Arsenal's Sliding Doors
We`ve all had our own sliding doors moment. Mine came on a hot July day in 1999. I went to the sweet shop with my hard earned paper round money and, seduced by the mental image of a thieving Italian singer on a boat, I chose a cornetto. Had I gone for my usually solid choice of a twister, my life could well have taken a wildly different route. I removed the wrapper and began to admire my ice cream. It was sweet. Life was sweeter.
Then it happened. I looked down to see my shoelace was undone. Remembering the warnings my teachers gave me of the dangers of walking around with untied shoelaces; tripping over, breaking an ankle, nuclear holocaust; I reached down to tie them. Bad move. The top of my cornetto, until now so grand, so solid, sat proudly on top of the cone, fell. Life didn`t go in slow motion. It just fell and hit the floor. Splat.
I stood for a while, wanting to cry, but also aware that it`d get me beaten up by the lads hanging outside Bargain Booze. I slumped home, up to 20 minutes later than it would have taken had I bought the rock solid twister. No dropping the top of a twister. Put a twister in a wind tunnel and it`ll stand strong. Tap it with a toffee hammer and it`ll take it like Bozo the clown. Rock back and then straight back in your face; I`m a twister bitch, you can`t keep me down.
In those 20 minutes anything could have happened. Could have been hit by a car. Could have been spotted by a model scout. Could have prevented a mugging and become a local hero. My own sliding doors. I was going to make up a story about a sliding doors moment involving actual sliding doors, but 4 paragraphs is enough writing without making a point, so you`ll have to put the pieces of that anecdotal jigsaw together yourself.
In July of 2010 Arsenal had their own moment. Arsene Wenger put in bids of £2million for Mark Schwarzer and £15million for Phil Jagielka. Both were turned down. Fulham and Everton wanted 3 and 18 million. 4 extra million. The cost of Eric Djemba-Djemba, an England team`s poker pot, Ray Parlour`s divorce settlement so far.
Take the other door; the door where Arsenal had a commanding centre half and a proven, reliable goalkeeper. Walk through it to November 2010, when Newcastle visited The Emirates. As the clock ticked towards half time, Joey Barton pumped a free kick into the area. Fabianski got the scent. He came charging out to the ball, but like a bull to the rag, he never got there. He was left mid air flapping desperately towards Andy Carroll as his defenders all looked at each other as if to say 'what are we supposed to do? He`s bigger than us.`
Would Schwarzer have looked as much like a kid on a rope swing? Would Jagielka have just stood feeling sorry for himself?
Against Tottenham at home Jermain Defoe beat a defender in the air to nod the ball to Van Der Vaart, who passed to Bale. Goal. Painfully simple. Jermain Defoe is 5"6. He`s like a striker, but in miniature. Would Jagielka have been beaten by such a tiny specimen?
Against Braga away Arsenal had the game in the bag; a 0-0 that would have seen them through as group leaders. Seen them avoid the club who shall not be named. They lost concentration. A screaming Aussie might just have kept minds focused those vital few minutes longer.
Against Wigan Squillaci, who seems with each passing game to look more like a middle class dad man playing in a football tournament on a French campsite with kids, whilst telling everyone he 'could have made it,` headed into his own net. He couldn`t deal with the pressure of a Wigan defender, football`s own oxymoron. 2 points dropped and the Frenchman looked confused and troubled, like an old man listening to dub step.
It`s hard to believe that Schwarzer and Jagielka would have left the ball to each other and gifted Birmingham the winner in the League Cup final. It`s no surprise that Lescott has looked so out of his depth since leaving Everton. Jagielka communicated at volume, told him constantly where to be. Man City paid the right money, but for the wrong man.
In the FA Cup Almunia clearly thought he was in a training exercise, and having got low to stop Hernandez`s tame header, he decided to give Fabio a go by palming the ball straight to him. 'Oh they`re not supposed to score? But I thought ...`
The worst of the lot was against West Brom. Almunia backed his chances in a 20-80 with Odemwingie, and having missed the ball completely, decided Squillaci`s efforts to save the situation were futile, so did his best to push him over, like a petulant school child. 'I would have stopped it if you weren`t in the way.`
This was after the defence decided that 5 years was just too long for Steven Reid to go without a goal, and so they put Aaron Ramsey, from the Jermaine Defoe school of being small, to mark him. Communication and organisation would have put the ball out of the area with a firm centre half`s header.
Maybe none of this would have mattered. Maybe Schwarzer would have decided that after years of consistent goalkeeping he would try something new and play in Teflon gloves. Maybe Phil Jagielka wouldn`t have continued his development into an England regular, but crumbled away from Goodison, like Lescott. Maybe though, just maybe, last Summer`s deadline day was the club`s sliding door.