Tuesday 17 September 2019

Jim White: 'Arsenal snarl and sneer their way into new era in which they have a fighting chance'


Arsenal manager Unai Emery. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Arsenal manager Unai Emery. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Jim White

In the immediate aftermath of a thrilling north London derby victory on Sunday, Arsenal's press office sent out a tweet that told us a lot about the new direction of the club.

It featured a photograph of grinning full-back Sead Kolasinac, Photoshopped lightning bolts radiating from his head, wielding a corner flag in triumph as if it were a war-ravaged standard. "This is Arsenal," read the caption.

Though what it really should have said was: "This is Arsenal 2.0."

Much has been said about how Unai Emery's clever tactical adjustments and intelligent substitutions have so speedily turned the moribund into the plausible.

But the evidence of the real transformation he has unleashed comes not in the switches from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3, but in the bristling, in-your-face snarkiness that was on display all Sunday afternoon.

It was there in the substitutes piling into Tottenham's goal celebrations, there in the smirking indifference which greeted their opponent's outrage at blatant gamesmanship, there in the ready willingness to rumble.

The contemporary term for this sort of display is s***housing. And there are those who would suggest nothing has ever been won in the game without a little bit of outhouse in a team.

For years, Arsenal simply would not have behaved as they did on Sunday during or after a derby. Players would not have put goading, triumphalist messages on social media. Shkodran Mustafi would have been reprimanded behind the scenes for his tendency to explode at the slightest provocation.

Matteo Guendouzi would have been fined for driving down Holloway Road after the match leaning out of his car window punching the air in delight. Worse, Mesut Ozil would probably have been playing.

Arsene Wenger considered such behaviour a little, well, undignified.

There must have been many watching on Sunday who assumed that the moment Harry Kane scored to put Tottenham in the lead would precipitate that old Emirates number: the Wenger crumble. But it never happened.

Instead, Arsenal snarled and sneered and unleashed their inner s***house. And fans, used latterly to a pattern of routine ineffectualness, can only be delighted by its appearance.

It is an interesting concept, the one that suggests sharpening the elbows and loosening the tongue is a necessary ingredient to success.

Indeed, the very term now being used to praise Emery's side was initially one of disdain. When first adopted, s***housery was applied pejoratively to bemoan the cynicism of, for instance, South American sides.

But recently it has developed a more positive application, implying street wisdom, savvy and cunning. The thought is that every side needs a Roy Keane or Sergio Ramos.

And it was an ingredient that had long gone out of fashion at Arsenal, dispensed with after the days of Patrick Vieira, Ashley Cole and Martin Keown. There were many in the crowd at the Emirates who reckoned, in the admirable pursuit of higher beauty in the latter stages of the Wenger era, an essential had been lost.

Now it is back, sending out tweets that read: "North London is red and never forget it." And its reappearance makes you think the previously unimaginable: this Arsenal might actually be in with a chance. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)


The Throw-In: 'Jim Gavin has achieved what Mick O'Dwyer and Brian Cody couldn't do'

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Also in Sport