Amidst the cacophony of bitter personal savagery masquerading as banter yesterday, what most people missed is, other than the fact that United clearly deserved to win the game yesterday, the United – Arsenal rivalry is back. Yes, not miss, as in being completely oblivious to the fact, but miss, as in not appreciate it enough. It was more about Van Persie’s celebration (again, a completely normal response, but this debate is for some other time), United’s dreary second half performance, a “set piece” winning it for United, a lucky win, and all the usual BS. Heck, even Wenger’s perplexing inability to properly zip his coat seemed more talked about yesterday.
Arsenal had 60 % possession yesterday. They had 1 more attempted shot. They had almost 200 more passes. They had a better pass success %. But, they had a goal less. Now you can have all your numbers and statistics and algorithms, but the only statistic that matters in football is the number of goals you score (can’t believe I’m paraphrasing a Budgie quote).
Emotions > Numbers. After all what is sport without emotions? What difference does it make to 1 billion Indians and the entire cricketing world that Sachin Tendulkar is retiring? Why is it that millions cried when Sir Alex retired last year and were laughing in a nostalgic elation yesterday when he looked at his watch and celebrated like any other fan after the final whistle? The reason’s the same as why I kind of empathise with the sentiment Arsenal fans share for Van Persie (read: empathise, not promote). Because, I’ve had a long held philosophy that sports is nothing without emotions, and what Van Persie did would hurt any fan. Not that it makes me fanboi any less over him when he scores. Just that I realise what Arsenal fans go through.
Returning to yesterday’s game, Gary Neville wrote a customary genius article in the build up to the game. He said that this season is Arsenal’s unique opportunity to win the league. Every other major contender is in a transitional phase and their squad is significantly stronger with the arrival of Ozil and the coming of age of Ramsey and others. It’s impossible to not pride oneself as a United fan that Gary Neville is a former United player and a United fan because well, he’s the most sensible “football pundit” right now. He makes some of the most sensible points, but the one that stood out for me is this:
“Arsene Wenger has that experience but his players don’t, so they will have to learn quickly.
By next year it might be too late. Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea will all be stronger with their new managers all having spent a year at the club.
My gut feeling is that they will be overhauled. But this year may be the opportunity that Arsenal need to seize. And if they do it this year with this squad, it would be an incredible story and, given the criticism and skepticism he has encountered, it would be the greatest achievement of Arsene Wenger’s career.”
Notice how he says “an incredible story”? He knows sport is nothing without emotions. He knows Arsenal are the underdog everyone likes, and he likes them himself. He might not be a big Piers Morgan fan, but he has time and again displayed his affection towards Arsenal.
A friend of mine and a fellow author for Football Paradise said this about Gary Neville’s assessment of Arsenal, “For a guy who was a rabid United fan/player Gary Neville is INCREDIBLY fair over Arsenal. I was shocked!”
My reply (also a cheap plug for my twitter profile, follow yougaiz) was simple, “I think United fans have a sense of respect for Arsenal because of a similar club ethos, which is why I’m not surprised by Gary Neville”
I really think this is true. Every United fan with a tendency to be sensible and fair (I know there aren’t many, but hey credit where it’s due, Moyes worked hard to drive away the sheeps) does identify with Arsenal. The clubs are almost identical in ideology, history and success. We might ridicule their trophy drought, we might abuse Wenger, we might endlessly call Wilshere an incompetent fool but, we respect the club, we respect the rivalry shared, we respect Arsene Wenger, and we are extremely happy that the rivalry is back to its past relevance even if not the intensity just yet.