Anyone partial to a football fairytale would have been holding their breath on every intricate movement of the ball at the Emirates Stadium last night. Arsenal, part libertine poet, part philosopher, played with all the verve and reason of old. Theo Walcott started to waltz through the Milan defence, with clarity of thought that he has rarely shown in the past. Tomas Rosicky finally started to cut a defence open. For the first time in years he has started to look like the player that had pundits drooling over the bargain he seemed to be when he first arrived from Dortmund. Alex Song marshalled the midfield like a one-man foot soldier cleaning up the debris of a previous blitzkrieg, and the whole thing would start again.
Once Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was bundled to the ground, everyone knew what was coming next. Robin van Persie does not have to be invited into the scoring realm anymore. At half time, the nightmare of the San Siro seemed long forgotten. AC Milan’s lead was reduced to one goal and Mark van Bommell even saw fit to get himself booked early on. Arsenal really looked to be on course.
Enter the second half. Van Persie started to drift and control the game. His movement became sublime and we were shown just why Barcelona is interested in the Dutchman. When the ball broke for Gervinho on the left, you know he probably wouldn’t score. Christian Abbiati could only parry a deflected effort and it fell to RVP. Shockingly he didn’t oblige either and you began to feel that tension you get when a good thriller writer starts his novel’s twist. Fatigue had begun to set in as the usually ever reliant Song started to misplace simple passes.
When the final whistle went, and Arsenal fell just short, there was only one thing that sprang to mind. Since the departure of Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal has been just that, just short of the force of old. Financially they are about as real as a club can get, but the on-the-pitch endeavours are falling far short for their sensibility. The troubling thought is that they are right. Is there any club out there that is being run realistically? Real Madrid’s financial muscle has mainly been the product of a training field sale. Man City is bankrolled by billionaire group that view football as a hobby.
On the inception of the Scottish league, Queens Park originally declined membership. They cited that the league format and competitive nature was potentially harmful to the game itself. Queens Park is still an amateur club today and the only one in the Scottish leagues. They have turned out to be largely right to have their concerns at the time. With Arsenal fans are growing impatient, it may well be that they are staring at the blueprint for a sustainable club. Baring the influx of billionaires that have nothing to do with their money but splash it on bragging rights, clubs could do a lot worse than follow the Arsenal mould.
The Champions League this season is likely to end up being a shout between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Barcelona is simply the best run club in the world right now but they also have their own financial worries. It is becoming increasingly difficult to compete in the business of football. The sudden transfer market traumas have left stupid prices on any player showing a glimpse of talent. With the introduction of glory-seeking billionaires, the business was turned upside down. For these men it is not about financial gain. It makes it increasingly difficult to maintain a profit and be competitive when some of your competitors are happy to make obscene losses in order to be competitive.
It is sad that money is ruling a game that was once seen as the pinnacle of gentlemans’ amateur sport. Arsenal will have a tough task in keeping van Persie at the Emirates this summer. All the financial evidence is currently pointing to a sale. They are in essence being punished for trying to do the right thing. As for the Champions League exit , it is only fair to compliment them for once again appealing to the game’s innocent roots.