Every club has a brand.
It’s something they are synonymous with. It’s a style, a vibe, a feeling, a thought. It’s whatever pops into your head when you think of that club.
And that brand is tempered by former glory.
Arsenal are known for our stylish play. Swaggering players who make defenders tremble at the knees and leave them with twisted blood. Players with so many tricks up their sleeve that opponents have been diagnosed with rickets.
And this may not have started during Arsene Wenger’s era, but it was definitely underlined, signed, sealed and delivered across the world by those wonderful Wenger teams of 98-2006. In fact, even those deeply flawed but intricately beautiful teams of 06-14 perpetuated the Arsenal brand of football as art.
And we have had beautiful teams before Wenger. Bertie Mee’s team, while they had their hardmen, had genuine skill that bewitched. Geordie Armstrong, Jon Sammels, George Graham, Charlie George, Marinello (in spells) – with the ball at their feet they did wondrous things.
Even some of the incarnations of the teams managed by George Graham had beauty in them. The ‘Almost Invincible’ side that swept all aside in 90-91, they may have built their success on the back of a defence that crushed the resolve from all who faced them – but they scored a bagful of goals too. In fact, it wasn’t just Golden Boot winner Alan Smith who was grabbing the plaudits – Limpar, Campbell and Merson all registered significant hauls through the campaign.
So Arsenal are known for our swagger. And under Arteta, this might not have happened instantly. Instead, the first shoots of positivity under his stewardship have very much been regarding our new-found mettle. Our defence has been shutting out all and sundry after a tawdry beginning to our season. Gabriel, White, Tierney, Tomiyasu, Nuno, Ramsdale, they have assembled and overcome language obstacles to form a resolute backline.
And while our brand is built on beautiful football – and is probably going to continue with players such as Odegaard, Smith-Rowe and Saka to carry on that flame – would we baulk if we became a side that relied solely on our ability to choke out opponents until they submit?
Think of Chelsea’s title winning teams between 2005-07. The first squads – and the first spell in England – for Jose Mourinho.
They set a record for least amount of goals conceded. Petr Cech, John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho, William Gallas, Paolo Ferreira. John Terry and Petr Cech aside, you wouldn’t call these players world class. They were good, but it was more of a team ethic that saw every team try and fail to pierce their resistance. Jose instilled the first instance of a siege mentality into English football and it worked a charm. They shut up shop and they battled on the pitch, harder than any one else.
And if we had a season where our defence were the merciless rocks on which every team crashed upon? Where our attack would smash and grab points after tracking back and defending as a unit for 80 minutes?
Would we care?
A little perhaps. We might squirm as if we were wearing a suit just a size and a half too small. It just wouldn’t sit right. But if it made us look amazing – much like a title would?
The complaining might be reduced to mumblings under our breath.
What about City? Under Pep, they are the pass masters. No one knows possession like they do.
But what if they were to have a Jose season? What if that acerbic style of football won them what they coveted most – a Champions League title?
Would they be moaning – either the fans or the players?
To be fair to City, their brand of football is in its infancy. Before the takeover, they were happy duking it out for Auto Windscreen trophies.
Let’s look at a club similar in history.
They have a reputation across the world for having some of the most fearsome attacks in football. And it has never been in their nature to play a game and take the conservative option.
But if they had a campaign that abandoned these principles and it got them the Premier League title again – the first without Sir Alex Ferguson – would they look back in twenty years and realise the memory is soured by the compromise of their beliefs?
Hell no. They even hired Jose in the vain chance that this type of football could get them back to former glories. But to no avail.
So brand does count. It builds fanbases. It heightens rivalries.
But in the grand scheme of things, all clubs take turns in being entertaining and pragmatic.
Arsenal have it in our DNA to have some style on the pitch.
And for us fans, it matters.
But does it matter as much as 3pts at full-time?
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