18 June 2013

Why Arsenal can't afford to lose Gareth Bale

Amid all of the hype over who we're bringing in, whether it be Higuain or Jovetic or Sanogo or whoever, one player, one who is perhaps just as key to our perennial Champions League qualification run, may be lost: Gareth Bale. We might just lose him to Real Madrid, and that should be enough to give us pause.

The Monreal headline froze me. Date: December 2012.
As far as Bale's concerns, I worry that he'd crumble under the pressure of replacing Ronaldo (if that's what he's being brought in to do). Sure, he's been described as "the next Ronaldo", but it's easy to say and harder to do. He'd be leaving the world's 11th-largest club to join its biggest. That's quite a leap even without having to replace one of the world's most-prolific scorers. Put in context, his 2012-13 season was so remarkable that it very nearly accounts for half of all the goals he's ever scored (26 out of 60). On the basis of this one season, then, he's being touted as a replacement for Ronaldo, who has three times scored more than 50 goals in a single campaign. Real is said to be preparing a bid of £100m. No pressure. Bale could rise to the occasion or just as easily fall off the cliff. I pray, then, that he stays.

Hear me out. As it stands, the top three Prem teams qualify automatically for the Champions League. Under the current hierarchy, that's Man U, Man City, and Chelsea. Assuming that nothing else changes other than managers, that hierarchy is unlikely to change. We're therefore looking at the fourth, qualifying spot, which we earned on the last day of the season (thanks, Kos). Would we have done it without Bale to inspire use? Without a time-machine and alternate-universe replicator, we'll never know. I'll say this, though: one factor that drove us to 4th place this year, and it's by no means a small one, was our knowledge that, at any given moment, Bale would score. It was therefore beyond vital that we outscore each of our opponents to nullify him. I worry that, if he leaves, we will lose some of the urgency that impelled us over the last ten weeks of the 2012-13 season. Imagine it: how often, before a game or after a lackluster first half, did the whispered name "Bale" bring our players' edge back? For some, it was fear. For some, determination. For others, anger? Sure. Whatever it was, some unquantifiable percentage of our players' motivation and achievement came from knowing that they had to top Bale week in and week out.

Think of the contrast: how threatening would Spurs have felt to us without Bale? Without him, they're Newcastle (sorry, Toon) or Aston Villa (no offense). Without that bogeyman, I worried that we might never have regained the sense of purpose and intensity that saw us win ten of our last eleven matches. We might have lolly-gagged a bit more, letting Everton or even Liverpool close the gap. The biggest favor Bale may have done for us this year is to score on us at White Hart Lane (word has it that he'll try to trademark that dopey heart-hand sign. I'm pretty sure tween girls everywhere will file a class-action lawsuit to stop him). It was dispiriting at the time, sure, but look at how we responded.

And that leads into my next line of reasoning. Without Bale, our entire co-dependent relationship with Spurs crumbles. Sure, we have rivalries with other clubs, but there's nothing quite as sumptuous and as textured as ours with Spurs. We know each other; we understand how to push each other's buttons and read each other's little tics of exasperation and depression far better than we know ourselves. Should Bale leave, he'll be replaced by someone, but it just won't be the same. It'll be like when that decades-long marriage tends, and the rebound-girl looks like and reminds you of the ex in so many ways, and yet...More seriously, though, we do define ourselves against the other. If Spurs tumble, so to do we. I'm not about to whip out John Donne's Meditation XVII on you, so don't worry about that. I will say this, though: with a lesser, weakened Spurs team, we risk losing the villain against whom we define ourselves. Superman has Lex Luthor. Spider-man has Doc Ock. You see the trend. Arsenal has Spurs. Without them, we'd have to start a new rivalry from scratch, casting aside more than 100 years of tension, animosity, and outright hatred (from some). Among the other London clubs, I dislike Chelsea utterly and thoroughly, but the feeling there doesn't carry the same savory flavor.

Last but not least, should Bale leave, we face the unthinkable: commiseration. We'd see ourselves in them, and they'd see themselves in us. They lost Bale, we lost van Persie. Two heartbreaks--in consecutive years, no less--might just be enough to bring us together in a heart-salving embrace. Spurs fans and Arsenal fans would trade scarves instead of salvos. Adebayor and Gallas and Campbell, among others, would be accepted on both sides of the divide, and the UN would declare both clubs as ambassadors for peace. Now that I think of it, it could in usher a golden age of brotherhood and harmony and---

Bollocks. Let him leave.