Premier League Diary: The FA Cup superstitions of Arsène Wenger

7.01am: Wenger walks to get the morning paper with one thing in his mind. As he walks toward the newspaper at the end of his drive — in boxer shorts and a white, undone dressing gown, with slippers on — he makes sure not to touch any of the cracks in the pavement. Given the crazy maze of cracks, people walking along the street are given a performance of bizarre but balletic grace as he hops, wobbles, stoops, and sways along the way until he manages to grasp the paper.

He smiles, content with the successful negotiation of the path, before he realizes that he has to do it all again on the way back, this time with extra ballast. Nevertheless, he keeps his focus and tip-toes all the way back, leaping a full two yards over the front door threshold, only slightly grazing one of his knees as it rubs against the carpet. He is, despite the brief flash of pain, satisfied.

8.00am: Getting changed after his shower — on tiptoes to stand on a tiny couple of mosaic tiles in his wet room — he makes sure that he wears the same pair of underwear as the last time Arsenal played. He has the same suit, the same socks, the same tie, and the same shirt. The shirt has been repaired three times already this season, but he’s damned if he’ll change things now. The antiperspirant stains in the armpit are deeply grim, and so caked on as almost to have their own special texture. He grimaces, puts on an extra round of deodorant, and makes his way downstairs for a quick breakfast.

8.32am: Getting into his car before he drives to the training ground, he lines up the wing mirrors in precisely the same way he does every time he drives. He makes sure the whites of his middle fingernail line up with the outside of his car, in the reflection. He ensures that the main mirror is at exactly the same angle as usual. He notices that he tapped the dashboard by mistake with his right hand, so evens it out with his left. Noting that’s an odd number, he does it another time with each hand to bring it up to an even two on each side. Seeing that everything is now in equilibrium, he makes the drive toward the club coach at the training ground.

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal scratches his head during an Arsenal training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League match against Olympiacos at London Colney on December 8, 2015 in St Albans, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)Getty Images

9.10am: Wenger leaves the car and, on his walk to the office, spots a black cat thirty yards ahead of him, just to his right. It’s about to cross his path when it spots Wenger. The two hold their gaze. A minute passes; neither moves. Wenger takes one step forward, the cat arches its back. Wenger takes three more forward, and the cats fur seems to inflate rapidly. Wenger takes half a step forward, and the cat hisses, baring its teeth and sliding its claws out from their previously retracted position. The cat inches forward an inch, almost in line between Wenger and the door ahead of him. He is on the verge of crossing his path when Wenger removes his wallet and chucks it to the floor, deliberately missing the cat, but just in front of him. Startled, the cat sprints a hundred yards away into the shadows cast by another office. Wenger rushes into the office and closes the door firmly behind him.

10.00am: Using a same-day delivery service, Wenger orders 50 rabbit feet and 50 four-leaved clovers to be delivered to the Emirates Stadium. He blesses himself, using the traditional Catholic four-point gesture, and prays that resting some players won’t come back to haunt him, and that there won’t be any injuries against Sunderland. He waits for a priest to arrive, who then blesses a picture of Aaron Ramsey.

2.45pm: Before the match, Wenger hands out a rabbit leg to each of the players in his squad and asks them to wear it as a necklace, hidden under their undershirts. He places a four-leaved clover in each of their socks and into the pockets of the shorts.

3.00pm-5.30pm: Wenger watches for the full 90 minutes with his fingers crossed with both hands. He almost loses his temper with Steve Bould, who refuses to make the same commitment. He sweats profusely through each tackle. His heart races to 190bpm when Laurent Koscielny allows Jeremain Lens in to score. Despite going 3-1 up with an Olivier Giroud goal, Wenger only relaxes his muscles when the referee whistles for full-time. Staggering to the dressing room, he has to be treated for severe cramp by the team doctor after losing so many fluids and salts. He almost needs smelling salts when it becomes clear that not a single one of his players is injured, and that resting players hasn’t led to Sam Allardyce knocking him out of the FA Cup.

Following day, 7.01am: Waking up satisfied, Wenger checks his emails from the physio department and reads that Alexis Sanchez won’t be fit for the game against Liverpool.

“OH FOR FU-” and the 24 hour period finishes just too short to include the rest of his sentence.

FIND FUSION

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