THE late, great Danny Bergara would have had a thing or two to say about Arsene Wenger’s recent pronouncements on burning houses.
Wenger, if you haven’t heard, started talking about flaming homes (or, if you prefer, blazing abodes) when he was asked about the financial consequences of Arsenal failing to finish in the Premier League’s top four this season.
There is a real possibility that the Gunners will not make next season’s Champions League, but their manager was having none of it.
“If I ask you ‘what does it mean if your house burns down?’ you will tell me ‘why should my house burn down?’ That is exactly the same for me,” said Arsene, or perhaps that should be Arson.
It might seem a striking quote to you. The thing is, though, I’ve heard all this before – and better – from Bergara. In the early 1990s, the Uruguayan led Stockport County from the depths of Division Four to the brink of the second tier, took them to Wembley four times in three seasons – and wrote the most wonderfully-demented programme notes I’ve ever read.
Bergara loved to slip Uruguayan proverbs into his notes, regardless of whether they made any sense in English. And if a metaphor could be extended over 500 words, all the better.
So it was that, early on in his final season at Stockport, his programme notes for a match against Brentford consisted entirely of a long, detailed discussion as to how building a successful football team was a bit like moving up the housing ladder, starting off with a terrace house, moving up through a semi-detached and eventually ending up with a detached house with its own garage and a big garden.
It went on and on like this, over several hundred words, and the only reaction it could possibly inspire in the reader was one of awe.
By comparison, Wenger’s single comment about fire-riddled dwellings seems a bit puny, really.
Last night’s final match: Arsenal 0 West Ham 0
Commentator: John Motson
The point Wenger was trying to make was that, in his view, Arsenal have nothing to worry about. He is certain they will overhaul Aston Villa to claim one of the four Champions League spots.
And to drive the point home (perhaps in a subconscious attempt to match Bergara’s mastery of simile and metaphor), he brought in a reference to marathons.
“Villa have played well until now,” he said. “But you judge a marathon at the end. No one remembers who was leading after 20 miles.”
Tell that to Paula Radcliffe. In any case, all Wenger really did there was say “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” in slightly more flowery language, so Bergara still has the one-up on him as far as I’m concerned.
And in any case, maybe Arsenal’s house will burn down this season. On a day which saw Aston Villa held at home by Wigan, the Gunners could have closed the gap by beating West Ham – and couldn’t do it.
Emmanuel Adebayor missed two golden chances to win the match, but it didn’t disguise the fact that Arsenal are not playing as attractively as they used to – particularly at home.
Their last five home league games have produced five goals in total. Is it any coincidence that they have been last on Match of the Day twice since the turn of the year?
Wenger put on his optimistic face afterwards, saying that his team had enjoyed 70 per cent of the possession and ought to have won. And yes, it’s true that the five-point gap to Villa could easily be closed in the 14 games that remain.
All the same, it might be a good idea to check the home insurance is in order, Arsene.
1. Fulham: 7 (GD: +1; CD: +1)
2. Middlesbrough: 6 (GD: 0; CD: +1)
3. Wigan: 5 (GD: 0; CD: +2)
4. West Brom: 5 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
5. Capello: 4 (GD: +1; CD: +4)
6=. Blackburn: 4 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
6=. Bolton: 4 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
8. West Ham: 3 (GD: 0; CD: +2)
9. Stoke: 3 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
10=. Arsenal: 2 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
10=. Newcastle: 2 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
10=. Sunderland: 2 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
13=. Gubba: 1 (GD: +1; CD: +1)
13=. Manchester City: 1 (GD: +1; CD +1)
15. Portsmouth: 1 (GD: 0; CD: +1)
16=. Everton: 1 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
16=. Hull: 1 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
16=. Tottenham: 1 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
19=. Aston Villa: 0
19=. Chelsea: 0
19=. Liverpool: 0
19=. Manchester United: 0
(NB: Teams level on points will be separated by Gubba difference: the number of times a team is last on Match of the Day with Tony Gubba commentating. If they are still level, they will be separated by Capello difference: the number of times a team is last on MOTD with Fabio Capello present.)