The last time I produced something for this website, I felt- and possibly wrote- like a man at the end of his Arsene Wenger related tether.
Since then, steady league form has seen us reduce the gap to the top four to two points, although it is Chelsea and not Tottenham immediately in our sights. Which makes Sunday’s upcoming north London derby, if not the biggest match between the two clubs ever, then certainly a match that is going to prove pretty important in determining whether or not we can finish above the neighbours for the seventeenth season in a row. Lose it and I think we can forget it. Although a draw will keep us in touch it will still leave us needing Spurs to slip up twice , whilst we will more or less need to be perfect from here on in. A win is, for me, imperative at the weekend. Trouble is, seeing as Spurs have got the best player of all time playing them, I’m not sure how we’re going to do it.
All sarcasm aside, I must confess to you, dear reader, that I have grave misgivings over our ability to win in N17 on Sunday. I hate saying it, but in a season where- as people are fond of telling us repeatedly, the only thing consistent about us is our inconsistency- I probably feel a bit like a Spurs fan normally does when facing us. A sensible Spurs fan, I mean- and yes, they do exist!
Oh well. Now, I’ve started going down such a heretical road, I might as well follow it to its logical conclusion and revisit the recent cup exits that had most of us hiding behind our seats. Starting with one of the most complacent performances I’ve ever seen from an Arsenal side. I was in Prague, newly engaged and, as it happened, an Arsenal supporting friend of mine (Mike) was also in town. So we convened in a bar just off the Old Town Square and sat down to watch Arsenal progress through to the next round, no alarms and no surprises. I mean, a home tie, lower league opposition and with a fresh memory of what defeat to lower league opposition felt like, what could possibly go wrong?
Of course, you all know by now that the answer wasn’t quite “everything”, but it might as well have been. Blackburn did nothing, but sit back and watch as Arsenal passed themselves into a soporific stupor. In 45 minutes, we created one great chance, when Rosicky played Gervais in and… well, we haven’t given up calling him by his Brazilian nickname for nothing. Sensing trouble, Mike and I called for the absinthe. It didn’t help. Well, it didn’t help the football, obviously, perhaps it made it easier to bear, I’m not sure now.
The second half was more of the same, really, everyone waiting for someone else to make a difference. Of course, nobody did. Twenty minutes left, the cavalry arrived and, of course, Blackburn promptly went up the pitch and scored with their one meaningful attack. I knew that we weren’t going to get the goal back, so there was only one thing to do- aaaaaaaaaaaaabsinthe!
Back home, on Tuesday, for the Bayern Munich match. I, we all, hoped for a reaction. And we got one. For about as long as it took Toni Kroos to make the most of Bayern’s first sortie into our penalty area anyway. What followed was, for me, embarrassing. Bayern were a Rolls Royce of a football team, whilst we stumbled around like Del Boy’s Robin Reliant in need of an engine change. The saddest thing of all was the way Bayern reminded me of us. An us from about ten years ago and an us that would have been able to compete with them on the football pitch. But as long as we keep selling a star, or two, every summer, we’re going to suffer many more nights like this. Assuming we do make the top four, of course. I know we restored some pride in the second half and were, on balance, perhaps unfortunate that our best spell of the game ended with a goal for Bayern, but we were also very lucky to score our goal- on two counts- and I think Bayern were keeping us at arm’s length anyway. The equivalent of a boxer who knows he’s done enough to win a fight with about three rounds to spare and is just coasting.
Since then, we have returned to winning ways by disposing of an apparently limited, and unlucky, Aston Villa. I don’t know how a team who had only five shots on goal whilst conceding 25, can be considered unlucky, but perhaps such profligacy in front of goal and generosity in defending (or goalkeeping, Roger…) it is now expected of us. I can’t really argue with that, we have, for me, been staggeringly inefficient at both ends of the pitch for some time now. What was great was to see our little Spanish genius stepping up to win the match with a cool finish from Monreal’s cross. I’d like to think that either of Walcott or Podolski (or, heaven forbid, Giroud) would have been able to put that chance away, but I’m not so sure.
Anyway, we move on- with my apologies for dredging up things you’d all like to have put away in that closet marked “skeletons”, but I’ve been meaning to get something down for a while. Of course, it’s worth pointing out here that the points margin between us and Spurs this time around is nowhere near what faced us this time last year. That said, I think Spurs were already faltering when they came to us then and now we have to go there. They haven’t lost for in the Premier League for over two months, which must be fairly unprecedented (for them, at least). I guess when you look at it like that, they’re due a fall.
Is that what I’m putting my faith in? Surely not….------------
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