Having seen the score of the Totts against the Chavs game last night, I find myself this morning in a similar position to that of yesterday morning, after we were all licking our wounds post the Bournemouth game. On the one hand this is good for us; it means the gap between us an top spot has narrowed (albeit by just one point), but equally we had to bear witness to Spurs fans being happy. That’s never a good thing.
It also puts them one point above us along with City, with Liverpool three ahead and Chelski eight ahead.
There’s also a numbing sense of another missed opportunity for Arsenal this morning. Victory over Bournemouth would have seen us narrow the gap to six points and we’d all be a little more buoyant going in to the FA Cup round of fixtures at the weekend. But as it is we are rueing our own inability to take advantage of situations when they present themselves.
I feel like that’s just been us though, for the last six or seven years, hasn’t it? I feel like this happens every season, like there’s an element of Deja Vue about us getting an opportunity and not ceasing it. Perhaps it’s because I pay much more attention to Arsenal than to any other team, but pretty much ever since the break up of the band in 2005, we’ve got right up to the well but then fell over and broke our buckets just before we could plunge in to get some of that sweet, sweet, water.
Why? Why do we stumble so often? The players being weighed down by history? Could it be that Operation Youth, which still has plenty of players in the squad from (Walcott, The Ox, Gibbs, Ramsey), actually poses a hindrance because those players have all failed to get over the line before?
Or is it the one constant? Is it the manager that has failed to shift his thinking enough for us to progress? I don’t know. All I know is that my belief that we could win the league under Arsène has gradually declined over the last few years. It was about five years ago that a work colleague said to me that we’d never win the league again with Arsène in charge. I scoffed at that prospect because frankly, ‘never’ is a long time and I thought that if Arsène could amass a collective of players – ansquad strong enough to challenge in the racing of ever-mounting injury lists every season – that he could do it.
But it’s results like Bournemouth, or United away, that really do crumble that previous belief I had in the manager. I just don’t see it any more. I want to, boy do I want to, but with every stumble when we have an opportunity I hear the words of that work colleague ringing in my ears.
It’s even got to the point that I’ve become more desperate to see Arsène kick us on this season, just to prove everyone wrong, to show that when the right situation presented itself he could deliver. Three or four years ago perhaps you could argue that we didn’t have a squad strong enough to compete. Certainly six or seven years ago that was the case, as we’d find out with a couple of close title challenges that just fell away due to injuries to players like Eduardo, etc.
But this season he has the squad. He has the players. He can rotate and sometimes he has, but others he hasn’t, or hasn’t quite found the right balance. Or when he has, the team has mentally just not looked up for it.
One of the most frustrating things to see as a football fan is when you see good players not putting in a shift. When you see technically inferior players out-playing their opponents on simple things like quick pressing or high tempo. It’s maddening. Being able to press in a cohesive manner is not the most difficult skill in the world, it just takes some organisation from somebody. Yet as a team we just don’t seem to press. Not for any consistent period of time, anyway. We just seem content to ‘play our own game’ and hope that the technical ability of the players comes through. And let’s be honest, most of the time it does, so the manager looks at his numbers at the end of the season and sees that we’ve scored goals and we’ve won more football matches than we’ve lost or drawn. But it’s when the pressure is ramped up, or in a game where our opponents can match us for technical ability, that we seem to wilt. And it’s because of fine margins like being able to press in a cohesive unit to force the opposition to make mistakes, that we fall down, because we don’t adapt as a team.
So what happens is that you and I spend our time after the disappointments wondering why it keeps happening. Hoping that somebody is looking at it, but not really believing that they are because, let’s face it, we have plenty of data (previous games against big opponents, for example) that backs up our concerns.
It’s just so frustrating to see so many good players not being able to click consistently enough to see us win the league.
So with the result last night, we find ourselves once again having that hope, having that tiniest of glimmers to hang on to. The “but what if we could just…” in our heads. All because a little chunk of light has appeared through others, not through our own display.
I suppose I/we should just be happy. Hope keeps every human going in different ways and in the footballing sense it is hope that has us grasping at the dream that Arsène can indeed steer us to another league title.
But I’ll ask you this honestly – and you don’t need to respond to me, you could just ask yourself in your own head – do you truly believe that this team, this season, under Arsène, are capable of winning the league?
My heart wants to say yes. My head disagrees.
Catch you tomorrow.