One of my former managers liked to condition us, his players, into remembering the number 212 whenever we were on a football pitch. Sounds peculiar I know, but it wasn’t as random as you might imagine.
For at 209, 210, and even 211 degrees Fahrenheit, water gets very hot but it won’t boil. Nothing really happens. Yet at 212 it does boil – at which point there’s enough heat energy created to make all manner of exciting things occur.
My old gaffer wanted to replicate this effect in matches.
By closing down, tackling, passing, moving, running, dribbling, crossing and shooting with as much speed and effort as we could muster – at our maximum level– the idea was to blow the opposition away with our intensity.
Hearing a scream from the dug-out saying, “You’re at 210 Clarkey, and that’s OK, but we need you to hit 212” was certainly one of the stranger, more unique experiences of my playing days, but I’ll confess it did sometimes help push me and my teammates beyond what we’d previously thought was our limit.
In short, playing at boiling point often had the desired effect
Those that have seen Arsenal in action this season might say their form has been of a more lukewarm nature.
Arsene Wenger’s men are unbeaten and ticking along just fine, but in truth with their World Cup stars returning in dribs and drabs, they haven’t really got going yet.
As champions Manchester City turn up on their doorstep this Saturday, its time for the Gunners to raise the temperature…
Still smarting from their unexpectedly listless 1-0 defeat at home to Stoke before the international break, the visitors will find comfort in the knowledge that under Manuel Pellegrini they’ve never lost back-to-back Premier League games.
However, memories of desperately clinging on for a point at the Emirates in March, and of the comprehensive 3-0 beating they suffered in last month’s Community Shield at Wembley, will surely resonate with the squad too.
Factor in the trepidation of two possible defeats on the spin, and Arsenal’s impressive home record (it’s been over a year since they lost there in the league) and I sense Pellegrini’s tactical approach is likely to air on the side of caution.
With a sharpened focus, little or nothing will be taken for granted
This isn’t necessarily what the Gunners want. The champions may have a formidable strike force that netted 102 times last season in the Premier League alone, but curiously Arsene Wenger’s men would prefer the visitors to come at them head on.
Playing with risk is likely to leave more gaps, and Arsenal have the ideal blend of players to dismantle opponents on the counter attack this season.
With newly recruited speed merchants Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck hungry and eager to make runs behind (and Theo Walcott soon to return from injury), Arsenal should in theory become the breakaway masters in 2014/15.
The more adventurous teams like City are against them, meaning they’ll have to inflict damage when possession is won back.
Should City avoid falling into the trap this weekend, the Gunners must find another way to win what’s a really important game in the context of their season.
Their pretty, probing, pass and move football can be too much for many rivals to contain
But breaking down a rearguard held together by Vincent Kompany, and protected at the gate by forceful midfield sentry guards Fernando and Yaya Toure, is a different challenge entirely.
To budge a heavyweight like them, the Gunners must do more, and that means making life as uncomfortable as they possibly can for City’s star turns.
Every pass, every cross, every shot must be done with purpose, and at a tempo that takes them outside of their comfort zone
Pellegrini’s champions might be a top team, but when flair and fervour are combined it’s a powerful cocktail that can overcome anyone.
Now is the time for Arsenal to find their boiling point; their 212.
If they can, the north Londoners’ season will get just the energized boost it needs on Saturday afternoon.