Inevitably, in the aftermath of Arsenal’s utterly preposterous draw-snatched-from-the-jaws-of-victory against Liverpool (not to be confused with the utterly preposterous draw against Newcastle in February), the teeth-gnashing, finger-pointing and post-mortems have begun. Despite still being mathematically able to win the Premier League, a déjà vu depression has settled across blogs and fan forums, as it has the last few years. Yet Arsenal fans should steel their jaws and try to enjoy the comedy of errors for what it is – pure sports entertainment. Watching Arsenal the last two months may not be conducive to holding a full pint, reducing swear-box contributions, or keeping your TV screen clear of embedded debris; but these trials and tribulations will make the inevitable moment of triumph that much sweeter.
It has been six years since Arsenal won a trophy. Six long, arduous years in the wilderness, scavenging for crumbs of respectability to hold onto, or so some may have you believe. It is such an infinite amount of time that it almost impossible to imagine. Six years, six years, six years. Keep repeating and it begins to lose all meaning. What could have been achieved in that time? You could fly the Galileo spacecraft to Jupiter, or sail around the world forty times. You could build three Emirates stadiums, all while enjoying just forty percent of Arsène Wenger’s managerial career at Arsenal. The terrible forty percent, of course.
In 2008/09, Liverpool mounted a rare, concerted effort to win their first title for twenty years. A Herculean struggle against the metronomic confidence of Manchester United and the nouveau riche of Chelsea. They eventually finished second, yet manager Rafa Benitez could not repeat the feat the following year; instead the team staggered, ponderously away down the league and thus ended Benitez’ Anfield career. Regardless of this failure, he is still fondly remembered by many fans there. Yet Wenger is cross-examined in chat rooms and suffers the speculation of who could do his job better; despite improving Arsenal’s league position each year of the last three seasons.
That is not to say there aren’t problems (as there are with virtually every other football team in existence). Team confidence is apparently unable to take more than casual flick on the nose, before it’s reduced to a gibbering wreck. For most of the season the Arsenal treatment room has resembled a hospice, rather than rehabilitation centre. And yet there they are, sitting second in the league, showcasing exciting football (not always from the home team) in their custom-built space cathedral. At least Arsenal fans know they have a shoulder to cry on if they bump into a fan of Dundee, Plymouth or Wrexham.
And yet somehow, rising from the ashes of this smoldering house of cards, there is hope. Young Jedi apprentices in the shape of Wojciech Szczesny, Johan Djourou and Jack Wilshere – the three most revelatory players this season for Arsenal – all seem keen to strike a tougher stance. Szczesny, whilst banging his sword against his shield, said: “We go into everything to finish first. We are Arsenal… We just think about winning.” Djourou, who believes in the redemptive qualities of being thoroughly embarrassed, said: “This team has a lot of quality and character, we just need to bounce back and keep fighting.” And England’s next great disappointment, Jack Wilshere, still has his eyes on the prize: “We have six cup finals left, we feel we are still in it. I believe that 100 per cent. If we don’t believe then what chance have we got?” It is easy for Arsenal fans to be pessimistic about their league chances this year, but it is worth keeping hope alive for just a few more weeks and basking in the brighter side of life. Though there are no prizes for second place, ninety league clubs are still looking up to you.
picture by Edoardo Costa on flickr.