Larry Ryan: Business as usual as Arsenal serve up the Premier League's secret sauce

It is incalculable, at this stage, how much we are all indebted to the Arsenal.
Larry Ryan: Business as usual as Arsenal serve up the Premier League's secret sauce

Referee Anthony Taylor shows Arsenal's David Luiz a red card in the 3-0 defeat by Manchester City. Photo: Peter Powell/PA Wire/NMC Pool
Referee Anthony Taylor shows Arsenal's David Luiz a red card in the 3-0 defeat by Manchester City. Photo: Peter Powell/PA Wire/NMC Pool

It is incalculable, at this stage, how much we are all indebted to the Arsenal.

We now know that Gunners gaffer Mikel Arteta, in becoming the Premier League’s patient zero, undoubtedly saved thousands of lives in hastening the UK’s shutdown, forcing a halt while they were still packing punters into racecourses and Stereophonics concerts.

And three months later, just as we were beginning to fear that life may never feel quite the same again, along come Arsenal to assure us it can be exactly the same. Uncannily so.

In our hour of need, the Arsenal were there for us again, ceremonially shooting themselves in the foot.

The whole project had restarted in unsettling fashion on Wednesday night. Sure, the obligatory controvassy was quickly supplied at Villa Park. But in a way we couldn’t have predicted.

Let down by the one old reliable we felt sure could survive even a pandemic — goalline technology. And as Hawkeye turned a blind eye to Sheffield United’s winner, we were soon hearing that word we’ve had quite enough of for the foreseeable: unprecedented.

In the war of the machines, VAR knew enough not to take on Hawkeye in the battle for hearts and minds. VAR knew well who we’d trust.

But we were mistaken. And it could have been enough to unmoor us completely, this reminder there are no certainties any more.

Then the Arsenal arrived and made sense of it all again. Proving we can come out the other side of anything still chuckling at David Luiz and asking what now for Mesut Ozil.

Before Arteta and his men took to the field at the Etihad Stadium, we still didn’t know if something fundamental would have changed. Might the Premier League experience be fatally diminished by all that time we had for perspective and reflection?

There was a hint of that in the Villa Park fallout. Sure, Chris Wilder and his players tried to convey what an absolute disgrace it was. But they couldn’t quite muster the level of rage we have come to associate with the unfair denial of two precious points in the Premier League. As if deep down the Blades knew worse things had happened this year.

But then our old friends from Arsenal Fan TV took over, treating us to live reactions to the Etihad action. And there was poor old Robbie with his head buried deep in his hands. And Troopz losing the rag completely, blud. Already gone, less than an hour into the restart.

You knew then that even in empty stadiums with piped in sound effects, if we leave this to Arsenal, before long 2020 will feel like the same old same old.

The Premier League was up and running. For his crimes, David Luiz was saying that word unfamiliar in English public life — sorry. Soon Mourinho would be muttering darkly in a presser about unfair treatment. And by half-time at Tottenham, Roy Keane was sending David de Gea home in a taxi and perspective was a distant memory.

Arsenal had given us back that key ingredient of Premier League life, its secret sauce — hysteria.

Arsenal could have given us so much more over the years, if only we’d paid enough attention.

The Premier League has tended to provide some key pointers about where things are at in England, politically.

In the widespread suspicion of Johnny Foreigner, with his simulation and brandishing of imaginary yellow cards, there were clues, a long way out, about what was brewing across the water.

Arsenal, of course, were at the forefront of all that sort of thing, Arsene Wenger establishing a foreign enclave in North London.

Contact tracing connected every collapse in the box to dive zero, from Robert Pires. And when it started to go wrong for Arsenal, you would struggle to impose social distancing on all those queuing up to tell you what Arsenal lacked was ‘an English core’.

And if we consider all the places where Arsenal were most reviled — your Boltons and Burnleys and Blackburns — we can see that they all came up trumps, when the crunch came, for the Leave vote.

Indeed Stoke-on-Trent, where they hated Arsenal more than anywhere else, was famously dubbed the ‘Brexit capital of Britain’.

We know well which loud voices were stirring up that stuff, that kind of division, in the media and elsewhere.

But all of a sudden, the loudest political voice is the Premier League’s. And its players are making it heard, preaching unity and tolerance and compassion. Taking over as the opposition party to government, led by Marcus Rashford.

In less than six months, Sky Sports has gone from distancing themselves from a debate on racism to embracing totally the Black Lives Matter cause.

Though our enthusiasm for English football’s commitment to equality must survive learning that those large flags decorating the empty stadium backdrops cost £2million, while £3million would have been enough to finish the abandoned Women’s Super League.

But it is a compelling and powerful new lobby group, this band of millionaires drawn from every corner of the world, men who were never destined to be millionaires but for their talent. Men acutely aware of where they came from and many of them certain that nobody should have to go back there. Men who appear to have an ideological objection to children going hungry.

This time it is the Premier League hinting there might just be a better, fairer world out there, where we can all get along.

It'd surely have given Wenger one or two more titles, in his pomp, a world without those tricky away trips where they hated all he stood for just a little bit less.

But harmony, if it ever comes, will come too late for Arsenal.

Hector Bellerin joined in the activism on Wednesday, promising to plant 3,000 trees to help combat carbon emissions for every game Arsenal win for the rest of this season. But his forest was leveled by an avalanche of bantz. A planet was swiftly deemed doomed if it’s relying on Arsenal.

That’s Arsenal now. The butt of a joke. A club swallowed whole by the hysteria around it. Cast adrift by its owners and the inertia of billionaires who were always destined to be billionaires. Mired in a vortex of social media narratives and banter.

The one constant in a world turned on its head.

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