If I played for Arsenal (which happens to be my favourite team in football), I’d be super-proud. I’d wear the red and white with a smile so wide you’d need to hire a small construction team to bridge it.
I’d know I was wearing the colours of one of the greatest teams in the history of not just football, but sports as a whole. And I’d wear it with swagger.
Just getting to that place probably means that I’d already worked hard for years to become a good-enough footballer, honing my skills from childhood, breaking through rank after rank after rank of youth teams, probably a couple of senior teams in my local area if I wasn’t a born super-athlete, as well. So yes, I’d feel more than a little giddy to get paid enough money to be able to buy myself a spanking new car every month, eat hand-reared, gold-sprinkled Kobe meat every day and wash it down with the tears of young women’s broken hearts.
But I’d also know that there’s a price for all this. I could never become complacent. I could never wake up and think that I deserved that shirt, just because I am who I am. I couldn’t feel entitled to it. I’d have to earn it. Every day. With my play. My demeanour. My pride. My deeds.
Nobody is entitled to anything in this life. You have to earn what you get. Yes, there is fair and unfair. But there is no such thing as your right, apart from basic life functions and the means to continue them.
So, in short, I’ve been less than pleased with the way most Arsenal players have gone about their business this year (and the last couple of them, in fact).
In almost every game, especially over the second half of the season, Arsenal players have conducted themselves like they’re entitled to that shirt, entitled to win just because they are Arsenal, not because they are playing better than their opposition.
You’ll see players waving their arms in frustration, yelling at the ref to do something for them, mere minutes into a 90-minute match, all because someone dared to challenge a dribble or close them down outside their own area, the rude bullies they are. They come onto the field, expecting preferential treatment, just because they’re wearing the red and white and are better than you and because just you’re so brilliant and everyone should be giving you unicorns puking rainbows across your champagne-filled swimming pool just because.
That’s how Liverpool decimated them earlier in the season. While Arsenal came into the game thinking that they’d just have to pass the ball a few times between themselves and the others would just roll over because just look at the beautiful passing, Liverpool came out earning their colours. They attacked, closed down, forced the others to react to them and were up 4-0 in seemingly 38 seconds. And that’s how Liverpool are closer to the title than they’ve been for 20 years; they know they have to go out and earn what they get. It doesn’t get delivered in a platinum-coated chest with their Lambo. They asserted their will, instead of waiting for the others to just give it to them. That’s why they’ll win the league before Arsenal will. That’s how anyone succeeds, no matter where they are or what they do.
Guys like Jack Wilshere, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, Mikel Arteta and other transcendentally talented athletes look like they’re still wearing their team-mandated pre-game suit-and-tie on the field, and not a specially designed outfit to accommodate sweating and tackling and pulling and dirt, and get all cross and huffy when the others come and take the ball away from them. And I don’t even remember what Tomas Rosicky looks like without doing an impression of that entitled little shit in the mall who didn’t get sprinkles on his ice cream and is now yell-crying at his mum.
And that’s why they haven’t won squat in 9 years. They’ve stopped earning their colours. It’s not about Xs and Os, it’s about bloody pride. It’s about proving, every single day, that you’re getting paid to wear an Arsenal shirt because you work harder at your sport than everyone who isn’t getting paid to wear one and you know that as soon as you stop doing that you’ve lost your right to wear it.
Flamini gets it. He tackles, shouts, fights, scraps and even tears the sleeves off his own shirt because he’s there to play football and not be a fucking model. Mertesacker gets it. He tells his teammates off for not appreciating their fans just because their in a mood and doesn’t care if the Daily Mail makes a fuss about it. He makes up for his mistakes, or at least tries his absolute damn best to do so. Just look at the FA Cup semi-final game this weekend. He concedes a penalty against Wigan and after that, while most the other players on the field are proving why Arsenal have been reduced to also-rans for a decade, you can feel – taste – that Mertesacker is going to make up for his mistake. And lo and behold, who scores the equaliser? The guy with a chip on his shoulder.
That’s how you should always play. Like you have something to prove. Because you do. Otherwise you haven’t earned your shirt. Not just for Arsenal. Not just in sports. But in life.