The feeling is as sudden as it is long-drawn. One morning, after wiping the Sandman-goo from your bleary eyes, you move towards your study desk to find out which new subject is going to go clickety-click with its pincers in dangerous vicinity of your genital area, when you realize that you’ve already burnt all books and you have no genital area left to go clickety-click at. And that can only mean one thing. My exams; my beastly, unforgiving exams that have made me wear a good-luck camel toe around my neck, listen to self-motivational CDs, eat the camel toe, and break the CDs, are finally over. So it’s twenty days of online Macarena, Modern Warfare 3 and gorging myself silly over the Christmas football fixtures now.
Running an eyeball over the December games, (I’m including all December games in the festive fixtures category) Arsenal have two tough away encounters against Manchester City and Aston Villa followed by relatively mellow home games against Wolves and QPR before travelling to Fulham on January 2nd. The constant staccato of games during the end-year means that our position in the table can change very quickly, both the ‘snakes’ kind and the ‘ladders’ kind, but our opponents during this period have me believing that Arsenal could possibly be all laddered up come 2012.
The away fixtures
One will obviously fear the worst against Man City, a big, blue knife cutting through the butter that is the Premier League, but I feel oddly confident about our chances (well, less terrified about our chances) at the Etihad Stadium, which will duly be elaborated upon in the match preview. Villa Park was once a destination that I cringed at the thought of going to; their pacy wingers in Young and Albrighton, the nippy Agbonlahor and the formidable Carew have given us umpteen problems over the past few seasons. But the Midlands outfit have been stripped of a major portion of their attacking riches- vultures from Manchester and Liverpool swooped down and scooped up Young and Downing respectively, a rabid dog from Stoke lumbered in and snared Carew in its teeth before skulking off, and this relatively lightweight Villa side have found the going tough this season.
The main reason I think we’ll give a good account of ourselves in these fixtures is because the onus is not on us to dictate the play or dominate possession. City are obvious favourites for the win, just like Chelsea were a few weeks ago. Villa will also be urged on by a demanding home crowd; they won’t defend on the six yard line and put ten men behind the ball, which works to our advantage. Arsenal had the best away record in the league last year, which owed a large part to just buckling down and getting the business done, being more direct and getting more opportunities to play on the counter instead of making pretty-pattern passes. Winning both the games seems a tad far-fetched even for someone as sunshine-infused as me, but going through unbeaten should be the minimum aim here. Arsenal have handled the underdogs tag well in the recent past.
The home fixtures
And the reason I think we’ll do well in these fixtures is because this Arsenal, the Arsenal from this season, seem to handle the favourites tag with much more professionalism and humility than the previous avatars I’ve seen. We’ve lost a few games this season because we’ve been shit, but we haven’t lost a single game because we didn’t give a shit, if you know what I mean. This team has always worked hard; they’ve been pedestrian at times, but always the hard-working kind of pedestrian.
I can count many matches this season which might not have resulted in victories had the Arsenal from last season or 2008-09 been on the pitch. Sunderland, Stoke, Everton, Norwich- all close games that we’ve scrapped in and come out on top, sometimes while not playing at our best. Even the point against Fulham stemmed from an unfortunate own goal after an immensely draining midweek Champions League game, and Vermaelen’s bloody-mindedness to get the equaliser told us something.
These players are not prima donnas, partly because they’re relatively less talented than the wealth of riches we’ve had at our disposal before, but mostly because they know that they can’t afford to be. I’d much rather have a player with questionable passing but a furious willingness to win it back, than a player who plays a magical through ball one minute and swishes his hair around for the other eighty-nine. We have less hair-swishers now, and I quite like it that way.
The weekend draws ever closer, and I can’t wait. There’s a certain amount of nervousness, yes, but the mysterious terror that filled me before matches, wondering if we’d show up for the next match or decide to sleep in, is gone. Arsenal might not win, but they’ll most likely show up. And that is enough for me to maintain a sanguine tra-la-la on my lips.
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