Okay, so she’s not singing just yet, but she’s finished applying her makeup and is ready for her grand entrance. Yes, the fat lady is about to sing, but that’s no excuse for the Chicken Littles to strut and fret their hour upon the stage. There will come a day when they’ll be heard of no more.
From the preseason, no one sane saw us finishing any higher than fifth. Yes, we benefitted from the form of various rivals, which varied from inconsistent to shambolic. However, we’d topped the table for 32 of 35 matchdays, outpacing one of history’s deepest, most-expensive, most-experience, and most-legitimately assembled squads up until a few steps short of the very last gasp.
Did our lads succumb to despair against Brighton? Consider: we needed them to drop nine points from their final four matches—a massive ask of a squad that is legendary for running the table from January on. Yes, we succumbed to them. We also succumbed to low confidence, to inexperience, to injuries. At either end of the pitch, key players missed one-third of the season. Jesus was just rounding into form; Saliba was already in it. Add in injuries and niggles to Tomiyasu, Smith-Rowe, Partey, and Zinchenko; and fatigue to Saka, Odegaard, White, Gabi, and Martinelli, and what’s left? I just named an XI that would be the envy of perhaps as many as 16 other clubs.
We knew that a lack of depth would be an Achilles’ Heel. We knew that a lack of experience could prove costly. What we didn’t know is that fourteen or fifteen players could stretch Man City’s to the breaking point. They had 16 players log more than 800 minutes; we had 12 do the same. We’ve had four outfield players log more than 3000 minutes; they’ve had none. This was always David versus Goliath, we were always Tantalus as well as Sisyphus; they were always Thanos. They are Scylla and Charybdis.
I’m disappointed, but I draw the line at those who say we bottled it or that we just aren’t good enough. Some have you been insisted that Arteta be sacked, that we’ll never win the Prem, that losing is in our DNA. Bollocks. If that’s your attitude, take a long walk off a short pier. Go support the bland, sterile inevitability that is Man City.
At the other end, I’m not quite ready to except the notion that we should be satisfied with how this season will indubitably turn out. Second place is a massive improvement on where we’ve been for lo these last 15 years or so, but we can’t sweep those years under the rug on the basis of this one. We have wounds to lick and, from what I’ve seen, those wounds will heal and those lads will be stronger, wiser, savvier as a result.
This season was no flash in the pan. If anything, it was a warning-flare, a beacon, a summoning. Our players will see how close they came to achieving the impossible and come back even more-determined, more-seasoned than they were. They’ve come through a crucible and will come out the other side with grit, determination, and hunger, with wisdom, savvy, and guile beyond their years. The same shall be true of Arteta and Edu.
The summer shall draw reinforcements like moths to a flame. It’s not just what we have Champions League football. It’s that, for as good as we’ve been for so much of this season, we’re only going to get better. The Guehis and Caicedos and Vlahovics, the Osimheins and Rices and Zahas, will be drawn towards us, towards this project and this mission.
99% of those who accuse us of bottling it will finish at least a dozen points behind us, proving that one has to first be in a position to bottle before bottling is a possibility. The other 1% have outspent us on transfers, wages, and financial violations to a staggering degree. We’ve shown our vials that a club that recruits and spends carefully can compete with those that spend profligately.
We will rest. We will re-arm. We will re-load. We will use this season and its terminus, which has been both inspiring and disappointing, as a springboard to bigger and better things. That’s no guarantee, of course. Playing in the Champions League group stage will be quite a bit harder than playing in the Europa League group stage, but something tells me that our lads will turn the thin gruel of this season’s end into fine wine of one variety of another.
Chins up, Gooners. This is but a start.