In their annual review of all things Premier League, 2006-7, the BBC named this ditty as the League’s SECOND best chant (I can’t remember what won, anyone know?):
To the tune of Salt n Pepa’s ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’: Let’s talk about Cesc baby, let’s talk about Flam-in-i, let’s talk about Theo Walcott, Freddie Ljungberg and Henry, let’s talk about Cesc.
A few things are notable about this. First, it is hard (isn’t it?) to imagine a mass of mainly adult men repeatedly standing to sing anything to the tune of ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’. Second, it is hard to imagine the mass of mainly adult men who populate Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium (then in its inaugural season) standing to sing anything at all. Third, ‘Cesc baby’ is not a cool nickname. And finally, they’ve all gone, haven’t they, those guys. Well, apart from Walcott obviously. And now Henry, he’s back too. Which is weird and maybe, also, terrible.
Uniting and exciting as Thierry’s return in Arsenal’s 1-0 FA Cup win undoubtedly was, those joys have masked (and may be intended to mask) something more dispiriting and less congruous. Namely, the club’s perpetual demise.
Thierry Henry, for all his statuesque (in a good way) greatness, is 35 this year and plays the majority of his football in what remains a backwater league. He is probably still better than Marouane Chamakh (whose seasonal goal tally, 1, Henry has already matched), but that only emphasizes the extent of the club’s current difficulties.
A psychology of denial (specifically of minimisation, where problems are acknowledged, but downplayed), similar to that which allowed the cataclysmic financial crash of 2008 to emerge, or so it seemed, from nowhere to bite the arses off all of us, has existed at and around the Emirates since its opening.
Like Paris’s Pont Royal (a gift from Louis XIV to the people of Paris in thanks for his lavish palace at Versailles), the stadium itself stands as both a symbol of and supposed solution to the problem. So too does Thierry Henry, The Return of the King a neat distraction from the club’s dismal demise: Chamakh is terrible, sure, but it doesn’t matter – we’ve got ‘Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry’ now. Even seen like this, such thinking is only short term; what happens when Chamakh comes back, Henry goes away and van Persie gets injured? Obviously, then, Chamakh (or Park???) has to play. Seen differently, Arsenal’s need for an aged legend (Manchester United’s too for that matter) highlights the problem. Debutant Henry’s man of the match award (secured, by popular vote, before his introduction from the substitute’s bench) makes a simultaneously amusing and damning vignette. That the addition of a 34 year old off an MLS roster (or a 37 year old retiree) improves a Champions League club’s (or Manchester United’s) current resources is a harsh indictment of those resources.
That these indicted sets of resources meet on Sunday is an interesting, but utterly irrelevant, coincidence. No result, not even an 8-2, can be as instructive of the clubs’ current states as their respective reaches back into their histories. They are both waning powers.
In which case, and to return to the opening gambit, perhaps a recitation of the following would be an appropriate soundtrack to Sunday’s Prawn Sandwich Derby.
THE SECOND COMING
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
W.B. Yeats, 1919.