2013/2014 – Arsenal vs Aston Villa: What Arsène Wenger’s Team Talk May Sound Like
As Arsenal prepare to welcome Aston Villa for Saturday’s Premier League opener, Jason Phillips gives us a look at what Arsene Wenger’s team talk could go like.
As Arsenal prepare to welcome Aston Villa to the Emirates Stadium for Saturday’s big Premier League opener, writer Jason Phillips gives us an imaginative look at what boss Arsene Wenger’s team talk could sound like….
Saturday 17th August. 2:48pm. Theo Walcott sat in his respective changing room slot, struggling to tie his laces with the echo of the pre-match compilation ringing rampantly around the roaring stadium. For seven years, Theo had sat in this very seat, contemplating the expectation, optimism, pessimism and controversies that the past three months of summer had unveiled. Yet this year, he felt somewhat different. It was as if somehow, in a miraculous turn of fate, it could all change. The door slammed shut shockingly, Walcott’s train of thought being interrupted by an apprehensive presence in the room.
Genius, legend, visionary and hero to many, Arsène Wenger’s value to Arsenal Football Club had never been in doubt. Yet the past eight years of trophyless torment had taken its toll on his mental strength; the same one he so badly wanted to install into his players. Arsène took a moment to assess his match day squad’s physical condition. Laurent Koscielny was quietly listening to music in the corner of the room, deeply focusing on what was to be the start of an exciting campaign for the consistent Frenchman. A few steps away, experienced midfielder Mikel Arteta stood, using his phone as a mirror in order to make sure his hair was pitch perfect, the manager’s reflection casting a shadow over the device.
Arsène cleared his throat, releasing a long, built up tension from the pressure filled pre-season campaign that provided excellent attacking promise, yet familiar defensive casualties. With this action, all 18 members of the team looked up at their father figure, eyes filled with anticipation to what may be conjured.
“Victoria Concordia Crescit. Latin for victory comes through harmony.” Wenger began…
The bubbly Wojciech Szczesny’s face transformed in that moment to a man of deep concentration, his full focus on Wenger’s bold statement to his latest squad. With many of the players still comprehending the manager’s words, he continued to dictate with the assertion and dominance of a man who had earned the right to be in this position.
“For 17 years, I have managed this football club. The double, The Invincibles, countless talents and a global fan base, Arsenal have grown as a club year in, year out. The last eight years however, have been somewhat a disappointment to our high paying fans, who have stuck with us through thick and thin.”
Koscielny’s calm demeanor had shifted, the words of his boss bringing back memories of the traumatic cup final mishap in February 2011.
“But…,” Wenger continued hurriedly,
“….the clouds are slowly parting. I could continue to talk about financial fair play, about how this team is full of potential and how our consistency keeps us on the edges of Europe’s elite. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be being realistic. Today, we play Aston Villa. On paper, a winnable game, but with results in previous years, we know that taking anything for granted in the Premier League is a recipe for disaster.”
The manager suddenly stopped speaking and started to walk around the dressing room circumference, stopping at a pensive Bacary Sagna.
“A solid, loyal and sincere defender, I believe that you can be a leader at the back yet again this season. People may slam you down, but don’t let them get into your head. What you have Bacary, which 99% of other teams don’t have, is fight. That determination and courage to know that whatever comes your way will be dealt with. That’s you my boy and that is the Arsenal way.”
The boss stroked Sagna’s shoulder tenderly, comforting the surprisingly jittery full-back at this moment of intensity. Olivier Giroud had grown as a person and a player in his short stay at the club, his prolific pre-season giving him the confidence to lead the line in style for the new league campaign. Arsène scooted up next to his fellow patriot, putting his arm round him like a father would do to an almost married son.
“When we let Robin van Persie go, it was clear that we would be in the fight for our lives to replace his attacking nous. But last year, I put my faith in you, because I knew in my heart, that you would show me what you could really do. Gonzalo Higuaín, Wayne Rooney and Luis Suárez, it’s all just paper talk until they’re concrete and they don’t matter right now. At this moment in time, I want you to go and show the faithful your desire to win the ball in the air, link-up with your team mates and smack the ball into the back of the net and beyond. Olivier, when you hear the crowd sing your name and the stadium vibrate with euphoria; embrace it. For every game is an opportunity to step out of the Flying Dutchman’s shadow and into the light.”
Giroud’s now watery eyes followed his idol towards young Jack Wilshere, who grasped his hands anxiously as he waited for what was to be an emotional encounter with the person who gave him the chance to follow his dreams.
“It would be easy to quote from a famous movie or manager,” joked Wenger, whose head was now pounding from the intense atmosphere created.
“But I believe you are better than that. It is a little bit hard to comprehend that five years ago, you wondered onto the pitch as an unknown youngster, vying to impress me with your slick left foot. Now, you wonder onto the pitch as a warrior, a soldier who will not rest until he completes his mission. Show the world that you are Jack Wilshere and that you represent everything that this club stands for.”
With his words firmly engrained in the minds of every individual present, Wenger walked back up to the front of the dressing room with pride.
“4-4-2, 5-4-1, 4-3-3. Everyone can talk about the tactics, the money, the boardroom politics or the premature departures. But what they can’t take away from us is the spirit, the desire and the belief. The belief that this time, we can prevail. That this time, we will prevail. That this time, we will be victorious. Victoria Concordia Crescit. Victory comes through harmony. We are Arsenal Football Club and we will prevail once more.”
Silence engulfed the stunned dressing room, 30 seconds that felt like an hour passed before a knock on the door and the peering head of the match day referee became present. “5 minutes till kick-off lads. Time to line-up.” One-by-one, the players smacked Wenger’s hand as they walked out into the tunnel, the starting 11 lining up next to their first opponents of the new season.
Wenger stayed behind for a moment of solitude, stepping into his connecting office and opening the top drawer of the filing cabinet. He took out a picture of his 2003/2004 title winning side, grasping it tightly to remind him of the smell of the grass, sight of the crowd and the feel of the silver trophy in his hands. Putting it down calmly, he proceeded to leave, stomping down the tunnel and into his much-loved technical area. Le Professeur turned around to watch his red and white army march out of the tunnel with a bang. The summer battle had ended. The 2013/2014 war, had just begun…