Ok, gotta admit the third quarter of the 2015/16 season did not, in any way whatsoever, turn out like the script.
Much anger, abuse and “told you so’s” have been hurled at our team, and mainly by us. And really Untolders, who can blame us?
I know that every single one of those who are AKB’s, despite their immense loyalty to the greatest of all our managers, will have, over the last two weeks, either cursed him out loud or inwardly moaned, “Arsene, Arsene, Arsene, why, oh why, oh why?” I have no evidence. But if you say you didn’t even feel a heightened sense of frustration over the last few weeks (months), absolutely no-one will believe you, and your sanity will be questioned.
It’s only human to be angry if you are driven to it. And we have been driven to it. At the very least you will have found yourself questioning your faith when, even in the most favourable of circumstances, yes even then, your hero appears unable to deliver. And if you did feel anger and question your faith, you will be forgiven. It’s ok.
Now, some of you, after an hour or two, maybe a day or two, will have centred yourself, calmed the storm and found the deep well of faith once again. You are, for sure, better followers than me.
I think, however, we may all suspect that the number of AKB’s dwindled over the winter and possibly, this time, by a significant amount. I have no evidence. It just adds up. You can’t expect to retain loyalty forever if you cause so much frustration every year by not meeting expectations. Even if you do deliver the FA Cup. Even if you did buy Ozil. Even if your die-hard fans don’t prioritise trophies as such but are happy just supporting what you stand for and how you go about doing things. In the end, the missed opportunities stack up and tip the balance. I may be wrong but things do shift in time. Patience runs out.
January, February and early March could well turn out to be the period of the season that did for us this season and it may be the moment too when only Arsene’s most ardent band of followers are left standing.
You, of all fans, deserved better from him and his team this season. You’ve been as disappointed as anyone I’m sure but in your chosen pro-Wenger position, you’ve also had to dig deeper and support him regardless. A tough ask.
So in honour of you who are still left standing, I am going to try and see the silver linings that linger.
The first silver lining is that we might argue the season is still retrievable. You’re right, it is. At least, on paper.
This season has seen Arsenal’s worst points tally for this wintery quarter of the season since 2005-06 when we won just 14 points. This year we only achieved 13 points, dropping 17.
Those 17 dropped points have put us 8 points behind Leicester with 9 games to go.
Unfortunately in the last 10 years, no-one has won the league from that far behind. In fact only 2 of the last 10 years has seen an eventual champion coming from behind at all at this point of the season. In 2011/12, with 9 games to go and one point behind, Man City went on to become Champions. They repeated that feat again in 2013/14 when they had been 3 points behind at this stage.
Luckily, this season has stuck two fingers up at all the precedents of the past 10 years so maybe it’s still possible.
So if we just keep to the precedent of this season alone, and assume that Leicester maintain the form they’ve shown so far (W 59% D 31% L 10%), they will win 5, draw 3 and lose 1 of their remaining 9 matches and thus drop 9 points. Arsenal will therefore have to win all of their remaining games in order to catch up the 8 points we are behind and gain the 1 extra point we need to win the League.
Some still cling onto the hope that Leicester, despite only having been beaten three times this season so far (ironically twice by us), may just collapse. And if they were to get an early set back in the next few games and begin to sense the smell of a chasing pack, the Foxes might just start to feel the pressure in a way that haven’t so far.
It’s still a tall order, especially with our remaining fixtures. But maybe coming from behind suits us best. Getting written off may galvanise us and give us an advantage. The expectation has dropped somewhat and maybe that will help us feel we now have nothing to lose.
Certainly the spirit we showed at Spurs when our backs were against the wall will be needed for the rest of the season if we are to make a go of it. That spirit came from somewhere. It was there for Spurs to kill us off before the game started and we resisted. And we resisted again when Le Coq got himself sent off. Hopefully Mr Wenger can tap into the drive we found for that match.
You may not believe me when I say that I hope, for Untolders and AKB’s more than anyone, that Mr Wenger delivers this miracle and we lift the Premiership trophy. And of course, there’s still the FA Cup, even if, in this year of higher hope, it may, for some, feel like a consolation prize.
The second silver lining that occurs to me is based on the notion that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
If it proves to be beyond us and we don’t make up quite enough ground this season, experiencing the run-in chase nonetheless, and pushing hard for the top spot will give this team the collective experience of what it takes to really fight for the trophy and, in so doing, learn how to handle the pressure. And that could be very useful for next season. This will be the case especially if Arsene stays in his job, as he almost certainly will.
With Arsene still in charge, Arsenal players will not only have to deal with their own nerves and the pressure of trying to play well against tough teams (tougher teams if Chelsea, Man U and Liverpool re-arm and re-engage), they will also have to deal with the increasing pressure of their own fans.
I don’t blame fans for having expectations nor do I blame them for venting their anger when their expectations are not satisfied. The mood swing when Swansea scored their second at the Emirates and the subsequent overt frustration that accompanied every poor pass and the final-whistle booing was completely natural and, in my view, a justified reaction. Not because of the way we were playing on the night and not even because it was a hangover from the desperate performance against United a few days before (although God knows that was a low of lows).
To me that booing was the anger built up over many years of Mr Wenger never ever doing quite enough. And here we were, once again, caving in. Another season where we look as though we’ve fallen short, and spectacularly so. The expectation and frustration levels will be even more heightened next year.
There is barely a part of the way Mr Wenger does his job that is not seriously questioned by many fans, be it his tactics, his team selection, his team preparation, his fitness regime, his transfer business.
And with more and more fans losing faith in him, it increasingly looks like it’s the players that have to bear the burden of Mr Wenger losing credibility. I’m not saying the players haven’t been culpable themselves as in some games they just don’t appear to turn up at all. Nor am I not saying the fans are not their own worst enemy. We don’t help by getting on the backs of the team.
If the team can play through an increasingly anti-Wenger atmosphere this season and get close to Leicester by the season’s end, it may prove to be a big psychological break-through. The team may be toughened up for next season’s ever increasing tension.
The third silver lining is that even without a league trophy or even without any real sign of progress this season, we know that Mr Wenger will almost certainly do enough to qualify for the Champion’s League and that will guarantee he stays. If he stays, we will continue to enjoy the fruits of a man trying to do the best he can and we’ll enjoy too, our Manager continuing to encourage the best kind of football that can be played; expressive, creative artistry.
And that would be better, some argue, than replacing him in an attempt to find greater trophy success which is virtually impossible, what with three richer clubs than us in the League and another 4 or 5 in Europe. That would be an over ambitious and self-indulgent strategy and risk the club struggling to re-create its past glories, as e.g. Man Utd have done, and see us decline instead. Better to be steady and involved to some degree than to risk an even more diminished status.
So, from the perspective of Mr Wenger’s faithful few, there is good yet to come and although I don’t share their faith, it can be argued, despite the carnage of the last few weeks, the future might still look best with Mr Wenger in charge.
- Arsenal Squad – 2016/17 and Chelsea’s youth problems
- It’s time for positive supporters to take on the clowns
The anniversaries (index to 4600 anniversaries across the years is here)
- 9 March 1935 – Arsenal’s biggest crowd at Highbury (73,295) saw what was reported to be a very poor match, probably because it was seen as the title decider. It ended Arsenal 0 Sunderland 0.
- 9 March 2000: After beating Deportivo 5-1 in the Uefa cup Arsenal lost the rematch 1-2, but went through as they headed for the final.
- 9 March 2002: Newcastle 1 Arsenal 1 FA Cup 5th round – part of the 3rd Double Season. The game was moved for TV, which led to protests from Arsene Wenger, given that Arsenal were still fighting in three competitions. Cup overview is here.
- 9 March 1562: Kissing in public in Naples was made punishable by death.