Premier League Diary: Arsene Wenger’s unsettling Monday morning surprise

Hungover, befuddled, and with a gnawing feeling of anger, guilt and self-doubt, Arsene Wenger tried to work out just what he was feeling, and why. But he had no idea. He tried to remember yesterday, but he couldn’t recall a single detail. His mind drew a complete blank. He could remember Saturday. The preparation, the team talk, the meal with his players, the phone calls to family.

He could remember exactly what happened on Saturday night, and watching Match of the Day out the corner of his eye. Wenger never normally forgot anything, and he couldn’t even remember having a drink on Sunday. He couldn’t remember where he even might have gone to have a drink. All he could summon up was an awareness that his head was absolutely pounding.

Come to think of it, this wasn’t even his bedroom. He was in an anonymous, mid-range hotel. He looked out the window to see he was overlooking a motorway. It wasn’t obvious which one, though he could see a conurbation a couple of miles away, and few megastores between the motorway and whatever population lived over there. He checked the small desk in the room, to check for branding. There was none. This wasn’t one of the big chains, then. Wenger had no idea how he’d stumbled into a nameless, not easily identifiable budget hotel. He just had a blurry head.

He looked for his phone. It wasn’t on the bedside table. He checked all the pockets of his clothes, which were strewn across the floor, except for his trousers. They weren’t in the tiny wardrobe, but he found them in the bathroom, sodden in the shower. There was nothing there; even a water-damaged phone would have been better than nothing. No wallet, either. There wasn’t a bottle of wine anywhere, let alone an open bottle of spirits. He felt hungover, but still, there was no evidence that he’d been drinking.

20th August 1976:  Staples Corner flyover on the M1 motorway.  (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)Evening Standard/Getty Images

The view from Arsene's anonymous, mid-range hotel room.

Wenger made sure that he didn’t freak out. He was aware that panicking would do much more harm than good. He had his health, as far as he could tell. He was in England, probably, so things would get resolved sooner rather than later. He sat on the bed and took the cheap wafers next to the single-serving kettle. Best to eat with a hangover, he thought. The nausea wouldn’t be encouraged by something as bland as these wafers. He paced himself, and they did indeed stay down.

He fetched his trousers, turned the radiator on to its highest setting, and put the trousers on it to get them dried out as quickly as possible. He hung up his shirt on the back of the bathroom door, to at least steam out some of the grime. There was a complimentary selection of cheap toiletries, including a toothbrush. Without his glasses it was hard to work out just what was what. He found himself oddly desperate and anxious to find out which was the shampoo and which was the conditioner. He knew that some people get fretful with a hangover, but he was not usually one of them. He stepped out of the bathroom, opened the window to the widest crack allowed by the safety latch, and took deep breaths.

In for eight seconds, out for four. In for eight seconds, out for four. In for eight seconds, out for four. It worked, and over a couple of minutes his heart rate returned to normal. He noticed his trousers were almost dry on one side, and turned them over to complete the process.

Right, Wenger thought. Time to get everything sorted. He’d get himself washed and refreshed. He’d find his glasses, somewhere in the room. He’d walk down to reception and ask if he’d left his wallet there when he booked in, and if not, they’d know who he was and sort it out for him somehow. Worst case scenario, he’d call up the club and get them to send a driver. Once he knew where he was anyway. But first, time for a coffee.

He felt better for the caffeine, even if it was cheap, instant stuff that he’d usually refuse. It was perhaps more about the routine, and the symbolic nature of it, that prepared him for the day, finally. Even his headache was receding, and by pure fortune he felt something under his thigh in the bed. It was his contact lenses. Amongst all the chaos that must have gone on last night, he’d still found time to preserve them for the morning. He put them in, bringing the day into focus. He went to the bathroom.

Catching his thin, elongated and naked frame in the mirror, he was shocked. Not by his body, clearly, but what was on it. Prison tattoos were everywhere. He tried to work out what they said and strained closer to the mirror.

KOSCIELNY PENALTY on his right bicep.

MERTESACKER FOOL under his left nipple.

But across his stomach was the worst one: a big, crudely drawn caricature of Diego Costa’s smiling face.

Wenger remembered, then heaved his acrid guts into the toilet.