This suits me juuuuuusssssst fine, so well, in fact, that I’m willing to use a few extra u‘s and s‘s to make the point. Let’s slip below the radar a bit—but not too far, of course. We’re still just a point behind Chelsea, and two ahead of game-in-hand Man City, and while the idea of slipping to third may put a few people out on a ledge, it’s not the catastrophe some are making it out to be. In fact, it might be just what the lads in the squad need after a long, sustained run at the top.
It’s bound to fray the nerves and create extra, unneeded urgency around a campaign that is already fraught with tension. Expectations soared sky-high, after all, once Mesut Özil was signed, and for good reason. His reputation, his statistics, his style, the size of the signing, all seemed to state that we were serious. We reinforced those expectations through our performance on the pitch, carrying over a fine end-of-season run-in with a start to this season that saw us spend 11 weeks in a row, and 17 out 19, top of the table. This seems to have bred a certain expectancy on our part that we would simply stay there. For a bit of perspective, our legendary Invincibles spent 26 weeks out of 38 in first place—established by an end-of-season run that started after matchday 22. They spent 26 weeks in first place over all.
However, there are no trophies for being in first place after 13 or 26 or 31 matches. There’s just one trophy, and it goes to the squad that’s in first place after matchday 38 (Yes, yes, I know that some teams have it sewn up earlier than that, but—just—try to focus on the larger point). With this in mind, our recent little slump could release a bit of pent-up pressure, and this lower profile might just put a little more wind in our sails. Sorry to mix my metaphors. This paragraph is really turning into a mish-mash.
There. New paragraph. Sorted. Instead of trying to run away from the pack, which can make every single match a win-or-die scenario, we might feel more comfortable in the role of plucky underdog. Despite Mourinho’s “little pony” comment from last week, we are far and away the David in this David vs. Goliath vs. Goliath battle. Yes, we splashed 42m on Özil, and no, we’re not paupers by any stretch. However, that’s the kind of transfer-activity that Chelsea and Man City conduct two or three times per season, year in and year out. Hell, the fact that the two of them haven’t run away from us or the rest of the league indicts them, not us.
All season, we’ve been beset by injuries, one after another, to a squad woefully short on options in key positions. By contrast, both City and Chelsea have second squads that could challenge for a top-five spot in their own rights. Maybe. I don’t want to oversell it; you get my point. The pressure, then, should build up on them. Why, despite deficit-spending that would make the Labour Party green with envy, Chelsea and Man City are barely more than a point ahead of us, and this takes into account our first real dip in form all season. I doubt that Pellegrini or Mourinho have written us off yet, but the media, perhaps more-famous for its short attention span than for its interest in things like nuance and subtlety, has already started beating the drum for our demise, and the ascendancy of Liverpool, Everton, and Tottenham. Scan the headlines, and it might seem as if we’re already locked in a all-out scrum for fifth place.
We’re not. We sit second, albeit tenuously thanks to City’s postponed match with Sunderland. As I say, fine with me. If this gives Giroud and Özil and others a chance to play more freely, without so much internalized pressure to do every single thing perfectly, so much the better for them, their performance, and our results. Everyone’s been pressing, pressing, pressing so relentlessly that they’re more-nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking-chairs. Every single mistake has become a referendum on their ability, their careers, the season…
Let’s accept things for what they are—a mild slump whose significance is exacerbated by a dramatic scoreline and a less-than-satisfying draw against an historic foe—and enjoy the gift for it is. It’s a chance to take a deep breath, let someone else try to lead the pack for a while, and draft behind them for a little while. Along the way, we can play that underdog role to the hilt until the time. Let Chelsea and Man City plunge deeper into the Champions League and see their league-form dip as a result. We’ll bide our time in the long shadows they cast and emerge, hopefully, atop the Prem.
Stranger things have happened…
Hail the Gunner Spirit !!!!!!! Awesomely written. We aren't out of any race yet. Let the media be bitten by an Underdog. BHAOWW
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Ha, I forgot to work in the underdog biting part! well-played!
Great write up. This team's performances have really taken our expectations to new level and gave us hope that we might end the trophyless period. this should be a reality check but we're playing in a league in which even the big spenders, chelski and Citeh, are struggling to get their game going so we shouldn't blame our team and the manager, and we shouldn't succumb to the doom around us in the media. We refuse to be seen as a 'crisis club'; other clubs are in real crisis despite spending millions in the transfer market in the last few years.It's amazing how the media licks Mourinho's ass by accepting uncritically his 'big horses' and 'little horse' narrative while they're focusing on the failures of Arsene and Arsenal.But, hey, the title hasn't been won by anyone yet; it's there to be taken by the most consistent team in the remaining fixtures. We shouldn't give up.
Nicely put.But sadly, we are trophy starved dogs,Who have been given a glimmer of hope with a sniff of the prized bone (championship)So when that scent is moved slightly away from us, we become very irritated and start snapping & barking at the twits.
I appreciate how you've stretched the metaphor. We are indeed starved for trophies, but it seems as if too many of us looked at this season's menu and let our appetites get the best of us.
It is all good and well to rationalize that Chelsea, ManCity and a few others spend lots more money every year than has Arsenal and yet we are only a point or so separated. However, it is not as if Arsenal is owned by the Little Sisters of the Poor or that no billionaires are among the Gunner ownership. Wenger appears to have as his model the late George Halas founder of the Chicago Bears who was characterized as “throwing his nickels around as if they were manhole covers”. Recent history in both versions of football and most other professional sports appears, even with salary caps, to demonstrate that finding the occasional diamond in the rough rarely builds a championship team. Worse yet, once your diamond is polished it attracts sufficient interest, let alone feels it is sufficiently valuable, to move on and not display any loyalty to those who did the nurturingThe lack of a second team that might challenge in the Premiership as you indicate may be true for some of our strongest foes has more to do with a willingness to spend on a sufficient number of players that the manager can have the luxury of fine-tuning his eleven for a specific match and can rest others as needed.Arsenal, thanks primarily to the manner that Wenger organizes his side and chooses not to spend available funds has little sitting on the bench as you noted yesterday. Essentially, while there is much to say for having an eleven that know one another, understand how they each play, move, etc., there is also something to say for having fifteen to twenty-two who are good enough to play the relegation-threatened.Furthermore, as you and others have noted, there is no silver or bronze medal for not winning the FA, BPL, or other campaigns. People might remember a final match and, in parentheses, the loser, but it is the cup or trophy that matters. Close, as the saying goes, only counts in horseshoes (or hand grenades) and, if you might recall early National Basketball Association history, “close but no cigar” certainly applied to all those great teams that lost to Red Auerbach's Boston Celtics and watched him light a stogie up as his teams neared game and title victories.One thing I noted in your text is that you never indicated that maybe this season was a preliminary to the next and that maybe (doubtful, but…) Arsene was attempting to build a dynasty for the next five or more years,. Thus, Ozil was simply a stepping stone and that the over-achieving of this year might be just that, i.e., over-achieving. This would, in some ways, explain the reason as to not pursuing or signing certain players in January with the thought that “true” rebuilding and development might occur in summer-time. Were it not for the fact that, I predict even now, he will wait until the last day or so, miss out on some incredible players and then tell us, once more, that the team he has can compete, the dynasty building scenario might be believable. Unfortunately, average or just reaching the CL is not enough -Gunner supporters want GREAT. Thus, this season, if it ends as it seems to be tending with a 3rd or 4th place finish becomes unacceptable.
I have a post somewhere in which I suggest that the Ozil signing might be a prelude to Wenger's retirement (it might have been during the Draxler saga in January) with the idea that he's looking to fortify the team for when he does leave, contrary to how Ferguson just kind of left. with that in mind, your last point regarding overachievement is particularly salient. Whether anyone foresaw this kind of success for this season, as opposed to next, is an unanswerable question, but it's possible, maybe even likely. We've gone a long time without the glory to which we'd grown accustomed ten years and more ago, and so maybe we're a bit guilty of getting overeager…