You really learn who supports a club after a match like Saturday’s. By the time Sturridge scored to make it 3-0, I had learned the following lessons, according to other Gooners, six ways from Sunday:
- Arsène has absolutely no idea how to build a squad.
- Arsène has even less of an idea of how to manage a game.
- Giroud might be wanted by the ICC.
- Özil was a waste of £42m.
- We won’t win a match in February.
- There is no way we will win the Prem now.
- We’ll be lucky to finish in the top four.
It’s enough to make me brew a pot of coffee, take a sip, and spew a mouthful at this screen in surprise and disgust. Are we, as fans, really that fickle? Really? Good God. We act like we nor any title contender has ever lost a match or lost a match in such a fashion. Yes, I’ll grant that conceding four goals in less than 20 minutes is hardly the first accomplisment one lists on a resumé, but we’ve gone one goal better than at least one previous Prem champion—the 1996-97 Man U side lost at Newcastle 5-0 and 6-3 at Southampton. I’m not making predictions. I’m just saying that there’s precedent enough to untwist those panties and stop the god-damned crying.
Look. Those 20 minutes exposed a lot of weaknesses we’ve been aware of but could sweep under the rug: difficulty in creating changes. A tendency to pass it around with purpose. Set-piece defending. Holding strong against clubs that press aggressively. Pacy counterattacks. Our own lack of variety in the attack. The list goes on, I presume, but my point here is not to air out all of that dirty laundry. It’s to try to offer some kind of perspective, and not of of the misty-eyed, soft-headed kind that the eternal optimists offer.
This was a drubbing. A hiding. A tuck-your-tail-between-your-legs loss. No doubt about that. We can whinge and whine all we want about whether Skrtel was offsides—he was—but that’s beside the point. It wasn’t Oliver who dragged Suarez down or took the set-piece or failed to mark Skrtel just as it wasn’t Oliver who took the corner or failed to mark Skrtel again as he headed home, nor was it Oliver who failed to generate a single shot on target in the first half. Was Arsène tactically stubborn or naïve? Tactics kind of go out the window when you go down 0-1 in the first minute, even further defenestrated when you do down 0-2 within 10. It was shocking and demoralizing, and it’s a shame that we weren’t able to mount any kind of meaningful rally.
Still, three points drop and that’s really it. It’s the same as losing 0-1 or 1-2. Nevermind the symbolism of it. Those who do are obsessing over other previously shame-inducing results. I saw 8-2 tossed about as if that was the first horseman of the apocalypse and Saturday’s scoreline was the fourth. This squad, consisting as it does of many of the same players on paper, is a far-different squad in other ways. Had we lost like this 16 or 18 or 22 months ago, I’d be worried. Back then, it just have sent us into a tailspin. This time ’round, it feels vitally different. It does feel like a bizarre concatenation of elements against a side that has too much firepower to be afforded such chances. This was probably Liverpool’s last best chance to make a statement by winning against a top-four club, and they did so with a vengeance.
However, those five goals stay put. None of them carry over to Wednesday against Man U or against Liverpool again on Sunday. The three points dropped don’t carry with them some kind of Olympic degree-of-difficulty multiplier. Yet, before Chelsea or Man City had played a minute, many Gooners had consigned us to third place for the weekend, with an inevitable tumble out of the top four.
Get a grip. Have you not seen how this squad has responded in the recent past to such losses? Hell, after that loss at Old Trafford, we went on a tidy little run of 13 wins, two draws, and two losses. In the same season, we followed an 0-4 loss at AC Milan by going for eight wins and two losses. In this campaign, we followed that 3-1 loss to Aston Villa by winning 10 and drawing two. Again after losing 3-6 to City, we won eight and drew two. Buck up. I’m not predicting another such run. I’m merely suggesting that one loss does not ruin a season no matter what the scoreline or manner of defeat was. I think, privately, even most Scousers were a bit surprised (although pleasantly) at the match. I doubt that Rodgers had drawn up a plan that called for scoring four times in 18 minutes. Then again, maybe he was actually upset that his plan for scoring six times in that span was foiled. Silver linings. Wait. I didn’t to go in that direction. When I read it that way, it does sound like it’s over…
What? Over? Did you say over? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! What the feck happend to the Arsenal I used to know? Where’s the spirit? Where’s the guts, huh? This could be the greatest season of our lives, but you’re gonna let it be the worst: “Ooh, we’re afraid to go with you, we might get in trouble.” Well, just kiss my arse from now on. Not me, I’m not gonna take this. Liverpool, they’re a dead club. Chelsea, dead. Man City, dead.
I have a feeling we’ll storm back against Man U on Wednesday (who have season-long problems of their own and play on Sunday) and against Liverpool on Sunday. I’ll stop short of saying anything bold about Bayern’s visit, but I’ll say this: stop whining and complaining and get behind this club, for feck’s sake. The wheels came off, but we’ll put ’em back on and get back on track. Lesser teams have suffered more-demoralizing defeats than this. We’re the Arsenal, goddammit, and we have more pride and class in our collective pinky-finger than those who would supplant us at the top of the table. It’s times like this that make it easy to forget who we are and what we’re made of, but we’re much better than we showed on Saturday. Hell, we might even be better than we’ve been most of the season. At what point have we had a full squad free from injury? Sure, we won’t have Walcott back any time soon, but Vermaelen, Gibbs, Ramsey, and this new guy Källström will be fit and available soon enough. Wilshere, Rosicky, Podolski, and the Ox have all come back.
We fumbled a bit as we tried to reload against Liverpool and paid the price. Payback’s a bitch, though, and I’m looking forward to a bit of that against Man U, Liverpool, maybe even Bayern. We’ve been knocked down, but we’re not even close to knocked out. Wipe the blood from your lips, lads. Taste the salty sweet. We’re gonna split a few lips in return soon enough.