“Spirit” must be Arsène Wenger’s favourite word. It seems that he uses it in every post-game interview, for example, after Saturday’s match against Chelsea: “I felt that we had a good team performance and great spirit.” However, the same sentence has been used by Wenger regardless of whether the team wins or not. What does “spirit” really mean, then?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has many definitions of spirit, such as: “a mental disposition characterized by firmness or assertiveness.”
On Saturday, Arsenal certainly displayed a level of assertiveness that was missing at the beginning of the season. Fernando Torre$ flubbed a chance to put Chelsea ahead 1-0 very early in the game, but the Gunners shrugged it off and came roaring back with two glorious chances of their own (both crosses from Theo Walcott, who had a sensational game). When Lampard scored at the 14th minute to make it 1-0, I (and perhaps many other Arsenal fans) thought it was going to be one of those days when we would cry in our beers and agonize over missed opportunities. But I was wrong.
Over the course of the match, Arsenal overcame deficits of 1-0 and 2-1, and, not satisfied with a 3-3 draw at the Bridge, scored very late in the game to seal the victory. There were many standout performers, including Robin van Persie (3 goals); Theo Walcott (1 goal, after a strong solo effort); Laurent Koscielny (assertive defense); the midfield trio of Ramsey, Song, and Arteta; and Gervinho, who assisted smartly on RVP’s first goal. Wojciech Szczesny had a sub-par game by his standards, but it didn’t matter as Arsenal ran wild over Chelsea’s “suicidal” defense (term coined by Stewart Robson, commentator for Arsenal TV). Per Mertesacker still needs more time to adapt to the EPL, but he might find himself on the bench once Vermaelen returns to the starting XI.
For the neutrals, it must have been a very entertaining game. Both teams had the opportunity to protect a 1-goal lead, but instead they attacked until the very last minute. Chelsea needed the win to keep up with the Top Two, while Arsenal needed the 3 points to arrive within striking distance of a Champions League spot. Plenty of spirit coming from both sides of the pitch.
There is another interpretation of the word “spirit” that I would like to explore: “the immaterial intelligent or sentient part of a person.” As in the Police song, “Spirits in the Material World”. For those of you born after 1981, the song goes like this:
“Where does the answer lie?
Living from day to day
If it’s something we can’t buy
There must be another way
We are spirits in the material world”
As I posted in the Moneyball article , Arsenal cannot (and will not) compete on even terms with free-spending clubs like Chelsea or Manchester City. They represent the “material” reality of today’s game. Instead, our club’s long-term strategy is to recruit and nurture young players, as well as identify and sign other players who fly below the radar of the Big Three (Man Utd, ManCity, Chelsea, for sake of argument) so that we don’t have to pay over the odds for them. Everybody knows how good Wenger is at spotting talent, so Arsenal probably has a list of 100 or more players on their wish list, and the first 40 are there to distract the other clubs. Juan Mata (£23.5m) is one example. Eden Hazard (asking price £40m) is another. While the big fish outbid one another for over-hyped talent, Arsenal quietly signs players who are not as well-known, but who have the specific attributes that Wenger is looking for.
When the dust settles, the race is on to build team chemistry and that “spirit” that Arsène loves so much. As long as our players have technical quality, are versatile, and they want to play for Arsenal, then the spirit will come. We’re not out of the woods yet, as our defense is still a work in progress, and we rely heavily on one striker (RVP). But when we can defeat a big-spending, top-tier club in their own stadium, it’s also a victory for Arsène’s “Moneyball.” In Arsène I trust.
On a side note, Arsenal have 8 wins in the past 9 games (the only loss was to Sp*rs), dating back to Sept 20. We are currently in 7th place, with a -1 goal difference. A Champions League spot is a very realistic objective. Come on you Gunners!