Fan's Eye View: Why Arsène's beautiful game is now a thing of the past

Wenger's Arsenal have lost their loveliness, argues Nick Coleman. Instead, he manages a smug side betrayed by a flawed vision of its own superiority
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The Independent Football

There is a new game being played during the long hours of tedium endured by spectators watching football matches at the Emirates Stadium. It's a word game, funnily enough. It's called, "What Would Paddy/Den/Bobby/Tel Have Done?"

You play it by watching Arsenal enact their futuristic vision of football. The game begins after the ball has been circulated, with culture, in a shallow arc across the midfield and back four for several minutes, then suddenly bounced off the shins of Nicklas Bendtner. An alternative opening for the game occurs when Emanuel Eboué falls over and from the ensuing free kick the ball is circulated with culture back behind the half-way line, at which point it makes contact with Kolo Touré's right hoof and is sent sailing over Robin van Persie's left shoulder into touch near the corner flag. It's at this point that participants make their first bids in the fabulous but profoundly depressing game of "What Would Paddy/Den/Bobby/Tel Have Done?" It's a fun game to play, but it always ends in despair.

I suppose we Arsenal fans had it coming. Life has been good; maybe too good. We have luxuriated in milky, beautiful football for a decade, football that has been played at high tempo with bewitching levels of skill and with an intuitive sense of purposeful application which owed everything to the philosophy of a manager who believes that good footballers are men, not children – that teamwork is a metaphor for the most creative things inherent in the human spirit, not the most obedient things. The Wenger motto has always been: "With responsibility comes freedom – and then Freddie scores." It's a beautiful philosophy. It's also a philosophy that has got a bit wrinkled in the bath, as we all do after too much milky luxuriating.

So where has it gone then, all that loveliness?

Who can say. There are at least 60,000 theories about that. On match days I am made aware of 14 different ones without even having to turn my head. Explanations range from "complacency" to "Arsène has gone mad" to "it all started when they sacked George Graham" (to be fair, I haven't heard that one since 2007).

The symptoms? No one who has hung on till midnight to watch Arsenal appear last on "Match of the Day" during what seems like their season-long sequence of goalless draws (which, incidentally, would have delighted Graham) will have got any kind of grip on the sheer stultifying mediocrity of the football currently being played at the Emirates – Arsenal are always watchable in brief highlight form, in the same way that the best bits of the Bible will always have you on the edge of your seat. But the unabridged Arsenal procedure is excruciating. It is laborious, tense, inhibited, self-regarding, unassertive, shot-shy, physically timid, spiritually smug, deeply self-pitying and hobbled by the belief in its own superiority as an ethos. In other words, it is obedient. Obedient to an idea that has taken on the form of a moral conviction: that winning is the inevitable consequence of who we are – Arsène's Chosen Few.

Cobblers, chaps. Winning is the consequence of what we do – and tackling and shooting and making brave decisions really do help in this regard.

I fear that come the closing weeks of the season, with Arsenal struggling with the rather more manly Everton to retain an interest in the Uefa Cup, a new version of, "What Would Paddy/Den/Bobby/Tel Have Done?" will have taken the place of the original. It'll be the fabulous but depressing game of "Where Will Cesc/Theo/Johann/Ed/Gaël Be Going?"

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