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29th Dec 2018

Xhakasnatch: A choose your own adventure story starring the Arsenal defence

Kyle Picknell

The year is 2018. A strange vampiric man from the Basque Country is trying to do something that hasn’t been done in years: programme the Arsenal defence not to concede goals.

You must help guide him through this impossible journey by making all of the decisions for the likes of Granit Xhaka, Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Sead Kolasinac, whose names alone are enough to drive Paul Merson to the brink of insanity. And yet, your quest is greater. Your quest is to teach them how to defend.

This is Xhakasnatch: An interactive choose your own adventure story starring the Arsenal defence.

The game begins with hope. You’re 1-0 to the good away at Anfield, where Liverpool remain unbeaten for 30 games in the Premier League. Do you…

a) Focus on keeping it tight for 15 minutes as the increased Liverpool response comes and they throw everything at you to draw level quickly


b) Do a nonsense

If you selected a) , your remote or mouse will now burst into flames and you will return to the opening menu of Xhakasnatch. The opening menu of Xhakasnatch, by the way, is just a really pixelated Arsene Wenger in a long coat rolling his eyes at you.

If you selected b) , you will now watch as Granit Xhaka commits a completely unnecessary slide tackle from behind on Mo Salah. Inexplicably, he times it perfectly and gets all of the ball. Also inexplicably, it smashes off Salah and into a dangerous area in the box.

You are now Stephen Lichsteiner, perfectly placed on the cover. Do you…

a) Wallop the ball clear, no bother


b) Try and take a touch as though you are just going to effortlessly dribble the ball out around the steaming clusterfuck of players in your way, despite being a 34-year-old right back, and instead manage to kick it off your teammate and set up Bobby Firmino, who was originally behind you, for a tap-in

If you chose a), ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood will start to play on repeat until you eventually lose your mind, simulating the experience of attempting to integrate defensive solidarity into any Arsenal backline from the last decade.

If you chose b), you will watch as Stephen Lichsteiner attempts to take a touch as though he is going to just effortlessly dribble the ball out around the steaming clusterfuck of players in his way, despite him being a 34-year-old right back, and instead kicks it off his teammate to set up Bobby Firmino, who was originally behind him, for a tap-in.

Less than a minute later, time freezes with you taking control of the human traffic cone in training Shkodran Mustafi, who has the onrushing Firmino firmly locked in his sights.

Do you…

a) Sort of run towards him a bit, then back off and run away from him, and then fall over anyway


b) Wonder whether your own autonomy really is just an illusion. Are we merely trapped within the harsh constructs of a society designed to lead us to believe we are free? Or… oh shit, he’s probably going to score here. Better stick out a leg and hope for the best

Whichever option you picked here doesn’t really matter, as Bobby Firmino will skip around you like he skips around sugary sweets and drinks. But, fear not. A chance at redemption. Time stops once again with Sokratis and Lucas Torreira back to help out.

Do you…

a) Play as Sokratis 


b) Play as Torreira

If you selected a) , the following choice pops up. Having watched Mustafi in front of you ably demonstrate how not to defend a one-on-one with a skilful forward, do you…

a) Attempt the exact same air-kicking-fall-on-your-arse banter tackle


b) Same as above, but in super slow motion

Unfortunately, if you went straight for b) , you miss out on that particularly entertaining bonus side-quest.

Fear not, you will now get your turn. Sokratis players, will also move on to the following choice.

As Torreira, inside the box and the last man with any hope of getting their body in front of Roberto Firmino. Do you…

a) Fall over, because Arsenal


b) Fall over, because there is a force you can’t explain telling you what to do

Should you choose b) , the screen will now cut to a psychiatrist’s waiting room where all the previous Arsenal players who have succumbed to the ‘strange force telling them to do stupid shit’ are sent.

Philippe Senderos, Pascal Cygan, Johan Djourou, Andre Santos, Igors Stepanov, Manuel Almunia and Sebastien Squillaci are all there, sat, flicking through Hello! magazine and tutting impatiently whenever they check the clock.

It could be a while before you get seen and access the secret ‘Yes’ or ‘FUCK YEAH’ fight scene choices with your psychiatrist, the double-sword wielding Jens Lehmann.

If you chose a) , then the story will continue as normal, with Firmino firing into the corner to give Liverpool the lead.

Now that the momentum has almost completely shifted in favour of the home side, Arsenal are forced to defend a corner. Somehow, they manage it, clearing the ball and forcing Liverpool full back Andy Robertson to recover it near the halfway line. It appears as though the danger is adverted. Do you…

a) Fundamentally believe that the danger is averted and run out with an extremely wonky back line


b) Stay focused until you regain possession of the ball, making sure to pick up the Liverpool players still loitering in dangerous attacking positions

Whoops! Even if you choose b) in this instance your players will ignore the instructions, looking up to the dark December night and screaming for their hidden, mystical puppeteers to give them a sign as Mo Salah latches on to a straightforward long ball over the top and squares for Mane to score.

Obviously, a) will have the same effect, but in a much less existentialist fashion.

Getting a bit embarrassing now, isn’t it? Well, not to worry. You have it in your power to change that even as the jet-heeled Mo Salah is once again bearing down on goal. You are once again Scrabble legend Sokratis Papastahopoulos, bringing up the rear. Do you…

a) Calmly usher him towards the byline. At worst, you’ll narrow his angle to square to his teammates and at best, he could rush out of play


b) Repeatedly hack him to bits from behind. Like your namesake philosopher once said, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think… what the fuck was he doing?

You literally had a practice go at this, Sokratis

If you have once again chosen a), as in the actual good option, as in the Virgil Van Dijk option, you clearly haven’t learned anything about how this works or the illusion of freewill or how to take acid safely with a mysterious baby-faced game developer without jumping off a building or anything.

Again, b) gets you another Liverpool goal hot and fresh out of the kitchen. It is 4-1 and the game is over before halftime. Which kind of defeats the point of a sprawling, multi-narrative epic, but still.

At this point in the timeline, you, the player, might have started realising that your decisions are ultimately meaningless as this game is designed for you not to win. Just like all Arsenal players figure out! Hooray! Every move you consider just leads to dire consequences anyway, and ultimately a downfall that was inevitable from the very beginning.

So! With that in mind, you have one final decision to make.

a) Give it everything in the second half to get a goal or two back and restore some pride after an utterly shambolic performance


b) Smash Dejan Lovren in the back even though the ball was going to sail harmlessly over his head anyway just so Firmino can complete his hattrick from the penalty spot and your fans can once again trudge home all miserable from a big game and beef with Piers Morgan on Twitter until their eyes bleed just like the good old days

In this alternate reality Bobby Firmino is pregnant with a football

If you chose b), congratulations! You have completed Xhakasnatch: A choose your own adventure story starring the Arsenal defence. The credits will play, which is just a list of all the individual mistakes Arsenal defenders have made over the years in a tiny, barely readable font. Like the old Final Fantasy games, it will take several hours to watch until the end, with no option to exit.

If you chose a), you are probably the same kind of sick individual that had Stefan smash his dad over the head with an ashtray and then chop up the body. Or the kind that picked Sugar Puffs instead of Frosties.

Shame on you. Do better.

Know what Arsenal are and know what they must always be.