Perhaps the next time the Prime Minister says, “Calm down, dear!” he might address the words to Arsene Wenger.
For some agitated weeks now, the Arsenal manager has been in a high state of anxiety, prowling the sacred managerial area, all grimace and gesture, a stark contrast with the cool, sophisticated figure to which we had become accustomed. With the occasional dramatic exception of course, such as when at West Ham the rival manager Alan Pardew provoked him beyond endurance with his frenetic celebration of what proved to be hammers’ winning goal. In parenthesis, will it even be worth Hammers going to the Olympic Stadium if, as seems all too dismally likely, they are relegated this season.
As for Wenger, he has untypically shown an almost Fergusonian penchant for what the Italians call vittmismo, the feeling that one is a victim. His outraged protests over Arsenal’s dismal defeat at Nou Camp, when Robin Van Persie was controversially sent off, seemed little more than a diversionary tactic. The bleak truth was that the Gunners though they did profit from an own goal were non-existent as an attacking force and could not contrive a single shot on goal.
As for the League Cup Final, there was scant cause for Wenger and Arsenal to feel sorry for themselves, having been saved so early on by the flag of a misguided linesman from conceding a penalty and having their goalkeeper sent off.
Still, what goes around in football as in much else comes around as we well know, and it was Arsenal who were sold short by an inadequate linesman last Sunday at The Emirates when he inexplicably failed to flag for a penalty when Manchester United’s Vidic so clearly handled the ball; which could well have had Vidic sent off into the bargain. The Premiership’s champions whinger, Alex Ferguson, was at it again of course, insisting, with good reason as it happened that Manchester United should have had a penalty when Michael Owen was clumsily brought down by Clichy. By that time, had Vidic gone off as he should have done, it would hardly have mattered.
Wenger recently emitted a mea culpa, pre the impressive victory over United of course, when he insisted it was all his fault if things had gone wrong, because it was he who picked the team. Well, yes and no. Why take so long to find a goalkeeper. There can be little doubt that Arsenal have suffered badly this season, first from the injury which put the resourceful Belgian international Thomas Vermeulen out for practically the whole campaign, with none of the three centre backs who have performed in his place ever looking solidly reliable, not least at dead ball kicks, secondly with the loss for so much of the early season of the essential Robin Van Persie, for whom there was no sufficient substitute.
Shocking surrenders at Newcastle, that bizarre 4-4 draw and more recently at Bolton, then a team in anything but fine form, reflected the decline in morale of the team. Though their young promising Polish keeper may well be right when he says that finding themselves out of contention in the Premiership relaxed and reignited the team.
And surely there was substantial consolation in the fine win over United in the form of Aaron Ramsey, cool scorer of the vital goal, with some assistance from the AWOL Park. No Fabregas, whom of late has been critical of Wenger to some extent in an interview with the Barcelona magazine Don Balon (Wenger doubted its veracity; as one who contributed to it for some years, I can vouch for its integrity) but Ramsey replaced him splendidly. As a splendidly precocious teenager with Cardiff, Ramsey was always destined for great things and his loss for so sadly long after that appalling foul at Stoke by Ryan Shawcross was a shocking blow both to him and the Gunners.
And United? How to reconcile their glorious performance at Schalke when they should had had half a dozen goals with the limp form at The Emirates? A mystery; but football has them in plenty. Part of its fascination.
The Quite Remarkable David Coleman was a BBC TV programme which properly and generously celebrated the commentating achievements of that versatile and much respected broadcaster now 85, to which I can but add my own congratulations. It was hardly however what Oliver Cromwell might have called a warts and all programme though you might say that Coleman now has the satisfaction of seeing the magazine Private Eye drop the title Colemanballs – referring to his supposed verbal infelicities – from its fortnightly panel, recently substituting the blander heading, Commentatorballs.
Some time in 1963, I remember Coleman approaching me at a London cocktail party, soon after the BBC TV showing of a documentary European Centre Forward, featuring Gerry Hitchens, an England centre forward then playing for Torino which I’d devised and for which I’d written the documentary. “You’ve got a lot to learn about writing for television,” he told me. He might well, I thought, have been right, though in that period I’d been a regular contributor to the programme That Was The Week That Was. A few months later, European Centre Forward won the Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival.
Fast forward to 1966, the balcony of the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, where a jovial Coleman was interviewing members of the England team which had just won the World Cup Final, against West Germany. “Ray Wilson,” said Coleman, “the England left back. That was a bad moment, Ray, when you headed the ball straight down to Haller and he scored.” A mortified Wilson rejoined, “Everyone makes mistakes.”
In due course, Coleman came to “Harold Shepherdson, the England trainer. You were sitting next to Alf Ramsey.” “Yes,” replied Shepherdson coolly, “that’s my place.” “I believe at one moment Alf Ramsey told you to sit down.” “Yes,” “What were you doing?” “Standing up.”
Not forgetting the couple of clowns, alias linesmen, who gave Chelsea their priceless but contaminated goals against Spurs.