Date:Tuesday March 25 2008
Following Sunday's result at The Bodge, can we put our title aspirations back in the box marked 'open next year'?
For the first six months of this season, I think it's fair to say that most of us Gooners have been in dreamland. Having been told by the sages in both Fleet Street and television studios prior to the season's start that the coming campaign would see the Gunners struggle to hold on to their place in the top four, we started brightly and consolidated our fine start to the league tussle to see ourselves fighting tooth an nail with the Mancs at the Premier League summit. The pundits said 'If Arsenal are still in contention come January, we can consider them serious contenders'. January came and went, and there we were, still heading the pile.
All this despite having played the majority of the season without the player we considered our finest goalgetter, with Robin van Persie remaining seemingly permanently injured (your writer is wondering how close the Gunners' medical staff came to getting a named plaque dedicated to the dutchman and put on one of the treatment tables, so much time he had spent there).
Since February came about, the goals have dried up, and several faltering displays (save for the imperious performance in Mee-lan) have seen our lead at the top of the table whittled away, and a total of just four possible points from fifteen now sees us occupying third place.
How much of this is actually down to the events at Birmingham has been speculated on many-a-time already, and only those inside the club can truly know that. What can definitely be said is that that day robbed us of a player who had looked ready to play an important part in the title run-in. But that does not explain the somewhat sloppy defensive displays that seem to have crept back into our play. We coped fine without Kolo Toure, Senderos deputising more than adequately in his ACN-enforced absence. Something seems to have slipped out of gear with the mentality existing inside the club.
It's all very well and good having a fighting spirit that can see us come back if we fall behind, and these boys have displayed that, but it's in closing out games that we seem to have been found lacking. We seem to have rediscovered some of the more frustrating characteristics that we thought had been jettisoned last season - I think of teams scoring one shot against us, then us hammering them for the rest of the game without any joy, only to scrape a last-gasp equaliser.
A common train of thought was that this season would be one season too early for this Arsenal team, and that they were not quite ready for a sustained title tilt. I thought we had it in our locker. I'm one of those football fans who wants to believe. But maybe my belief was a little clouded by my rose-tinted spectacles (or more accurately, red-and-white-tinted).
Rocky has been saying pretty much all season that he thought the title would prove a bridge too far and that a more realistic and likely aspiration was 2nd place. I can only hope that the boys cans rediscover their play, confidence and fight that saw us shoot to the summit, or we may also end up passing up on 2nd spot.
So, have we blown it? It's a tricky one. As much as I had confidence in the lads, I always knew it would be a tough ask. And it looks a heck of a lot tougher now. We are coming to the business end of the season, where fates are decided and made, and whilst we are blessed to still be in the hunt for the Champions League, that (for me) cannot be the focus of the season. For me, the Prem was where we had to prove ourselves this season - it was always about re-establishing ourselves as a force to be reckoned with. This we have surely done, but that's no reason to stop there. Don't prove you have the capacity to do it. Prove you WILL do it. We've got the mancs away, and 'pool at home. Two mouthwatering encounters (amongst a series of fixtures which should ALL be mouth-watering, as they stand between the players and title glory). Sadly, it's no longer in our own hands now, we have to hope that the chavs and the mancs will slip up somewhere along the line, and we seemingly have the hardest run-in of the top three.
Yet there is still hope - sunday was but our second loss of the season, less than the aforementioned teams. They've proved themselves fallible before this season, let's hope they succumb again before this campaign is done with (in the mancs case, in addition to the defeat I hope we will inflict upon them). I have a feeling there may be a couple more twists and turns left yet - well, i say a feeling, it's more of a hope.
My head says we will come up just short, my heart tells me we can still sneak it at the death. I hope you all won't mind if I follow my heart on this one.
Date:Tuesday March 25 2008
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