The evolution of man is something that has perplexed the greatest minds in our history – it sits at the core of those age-old existential questions like ‘who are we’ and ‘why are we here?’
Football oftentimes seems to defy evolution – John Terry springs to mind as a primate example – but the evolution of clubs and teams often draws parallel to the evolution of the species, except the questions are, of course, often different – it’s more like ‘what was the point of Andre Santos?’ Or, 'who is Park Chu-Young?’
Nonetheless, when it comes to Arsenal, especially under Arsene Wenger, I believe the questions Gunners fans have been asking over the last eight seasons without silverware can be best answered via the signings of three key playmakers.
In the beginning there was Cesc Fabregas – the captain, the leader, the Messiah – but then he left and took with him the essence of Arsenal and went on his pilgrimage to Barcelona. He’s not been seen since and Arsenal were left with a hole in their team as if they’d been hit by an asteroid the size of Mario Balotelli’s ego.
It was a seismic catastrophe that plunged them into an ice age. In comparison to that shift, Samir Nasri was just a mosquito bite on the delicate derriere of homo erectus.
The answer was Mikel Arteta – he too was Spanish, and a former La Masia academy graduate who knew the English game. He could pass the ball, he could tackle, he could take penalties and free kicks and when the going got tough, he could argue with referees.
He was the next best thing and he has been a loyal servant, a valiant vice-captain, and, for all intents and purposes, he was the rebirth of homo sapiens, even if the football was a bit hairier. Without him, Arsenal would have been chimps.
Next, the equivalent of homo sapien sapien, was Santi Cazorla – Arsenal went from buying deadline day Arteta and making the very best of a very bad situation to bringing in players purposefully as well as trying to keep the ones they had. He was a little more expensive, and their transfer of him was a little more expansive and ambitious – his touch, and his creativity saw Arteta moved into a holding, more defensive role - but Cazorla's signing was still not enough to keep their star striker or Alex Song.
Then came, this summer, the modern man, the human they’d be waiting for, for what seemed like an age – Mesut Ozil. He was expensive, he is the best on the continent and he came in to a team that was already in pretty good shape.
Arsenal kept all their stars this summer, got rid of the Gervinhos and Chamakhs, and Ozil’s arrival made them superhuman. He made them Arsenal Ultra instead of Arsenal Lite. He’s intelligent, he talks philosophy, he understands astrology and the movement of the stars (Cristiano Ronaldo runs).
His language, the way he expresses himself with the ball at his feet, is poetry and metaphysics to the cave paintings on display in Stoke at the Britannia Museum of Prehistoric Art. He is modern man and, with him as their architect, their engineer, Arsenal are building skyscrapers and atomic bombs.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald