Arsenal, art and the female orgasm
I sometimes think of Arsenal’s golden era under Wenger as Bradford’s goal and myself as Gervinho, so spectacularly did I manage to miss it. From what I can remember, during the period 1998-2005 I was living in a dark cave on a remote island, guarded by a giant Spurs-supporting troll, with thick titanium bars over the entrance and the keys to the door dangling on a rusty nail just millimetres out of the reach of my skinny fingers (at full stretch).
I think this must have been what happened since there’s no way I was in England with access to literally hundreds of TVs at convenient local locations – often locations where I ending up going to anyway - and just not watching Arsenal play because I ‘wasn’t interested in football anymore’. Because that would make me an idiot.
Whatever the reason, the consequence of me missing this period is that the great football we played then doesn’t mean to me what it does with others. It is merely historical reference material – something I can appreciate and admire as an important part of our past but that holds no special personal significance.
The flipside of this is that the great football we played between 2005 and now is the best football I have ever seen us play. And those seasons where it seemed that we really might win the league are the seasons I look towards when dreaming about what this current team might be capable of. Which some might argue is a stupid dream since what we were actually capable of during those periods was not winning anything at all.
When I say ‘capable of’, however, what I am really talking about is quality, fluid, incisive passing moves. Even more than that, I’m talking specifically about quality, fluid, incisive passing moves that lead to goals - and for this reason the 07/08 season holds a special place for me. It was full of them.
The sadness at not winning the league that year is not only due to us missing out on a trophy but also because our failure lead to Hleb and Flamini’s departures and (in conjunction with the loss of Eduardo and Rosicky to long term injuries) to the breakup of the most beautifully fluid Arsenal team I’ve personally had the pleasure of falling in love with.
For me, team goals will always trump wonder strikes. Give me a clever through ball, backheel, deft touch, six-yard side foot finish combo over a rocket into the top corner any day. Scissor kicks, volleys, in-off-the-post thunderbolts, I love them all - Poldi’s volley against Montpellier last year is a particular favourite - but when several of your favourite players click to produce something wonderful together there’s just nothing more beautiful in football. And even Poldi’s volley is made more special by the delightful 1-2 with Giroud.
Scoring a goal has often been equated with having an orgasm, and given male dominance in the sport this analogy immediately conjures up images of the wonder strike. An instant, short-lived thrill; fast and intense.
A team goal, however, seems more in tune with descriptions of the female orgasm. A more sustained rollercoaster of pleasure, with each successive, delicate touch heightening the experience until you reach that final moment of ecstasy.*
I make no apologies if that turned you on.
Another, slightly less graphic (depending on your interpretation of the word) analogy is suggested by @LimparAssist:
“Wonder strikes [are] akin to a great golf or tennis or cricket shot. A team goal is something far, far more. And it's what elevates football up to something more like an art (if you'll excuse the pretension).”
I don’t think that analysis is pretentious at all. Wonder strikes may not always be lucky, but they can more often be scored by luck. Many players have scored spectacular goals through the ‘hit and hope’ method.
Great team goals are different. More intentional. They aren’t just ‘like’ art, they are art to me. But often far, far more difficult to create than a song or a sculpture.
An artist can spend weeks or even months perfecting their work, but a fluid team goal is like Picasso, Monet, Da Vinci, Cezanne and van Gogh adding one or two deft strokes, in turn, to a blank canvas in the space of a minute and producing the next Mona Lisa. On the main stage at Glastonbury.
To combine such quickness of thought and preciseness of action from so many different people in such a short space of time and in such a high pressure environment is a rare and incredible thing. It requires so many different wildly fluctuating variables to all coordinate to produce a single, spectacular event. It’s like the advent of life, but with a lot less luck (and primordial soup).
An entire museum walled with computer monitors encased in elaborate gold-leaf frames playing YouTube clips of the best passing goals of all time would be as valid to me as the Tate or the V&A. I’d not feel even a tiny bit foolish meandering my way through its halls in a beret saying ‘hmm’ and then - a few seconds later - ‘ahh’ while inspecting the pieces in close detail through circular spectacles.
I have no qualms admitting that I am a perfectionist, and perfection, beauty and art often go hand in hand. So it is for me with team goals: the more perfect the touches the more beautiful the final piece will seem. And likewise the opposite: any imperfection will lessen the beauty, and the satisfaction I draw from it, when watching it back.
For example, our second goal against Swansea is a great team goal, but Dyer nearly challenging Wilshere and Vorm getting a hand to the shot are imperfections which chip away at the shine ever so slightly.
The ‘Arshaaaaaviiiiinnn!!!’ goal, on the other hand, is easily one of the best goals I have ever seen us score. From the moment we get the ball the move retains complete fluidity from start to finish, and the swiftness and decisiveness of the actions, the number of players involved (everyone only possessing the ball once), the pressure of the competition and the quality of the opposition only add to the pleasure.
There are a many points during that move in which a less perfect touch would have seen it break down. And each cumulative perfection elevation the perfection of the goal as a whole.
And it’s not just the scoring team that can add to the perfection, the opposition can often have a big part to play as well. A goal I really like – Crespo’s strike against Liverpool in the Champion’s League final – is made all the more special because the Liverpool player slides to cut out Kaka’s through ball and misses by what seems like just a few inches. It makes the margins seem even tighter and the technique displayed even greater. The closer the opponent was to stopping it – without actually touching the ball - the greater the effect.
So why have I spent the last 11946.7 paragraphs rambling about perfection, beauty, art and such? Because I believe we are on the cusp of achieving it.
There have already been glimpses and there is undoubtedly more to come. We have not reached our creative peak but you can sense that it might be just around the corner. We’re winning games, and the next step is to win them beautifully.
We now possess a squad with the passing capabilities, the awareness, instinct and technique to produce the perfection that I crave. Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky, Arteta, Giroud, Walcott, Podolski: these are all artists in their field with unique specialties – passing, movement, finishing - and the potential to combine to create some of the most revered works of art that the game has ever seen.
And when they do you I’d love you to join me at the exhibite d’Arsenal at La Musée de Football**. Just remember to bring your beret.
*May or may not accurately reflect your experiences. It’s difficult for me to judge. The male one is bang on though.
**May or may not accurately reflect the French language. Je ne sais pas.
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