This is going to be a quick one; because I am in over my head with random stuff (non-football, less important, but sadly necessary. Final exams, barrage of fire and brimstone, you get the drift) and also because masochism is a trait I do not dabble in. Trying to write in depth about today’s game is the footballing equivalent of playing Russian Roulette with yourself, or taking a running leap from Mount Karakoram while juggling lightsabers, or eating Sunday night food at my mess.
It’s intriguing how this current Arsenal’s collective subconscious works. Make no mistake, they have been heroes for almost two months this calendar year; unfailingly playing every match like a cup final and pummeling opponents to the ground through a mixture of glitz and graft, panache and plough. But you can’t be heroes for two months and South Indian junior artistes for the rest of the season. When Arsenal aren’t arsed, they frankly play very poorly. Graft goes hurtling out the window, the plough is nicely packaged and sent to rot in the cellar; and a strange complacency rears its smug and ugly head. I say strange because it’s not like Arsenal have nothing to play for here; if there’s any team who has nothing to play for in the Premier League at this stage, it’s Norwich. Safely mid-table, no chance of going up or down, one wouldn’t begrudge them resting a few players or playing with less fire than usual. One wouldn’t expect that from a team challenging for third place, a team which has already been low-blowed in the painfully recent past by Wigan and QPR.
Well, it was unexpected, but it happened. In the first half, Arsenal came for the click of the cameras. After taking an early lead, they ambled around the place, showing all the bite of my Grandpa’s dentures. Defensive organization was hokum today; it was criminal as to how many long balls over the top found their way to Norwich feet. It was criminal as to how many Norwich counters were met with players pleasantly jogging back instead of busting a gut to get the ball. It’s not like they had to do something new; they’ve done it these past few months and it’s worked swimmingly. This propensity to differentiate between a Saturday afternoon kickoff against Norwich and a crunch encounter against more seasoned opposition is immensely frustrating. Wenger lays the cards out nicely-
‘There is no obvious reason [why we dropped points] because we prepared normally as we always do, but maybe subconsciously [we thought] we would win it.’
How many times have we heard these infernal words uttered post-match from the manager and players on the official site? We acknowledge a shortcoming, try and rectify it; and go back to being haughty pixies after we forget about the shortcoming. This year’s team looked to have bucked the trend by being hard-working to compensate for the relative lack of world-class talent, but the roots of this problem seem more deeply-laid than initially thought. Why do you think you’ve won a match before you play the match? You have to play the match to win the match. It seems freakishly simple, and we make it so irritatingly difficult.
So the goals happened, from their side and our side. Not going to talk about them much. Yossi’s curler was good (happy birthday), their first goal was Szczesny’s mistake and lax tracking back, Holt’s goal was shocking defending from Ramsey and Song who sauntered back like they were chilling in Cannes, our equalizer was Song + RvP, our pseudo-winner owed much to van Persie’s tenacity again, and Morison’s goal was just too atrocious to talk about. Cascade of mistakes, it was like each player trying to outdo the last in making a hash of things. We could have won three matches with the opportunities we had in the second half; indeed, with the opportunities we had after 3-3 itself. But it was the same ‘junior artiste in first half, moustache sporting hero in second’ that was our undoing again.
Today’s referee should slowly and deliberately crawl back into his mother’s cervix and disintegrate into the pathetic pool of bodily fluids that formed his essence; but Norwich fans will be equally inclined to say that. The officiating was bad but we were far worse.
Just to be clear, this isn’t the usual routine of blaring anti-Arsene trumpets and haranguing the Board for a clearance sale that succeeds a loss as overwhelming as this. One bad loss doesn’t mean we need ten new players. But the reason for the loss begets a hard look at the mentality (I hate that word. Journalists bandy it about far too often, and I hate it when they’re proved right) of our team. If you can’t pump yourself for Norwich at home when third place lies in the balance, you make a very weak case for deserving to be in the Champions League. Mentality wasn’t the problem at Wigan, but it was at QPR and it was today. And the frequency with which mentality is cited as the problem is worrying.
Anyways, this turned out to be a not-so-quick one after all. Slightly stream-of-consciousness, but I give myself that much leeway after horror-shows like these. We now need Aston Villa and Manchester City to do us favors tomorrow, Fulham and Everton to do us favors next week, and win against West Bromwich Albion on the last day of the season.
All of those are looking unlikely as things stand. Because Arsenal currently look like they play when they want.
PS: This post also appeared on BigFourZa------------
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