Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chess: Give 'em rules, watch 'em take over the board

Editor's note: This is being transcribed from notes taken at a bar four hours ago. It may or may not make sense. So early in the year, it's tough to latch onto content that is steeped in reality (i.e. "What a game," "What a goal," "Did he really say that?") as opposed to the realm of my crippled emotions (i.e. "We're good enough," "It's early," "Oh, god, are we good enough?"). There will be a follow-up. Think architecture. After all, the pieces on a chess board have to protect something, don't they? For a structure to soar, it needs subtle innovation, doesn't it?

I enjoy my football. Especially (and here's the most obvious thing I've said this decade) when it's going as well as it is now for the Arsenal. In that light I also (as regular readers will recognize in my fragile psyche) find my football, especially when it's going this well, to be fully and deeply layered in abject torture. It's terrifying. The better it gets, the worse it gets. At this point, early as it is, I'm flat out terrified. Arsenal have looked like a big top, merry-go-round, tilt-o-whirl and ferris wheel all rolled into one. Winners of their first three and 12 goals to boot. I should be thrilled, shouldn't I? If only. Elation comes with goals, in that split-second. It's a euphoria that eases the tension. For now, until the next time that moment comes, I'm afraid of my shadow. I'm afraid Eduardo will fall down the stairs, that Gallas will lose his mind and end up jumping off the Tower Bridge, that Bendtner will trip on his shoelaces and somehow break his foot, that Cesc will tear a massive cut in his neck with that damned side zipper jacket he wears, or that Arsene Wenger will move to Lhasa to be worshipped by people who care not for the saddled expectations and restrictions of a system that trades in the cash of today and the promised cash of tomorrow (it seems he'd feel disgraced even saying such a word, even offering the slightest hint that he is aware of its grip on the reality he finds himself in.)

As such, I haven't been able to bring myself to utter aloud a perspective or analysis. Yeah, I know, some good that'll do for a blogger, eh? Don't worry, I'm sure it'll go wrong soon, right? Wrong. For months I've been saying it, "we'll be fine, we're strong enough." Aren't we? Hell yeah! Shit, I need some pure pleasure out of this life I subject myself to, don't I? There's loads of pleasure alright. Each goal has been more pure fun than the last. Doesn't mean it gets any easier though. What ends up happening is that you look back with a gleeful and confident smile, and look ahead with a fearful and tepid patience. It's 'hold your horses' time, folks. In spite of that, I'll pass a measured glimpse into what I've seen so far, and what it's made me think about. As noted above, there's a follow-up on the agenda.

The pacing of what we've been watching so far in this high-speed 4-3-3 (4-1-2-3?) is pinhead stuff. It's an evolution of what we've watched with a simultaneous smirk and groan for three years. The slightest and simplest of touches to move the ball at top speed past defenders diving in at each angle. Tap, touch, push and sprint into the opposite direction. Fill the emptied space and start the triangular and interchangeable progression again. The opposition, in particular against Celtic in the first leg of the Champions League qualifier, has been spun on its heels, rolling backwards down hill, filling the space their teammates have just awkwardly fallen out of. In the end, it's like a living model of DNA you'd see in high school biology, captured in its spiraling motion as players try to cover for each other.

I was asked at the onset of the first game of the season, one which I'll quite retroactively note I called for a 6-nil win (or at least a statement through a ton of goals), "who will score the first goal." I replied, "the team." Sure, I was being a pretentious ass (hey, if the shoe fits ...) but I meant it.

The team now closely resembles a fully refined assembly of working parts. Finally.

They have just about found themselves liberated by the rules and expectations now set before them. This project of Arsene Wenger's has shed its training wheels (and do please note it doesn't mean there won't be wobbles along the way, it's a concept used to illustrate a point). Hleb, Flamini, Gilberto, Adebayor, Toure, even Henry as he bridges the gap for Arsene to today's team - they are gone, leaving the current team to grow into their potential and into their assigned roles without restraint.

I said up above that it's early. I mean, it's really, really, really (like, 36 more "reallys") early. While it may feel like we're picking up the same narrative, the one we hit 'pause' on back in May, this is not the same team as last season. Not the same 'Young Guns' that the newspapers talk about. Not by a long shot.

There are new rules. New roles. New expectations. For everyone in the team. And it all adds up to allow full expression, and a shattering of the opposition while they do it. The creative mind, placed in a situation ripe for flourishing creativity ... it does often call for refinement first, doesn't it?

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