A dozen life take homes from Arsenal’s spirited campaign

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By Luke Batsirai Tamborinyoka 

Introduction 

It is unfortunate that history only remembers the best. Indeed, history is stubborn and spares no time for second best. But if the truth be told, and notwithstanding their reputation as the nearly men of English soccer, Arsenal continue to display  the best and most exciting  brand of football ever seen in this generation.

They may have lost out on yesterday’s crown, but there is no denying that the most fascinating brand of football this season in the English Premiership was exhibited by my favourite team, Arsenal Football club.

Moneybags Manchester City, bankrolled by Abu Dhabi billionaires, may have unfairly elbowed out Arsenal to the title yesterday. I may be biased because I am an Arsenal fan but I will posit that just like Zanu PF, Manchester City have their own baggage regarding the legitimacy of this title and others in the last few years. They have an albatross of 115 charges hanging over them and the legitimacy of their crown will always be contested and disputed until those outstanding legitimacy issues are comprehensively dealt with.  

Manchester City, the moneybags from the Etihad, the Wicknell Chivayo of the English Premiership, have used the power of their purse to bully the football world by literally buying football talent around the globe, in the process flouting financial fair play rules. The 115 charges will always remain a legitimacy blot and asterisk; painfully so in the two seasons where the accused and their pending charges have robbed Arsenal of the title.     

Put simply, there are 115 reasons why City’s title triumph is a blemish on the integrity of football as a popular global sport.  

So too was the integrity of football as a sport and the chastity of fair competition seriously harmed by the behaviour of Tottenham, whose fans joyously sang for their team’s defeat to Manchester City.  The shameful sight of Spurs fans celebrating their team’s defeat while raucously chanting: “ I know and I am sure I am City till July ” left a sour taste in the mouth of all football lovers across the globe. 

 The miscreant behaviour of Tottenham fans eroded and corroded all the lustre, glory and honour from the world’s most beautiful game. 

The gothic message from the celebration of their own defeat just to spite their neighbour was that they hate Arsenal more than they love their own team. It was much like celebrating the rape of your own mother, which rape you seem to have purposely arranged just to tarnish and soil the impeccable record of an anti-rape crusade in the community that is being spearheaded by your neighbour.  

Dear reader, notwithstanding the fact that they lost out on the title yesterday, this piece is about the several life lessons that can be drawn from the Gunners’ spirited campaign this season. 

But first, just to say at a personal level, I have my own bona fides as a football fan. 

I am passionate about football, having started off in the senior soccer team at Tsatse primary school in my hood of Domboshava, where I was a trusted guard of the goal post.

 It was also for tthe unstinting love for football that my paternal uncle Thomas Gombera and I stormed into the middle of the pitch in 1998 in frenzied excitement after a nail-biting match at the National Sports Stadium. Chanting the legendary football hymn Yave Nyama Yekugocha with other fans and the players, the two of us handed over our caps and scarfs to Loyd ‘Samaita’ Mutasa and Gift ‘Umbro’ Muzadzi respectively as a show of gratitude as our beloved Dynamos football club stormed into the finals of Africa’s elite club competition, which De-Mbare later lost to Asec Mimosas of Abidjan.   

In terms of soccer affinities, my football support spreads locally from the Warriors and Dynamos football club  to Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa, to Borussia Dortmund in Germany’s Bundesliga, to Barcelona in the Spanish La Liga and to my beloved Arsenal football club  in the English Premiership. 

My first visit to Arsenal’s Emirates Football stadium was in 2010, the same year that I also had the privilege to watch Barcelona in action at the Camp Nou in Catalonia, Spain. 

Dear reader, this week we go light and look at the life-lessons that can be learnt from the Gunners’ enchanting brand of football this season.  They may have missed out on the coronation to moneybags Manchester City when the EPL curtain came down yesterday, but there is no doubt that the Gunners left their own indelible record in the just-ended campaign.

Arsenal’s scintillating performance exuded several life lessons that may assist institutions and organisations, including political parties, governments, communities and corporates.. 

Dear reader, the private and public sectors, companies, institutions, communities and families across the world have important lessons to learn from the tutorials that emanated from Arsenal’s dressing room.  

The neglected rock that became the cornerstone the Kai Harvetz lesson 

When he joined Arsenal from Chelsea for £65million, he took time to find his feet at the Emirates. But as the season progressed, he found his form, scoring crucial goals for the club, particularly towards the title run-in.

In families, institutions, political parties and in both the private and public sectors, let us be patient to newcomers who may take time to flourish.

In whatever spaces we are, we should learn to support each other and to create a proper environment so that latent talent can flourish for the good of the team. 

Those we think are flops today, those we despise and backbite at every turn, can later turn out to be the key lynchpins in the turnaround of our institutions. 

Kai Harvetz ended the season as the proverbial neglected biblical rock that became the corner stone. 

2. Supporting and empathising with a flustered colleague the Kai lesson

The so-called flops, especially the newly-imported recruits in our institutions, could just be a matter of lack of confidence and the right institutional atmosphere.. It behoves upon those already at the various institutions across the vast labyrinth of sectors to provide support, empathy and boost the confidence of those that join them.

Kai Harvetz played several games without impact and without scoring any goal. 

The turning point for Harvetz was the away match against Bournemouth on 30 September 2023 when Arsenal players, in full global glare, exhibited humbling public empathy to their flustered colleague.

 All Arsenal players deliberately stepped aside to allow their colleague to take the penalty and score his first goal in the 4-0 away win at the Vitality stadium.

Allowing him to take the penalty and the unprecedented hugs he got from all his colleagues was a heart-warming gesture of support from fellow players. Since that day, Kai Harvetz was never the same. 

Arteta later said the players had organised themselves to step aside for their teammate as a gesture of support to a chastised colleague to score his first goal and boost his confidence. 

In life, empathising and understanding the situation and the emotional space of colleagues is very important. 

The first workshop to which you send a nervy work colleague to represent the company or the first birthday platform you give to a nervy brother to break his duck and speak on behalf of the family may be all that is needed to deliberately create robust and confident characters in both our institutions and in our families respectively..

We must feel for each other, just as the Arsenal players taught us that sunny September afternoon.   

3. Patience pays the Mikel Arteta project

I have no doubt that Mikel Arteta will make the difference at the Emirates many seasons to come,  if the club bosses continue to have faith in him.  Some have begun to doubt him, given his sole FA cup win and two Community Shields since his arrival as a manager some five years ago. 

But one can see the progress of his project.

In other clubs, he would have been fired after two seasons. But the progress is now palpable and my subjective view is that this Arsenal club will fiercely compete on many fronts in years to come. 

The life lesson from Arsenal is that patience pays. 

It could be a nervy daughter-law who has just arrived, or a new supervisor at a manufacturing plant who has just joined, they may all just need time to gel and understand the dynamics before they can unleash their full potential. 

Xabi Alonso may have arrived in Germany in 2022, but the club authorities allowed him the leverage and autonomy to strut his stuff and to play his magic.

Today, Alonso, just like fellow Spaniard, Arteta, has become   a marvel to the global football world community this season.

 The future can only be bright for these young, emerging football managers

Patience, patience, patience.  

4. The student who Challenge the master

It is insightful that three of the four top clubs in the EPL that will be playing Champions League football next year have Spanish coaches. Unai Emery (Aston Villa), Pep Guardiola   (Manchester City) and Arteta (Arsenal) are all fellow Spanish nationals who have brought a competitive coaching edge to the English premiership.

Arteta was Pep’s assistant at Man City but in the past two seasons that he has stepped away to become his own man, Mikel has taken his new assignment  in his stride to become the only portent threat to Guardiola in the past two seasons.

No one else but Pep’s direct student has posed a serious threat to the class of his master.

Be it in the village or at the workplace, we must allow the youngsters to bloom and prosper under our tutelage. 

We must learn to nurture and groom talent. 

Who knows, as Arteta has done, those understudying us today may perfect their art and become better craftsmen at that which we taught them.

That is as it should be, to groom protégés and understudies that can become better than us so as to guarantee generational improvement and succession. 

When Guardiola finally bows out, he will be a proud master. He will marvel at how he groomed a protégé whose competence level touched the sky!

5. Veteran-izing the battle

In the various institutions across the genres, there has been a systematic purging of veterans in favour of novices and milky-nosed upstarts.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this practice of promoting novelty and upstarts, even though in some institutions the veterans have been derogatorily and derisively referred to as mbezo (adze), the traditional sculpting instrument that is presumably  not be as sharp as today’s tools.

But sometimes the veteran old timers may be important to our institutions, at least for inspiration to the upstarts, if not for anything else. The veterans have seen it all and have surmounted many a hurdle and won many a battle in rougher and tougher environments; oftentimes without the utility of modern instruments.

That is why Arteta has lauded old horse Jorginho, who he says exudes an inspirational atmosphere in the dressing room.  

That is why the same Arteta called the Invincibles to watch yesterday’s crucial final match at home ,  the club’s iconic players who went undefeated in the entire 2003/4 season, a feat still to be emulated by any other club in the EPL.

The cardinal lesson from the Emirates to the world is that the veterans are not necessarily a spent force. You can still spend them again today for the final push to inspire the present moment in a gargantuan, seismic way. 

It may not have paid in the end, but one could see a clear and deliberate role for the veterans. 

6. David Raya the Ray of a painful change

Institutions, companies, governments, families, villages and communities must learn that it is always important to learn to embrace change, even though it may be painful to do so. 

When David Raya arrived from Brentford to take the goalkeeper’s jersey from Aaron Ramsdale, some thought the English goalie had been hard done.

But Raya has turned out to be one the club’s biggest find of the season. 

With 16 clean sheets this season; Raya has-been fittingly rewarded with the Golden Glove award for the 2023/24season.

Oftentimes, change is the only constant and it must be embraced.

7. The ghost in the shadow Nicolas Jover

In many corporate, institutions and even in families, there are a lot of people who stoically slug it out in the background, with a lot of energy and passion, but are never lauded or recognised.

I have said at some other platforms that in many vocations in life, even in politics, there are many background characters who may not be known to the public and who may never seek public glory. 

Many enterprises in life are foreground vocations that recognise the man or woman in the foreground, the character in the limelight; never the aides and sidekicks who burn the midnight oil to make things work. 

Even in companies, there are guards, researchers, scouts and advisers who never attempt to steal the limelight but who do all the work in the background, far away from public notice and public glare. 

Arsenal football club has taught us to be alive to these ghosts in the shadows, these men and women who ordinarily are never lauded or recognised.

Nobody knew Nicolas Jover, Arsenal’s set piece coach. 

But when Arsenal scored an unprecedented 18 goals from set pieces in this campaign, more than any other club, football fans across the world were curious to know this master tactician who was behind this stroke of genius.

Today, the ghost has moved from the shadows. The background has shifted to the foreground.

Nicolas Jover has become a household name across the length and breadth of the football world.

8. The one moment in the last lap

In any battle, even at village or family programmes, there is always that one moment that marks a huge statement of intent.

For Arteta and his Arsenal club, it was not just the mercurial and general success in the duels with the league’s top clubs. No.

 It was their defeat of Manchester United at Old Trafford last week that marked a  huge statement of intent when everyone expected them to falter, as they did last season at a crucial juncture of what had been a hugely successful campaign. 

That win at Old Trafford, which had become a rarity in the past season, was a huge statement. 

It was an ugly win, a grinding out of a positive result even when you’re not playing well.

The lesson to be derived therefrom is that   with focus and a spirited determination , any corporate or institution can grind out a dividend, even in a tenuous, hostile and unsustainable environment.

It was that performance at Old Trafford that took the title battle to the wire and provided an exciting climax on the last day of the campaign. 

9. Ode to the defenders

Every organisation, institution, corporate or even a political party has its own defenders who, like the ghosts in the shadows, are often not lauded.

The marketing people, communications people, legal departments and other sectors and people who defend our institutions every day, either through litigation or that odd press statement, are rarely lauded, if at all.

Oftentimes it is the chief executives and the production managers that get rewarded at the annual corporate dinnerd, never those who slugged it out in those lonely, long nights to defend the brand, be it a corporate, a private or public entity.

Equally, in football, it is the strikers and midfielders who often make the headlines and get shortlisted for the Ballon D’Or.

But this year, Arsenal made the world to look up and take notice of the defenders..

Wiliam Saliba, Gabriel Magalhaes and Ben White, among the entire backline, became a consistent and effective crop of stoppers that today carries the record of conceding only 29 goals, the least number than any other club in this campaign.

Kudos to those in the backline who stridently defend our institutions but are never in the limelight nor are they lauded at those glitzy ceremonies at the end of the year where we often pamper those on the frontline.   

10. Take on those moneybags

For the past two seasons, Arsenal has given moneybags Manchester City a run for their money.

 The Gunners may not have the Abu Dhabi billions to hoard football talent across the globe. But they have put up a good fight, even without a fat purse.

You may be competing with a well resourced farmer, or a manufacturing company with a huge budget, but Arsenal has stridently delivered the lesson that it is possible to take on the moneybags and make them sweat for their victory.

Oh yes, it is possible to take on the moneyed Chivayos of this world and the institutions backing them but still leave them huffing and puffing as they sweat it out for victory and success..  

11. Never say never

That the Premiership battle has been taken to the wire; to the very last game of the season, is testament to the utility of an undying spirit to fight and succeed.

Whatever your space and whatever your vocation, Arsenal has taught us to slug it out and to take the battles with our opponents to the wire, to the very end. 

12. Vainly Hoping for the Worst Harm from West Ham

Of course, in every enterprise, there is need for a bit of hope and luck, if not a dependence on others.

 While it is always prudent to have your destiny in your own hands, the vicissitudes of life sometimes make you hope and depend on others. 

After all, football is a team sport.

A crazy and audacious bicycle kick from Mohammad Kudus almost brought an entertaining twist to the title race yesterday.  

Sadly, it was not to be. 

 This campaign has taught us that we do not live in an island and that the Rambo mentality of a one-man demolition squad will not work in today’s stubborn world.

In the modern world, you need others in whatever battle or enterprise. 

We had initially thought Tottenham, and then West Ham could spring a surprise and tilt the race in our favour. 

But it was not to be.

The cardinal lesson is that in real life, there are moments when you hope and have to depend on others for success.

It may not happen but the bottom line is that there are instances where you might need both luck and jope.

You also might have to depend on others. This life is definitely not a solo and lone-ranger enterprise 

 Conclusion

As I said earlier, the best team does not always win. 

Even in politics, the party with the brightest ideas to govern may be in opposition as a result of unfair and strange reasons, including rigging.

Indeed, just like one Emmerson Mnangagwa, one may find themselves in office, even with a hugely contested legitimacy, 

Just as Manchester City have the crown but with the millstone of a whopping 115 charges hanging around their neck, there are others who are claiming to be legitimately in office, even with the albatross of the SADC observer mission report that dismissed their victory as a daylight robbery of the people’s will. 

Whatever the outcome of the just ended EPL season, the point remains that there are key life lessons to be learnt from Arsenal’s gripping campaign and their fascinating attacking style   that titillated our collective football palate. 

Sadly, just as in real life, the best do not always win. 

 Luke Batsirai Tamborinyoka is a Citizen from Domboshava. He is a journalist and an ardent political scientist by profession. You can interact with him in his Facebook Page or on the Twitter hande @luketambo.

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