To enjoy: to derive pleasure from, or take delight in, an activity or an occasion.
And with the first-quarter stage of the season now completed, we’ve seen 15 competitive occasions in which Arsenal have endeavoured to play great football for us to enjoy. They’ve endeavoured and, in a good proportion of those games, succeeded.
I can only think of two games actually (away at Leicester and at home to Middlesboro) where the magic got lost on the way to the match and didn’t turn up at all. In all the other games, win, draw or lose, there were either long swathes of full-on flowing Wenger-ball or, at the very least, some tantalising glimpses and periodic snatches of the magic brewing.
And we’ve had results to go with the performances too: 7 Premier League victories, 2 draws and just 1 defeat. In the Champions League, 2 victories, 1 draw and no defeats. And 2 EFL Cup victories for good measure.
For a fan who vowed to turn over a new leaf this season, having promised myself I’d enjoy watching Arsenal regardless of the frustrations, inconsistencies and any disappointing results, its obviously been, for fans like me with a low patience threshold, a bit of a doddle
If you can’t enjoy your team in this kind of form, when can you?
Clearly my new “positivism-rules” philosophy has not really been tested but I can honestly say I didn’t get stressed or upset about Liverpool at home, or PSG away or indeed the dropped points against Middlesboro. I took those games as just part of the trip. Sure, I was disappointed at a few things that we did badly on the day or didn’t do at all, but as the final whistle went in each game, I just hoped we’d do better in the next game. Which, to be fair, we did.
It also has to be said that even the Middlesboro result (a result that would have got me well riled up in the past) was easier to take, basically because pretty much every other leading team had been dropping points over recent weeks too. So unnecessarily dropped points at home to a struggling side we would expect to beat, didn’t test me at all. Even when the points mattered.
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To add to the smooth ride for Arsenal fans so far this season, we have accumulated 3 more Premier League points than we had gained by the same stage last season. And we are equal top, second on goal difference only, to the money-rich, “best-manager-in-the-world” equipped Mancs of the City persuasion.
Perhaps more importantly, the fact that we are joint leaders is not really where I’ve derived the greatest pleasure from my team this year. Less fixated on the chase for the title and the stress that goes with it, I have found myself just enjoying how we are playing.
What I’ve particularly enjoyed this season has been this sense that we, in quite a few games, have returned to something of what Arsenal, at its best, can be; pacey, fast passing, plenty of movement, high skill levels, intricate combinations, a few tricks thrown in, and great team goals. Aided and abetted by a higher level of midfield endeavour and composure, and a bit more “ummph” in our defending, it’s been joyful just to see the team perform.
I don’t know whether ultimately it will be enough to win us the league but its certainly been enough to have restored my ability to actually just enjoy watching my team play. Something I found very difficult to do last season.
Not that every game has been scintillating or worry free. Sunderland this weekend, for instance, was a mix of delight at some excellently executed goals, some puzzlement about why we were not going for the jugular to kill off the game, the deflation and sense of inevitability with the Sunderland equaliser and the renewed faith that comes with 3 killer goals in 7 minutes.
We are not always as convincing as we might want, or need, to be to win the title. But I feel reconnected to the team I love, partly because they have made it very easy to love them again and partly because I have excepted them for what they are capable of. Which is a lot of course but I don’t worry about them matching my over-demanding ideal. If they do, great, fantastic, everything overfloweth but if they don’t, and they probably won’t, its ok, I’m cool.
Interestingly, the traditional season of wobbles is about to start. November is a month many commentators and bloggers cite as often being a difficult time for Arsenal, where the cold sets in and we somehow lose our way. I’m anticipating this will happen again and my resolve will be more severely tested.
However, on the other hand, the return of November this season coincides with the return of Ramsey and Giroud from injury and the return of Xhaka from suspension. Often, if my memory serves me correctly, we seem to hit this part of the season with key players crashing out rather than coming in. Cazola is of course currently sidelined (not too sure how long for) but overall we just may be better equipped than in the recent past to deal with this second phase of the season which concludes at Christmas.
We are, I think, better equipped in having Elneny and Xhaka rather than Flamini and Arteta. Based on his regular appearances at centre back, we are also better equipped with Mustafi alongside Koscielny. There are still signs of vulnerability to crosses and mishaps but I haven’t seen an Arsenal centre-back pairing so “at it” in a long long time. Mustafi plays with an intensity and desire combined with an ability to read the game and he actually talks to the others.
We may be better equipped more deeply at CB too in that Holding is looking very good to my eyes and a lot better than Chambers. I also like the fact that Wenger has played Gibbs recently following a number of games in which Monreal was getting exposed by faster or physically stronger wingback or wingers. The problem was noticed and Mr. Wenger acted decisively.
And going forward we feel better equipped too. Alexis’s performance against Sunderland for the whole game was superb and his overall form as a centre forward has been a joy. Our front four of Alexis, Ozil, Awobi and Theo has, for the most part, been very effective. The Alexis, Ozil and Owobi threesome, when playing well, seem to be on exactly the same wavelength and Theo has discovered determination and work rate. To his credit, Mr Wenger has been able to get more out of these players than last season.
And in the more recent games our other attacking options, our Plan B players as others have called them, the Ox and Giroud, have made strong impacts. Ramsey too may have to settle for being a Plan B impact player, coming on from the bench if defences are holding out against us.
So yes, not everything is absolutely nailed down but an awful lot has been superb.
Let’s see how things are by the halfway stage at Christmas. How will I handle the normally troublesome month of November? More importantly of course, how will the team handle it?
Recent tales from Untold
From the Arsenal History Society
You can find an index to all the series to date on the Society’s web site.