autoglass said...


I'm sorry, Keith, but that is incorrect. Aston Villa did not beat Chelsea at the Bridge.

Keith said...

I'm sorry, you're right. We drew you at the Bridge. We beat you at Villa Park.

/Lost to Sunderland