Arsenal Football Club. For some, "The Pride of (North) London", for others a band of vagabonds mutated into a corporate behemoth with business savvy the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid can but dream of.

And this is Arsenal.  The anachronism.  I won't bore you with an analysis of their idiosyncratic juxtaposition of tradition with forward-thinking marketing nous; I will instead bore you with an attempt to tear apart one of their most treasured kit traditions: The Sleeve Rule™.

Yes, the title of this piece is not simply a cack-handed attempt to crowbar a White Stripes reference into a football kit blog - as my attempts to convince myself of my own compatibility with the modern world now take the form of a nod to a 13 year old song - but also to state my belief that the idea that an Arsenal eleven, plus substitutes, should turn out in long or short-sleeved uniformity at the behest of that particular matchday's captain, is Luddism in the extreme.  Such an archaic ritual, in my opinion, should have been abandoned along with the old Highbury Stadium.

It was during Arsenal's days at Highbury ("the former ground", get it?) that the tradition came into force.  Legendary manager Herbert Chapman had famously decided that the Gunners should wear red shirts with white sleeves (thanks to, reportedly, his cartoonist friend Tom Webster pairing a white shirt with a blue tanktop in demonstration to a Chelsea chairman and, with the West London club eventually declining the option to amend their own kit, Chapman embracing the idea wholeheartedly), and in the 1960s, when short sleeve shirts were provided by the kit room, we assume a Chapman successor gauged his captain's opinion of what the team should wear one Saturday afternoon, decreed accordingly and the practice had been installed.

In the 80s, this new custom was so religiously adhered to that midfield workhorse Brian Talbot once had to obtain express permission to roll up his sleeves, and later, under Tony Adams' stewardship, the likes of the minimal arm-covering inclined Lee Dixon were very glad of The Talbot Clause.

But none of that obsequiousness sits well with Mathieu Flamini.  The French midfielder, last season, in his second spell with the Gunners, twice cut off his long sleeves at the elbow, after being issued a long sleeved shirt under the instruction of successive captains.  Eventually, despite "playing at the top level for ten years and [liking] to wear short sleeves", he acquiesced, and normal service has been resumed.

But Flamini was right.  Arsenal, as we have mentioned, are incredibly well run, financially, off the pitch, in their meticulous business dealings.  So why, in this money-orientated modern game, do they seldom win anything? (An FA Cup? Woo-hoo!)  Because, perhaps, of Dave Brailsford's 1%s.  It may well be that, in the faithfulness to traditions, Arsenal ignore the marginal gains in optimising player performance.  Flamini prefers to wear a short-sleeved shirt.  If you extrapolate, is letting him the difference between finishing fourth and winning the league?

Facetiousness aside - I'll let you decide if that's at play here or not - around the world, every effort is made to ensure players are the happiest they can be and will fulfill their potential week in, week out.  And last season, in the case of Flamini's second indiscretion - against Olympique de Marseille - the issue could, in my opinion, just possibly, have been avoided.

You see, last season's (also the season before's) Nike Arsenal Home shirt was designed, consciously or not, with the contemporary game in mind.  Like the Manchester City 2011-12 Umbro Away shirt, and this season's Borussia Dortmund Home shirt, the short-sleeved version, if combined with the now ubiquitous baselayer, would bear an almost indistinguishable resemblance to its "manches longues" sibling.

Now, I've discussed baselayers versus long-sleeved shirts before, so go read all that for further clarification, and yes, it is a HUGE leap, even in light of the baselayer's popularity amongst today's players, to suggest that a baselayer/short-sleeved shirt combination would have appeased Mathieu Flamini, a player not known for wearing the long-sleeved undergarment, but we're talking about those 1%s.  How many players each game are put out, either by wearing a short-sleeved shirt when they would prefer long-sleeves, or vice versa?  How many would play that little bit better - only 1%, perhaps - if there was a third way?

Tony Adams, who we mentioned earlier, often put sleeve length to a vote.  With the players having a choice of short-sleeves or long-sleeves - including short sleeves with baselayers - would that not make for a happier side?  I will argue to the death that the uniformity for which the tradition serves has the potential to be maintained to an even greater degree, as the combinations of varying styles of rolled up sleeves would become a thing of the past.

And here's a thing: I mentioned earlier that "an Arsenal eleven" turns out in the same length of sleeve.  Well that's not even the case - it was a deliberate mistake.  The goalkeeper has always been exempt, due to short-sleeved goalkeeper shirts being only a relatively recent option, but Wojciech Szczęsny, currently - get this -  more often than not wears a short-sleeved shirt over a long-sleeved baselayer.  So the rule - outdated and potentially handicapping - in fact allows a truly modern approach to jarringly creep into the context of maintaining conventions from a bygone era.

Footballers of today look as different to each other as they ever have.  From hairstyles, height and Ninja Turtle likenesses to gorgeousness and shorts lengths - this means you, Alexis Sanchez - the diversity is unprecedented, and the same goes for their in-game comfort idiosyncrasies.  As noble as it is to wish for regularity in player attire, this cannot - in the age of Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling's extra rest days, and Rio Ferdinand crying over banned chips - impede the on-pitch performance.  A compromise has to be reached - whether that be baselayer-assisted, or NBA shooting sleeve assisted, it just has to be.

So enter Puma.  The manufacturers of Dortmund's kit (remember?) have, in their infinite wisdom, not followed Nike's lead in producing sleeve length compatibility in the Arsenal shirt.  But the day will come, as will graphically augmented baselayers to serve this very purpose, as they have done in rugby.  Tradition's all well and good, but, Arsenal fans, would the Premier League trophy being held aloft by an array of long sleeved shirted arms, and baselayer covered arms combined, be such a bad thing?
 

Written by Jay (follow on Twitter).

Keep up to date with news from the world of football design by following @designfootball on Twitter and Liking the DesignFootball.com Facebook Page.

You have no rights to post comments

Sign in to add comments