“Complaining about boring football is a little like complaining about the sad ending of King Lear: it misses the point somehow,” remarks Nick Hornby in Fever Pitch.
And it isn’t only football.
The widespread response to the Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao fight early on Sunday morning has inspired this topic once again and it has me wondering what exactly is wrong with playing a certain way? Mayweather fought superbly but wasn’t totally proactive. 48 wins, 0 defeats.
Defending brilliantly and choosing brief moments to attack, it was compared to Chelsea lately and that comparison is a fair one. Both are champions.
Arsenal have enjoyed successful periods of largely bland football, and I don’t think anyone would change that. George Graham’s reign is, of course, what originally inspired the ‘Boring, boring Arsenal’ chant which was somewhat reinvented for José Mourinho’s side last weekend.
Mourinho and his players care about winning and I don’t see what’s wrong with that.
I don’t think anyone minds how their team wins as long as they do win. Playing good football is a beautiful side dish but it’s ultimately meaningless without the main course of three points.
For five or so years after moving to Emirates Stadium we played the best football in England. But very few in years to come will remember the teams who graced North London in those brilliantly technical teams, as there’s nothing to show for their work.
The teams of 2006-2010 will be remembered for messing up, for idle football, for meek performances. All of those brilliantly talented masters of the pass and the drop of a shoulder won’t go down in history at Arsenal.
To be completely frank people in the world of sport are not actually there to entertain us, but to win. To them – and, when it comes to it, fans as well – winning is everything.
Our FA Cup run last season saw two really dire performances at Wembley but I’m not sure any Gooners care.
It’s about winning.
Even when we do play that beautiful football, how enjoyable is it?
Wins like the one over Liverpool this year are rare. Good football rarely lasts 90 minutes, and when they do the game is still tight.
“For the committed fan, entertaining football exists in the same way as those trees that fall in the middle of the jungle: you presume it happens, but you’re in no position to appreciate it.”
Nick Hornby was right.
When Arsenal are playing I am almost invariably far too anxious to enjoy just how well we’re playing. It isn’t often fun, nor is it enjoyable. For us football fans the sport is no jovial business.
There is, naturally, a sense of pride when the football we play is good but
Defensive teams often line up that way because they respect the opposition. It is a mark of respect that Mourinho’s teams are so predictably ‘negative’ (if you like) against us.
Mourinho knows that if we were given plenty of space we would thrive.
Chelsea choose to try to stifle and nullify us. It isn’t pretty, but it works, and it does the job.
It also plays to their strengths, and I can’t see what’s wrong with that.
If you can play to your strengths while detracting from the qualities of the opposition you’d be stupid not to.
The Numbers Game states that, in football, 0>1.
That is to say that a clean sheet is more valuable than a goal, so why try and get snobby about it? Teams who don’t concede get more out of a game, on average, than sides who manage to score once.
Defending is not only part of the game; it is a huge part of it. Without a good defence you cannot win. There’s no need to get high and mighty just because you’re more exciting than another side. At the end of the day nothing but the result matters.
We are an expectant audience, and a demanding one.
At Arsenal we’ve been incredibly fortunate to witness beautiful football over the years, but it hasn’t been rewarded with trophies. We have played beautifully, played to attack, and been stressful rather than enjoyable to watch.
The 2012 charge to overtake Spurs and the eight wins in a row this season have been backed up by more calculated approaches – we win ugly now. And it’s great.
No fan is in any position to tell someone else what the right way to play is. There isn’t a right way to play.
Be respectful, abide by the rules, and win.
That’s what really matters.