A few of weeks ago I was talking about Arsène’s contention that we had ten cup finals ahead of us and that he intended to do his darndest to see that we win every last one of them. I loved that he said that because it shows how clever and brave he is as a manager and what chumps some others are by comparison. Think about Villas-Boas’ comment “They are now in a negative spiral in terms of results — it will be extremely difficult for them to get out of it.” Thanks Andre; I hope Steve Bould stuck that one on the wall of the changing room. Of course if we had gone on to lose the next two games he would have looked like some kind of visionary genius and the insufferable pretenders from the Lane would have had reason to sink to even greater depths of self delusion. But of course we didn’t. The poor man has been been scraping the foo-yung from his ginger beard ever since and no doubt regretting those rash words. You don’t inspire your own players nor your own supporters by snide denigration of your rivals. Especially when they have either overhauled you or left you behind consistently for many many years. Oh and if they are managed by a man with enormous footballing nous and huge experience, you’d have been wiser to just smile sweetly , clench your cheeks together and shut up. I actually know that some Spud fans were shaking their heads when he said it and I can guess why, after all it made me think – ‘Oh yeah? You fucking think so do you?’ and I’m sure our players and coaching staff had a similar reaction.
Compare if you will, the rashness of AVB’s downhill spinning top baloney with Arsène’s ten cup finals remark. It gave me a little shiver down my spine. Made me really realise that we are here at the sharp end of the season and we have to fight for every single scrap that each opponent may let fall our way. That we need to dig deep for ten games. Either deep into our mental resources and sheer bloody mindedness as in our last 20 minutes of competitive footy or dig deeply into our glittering pirate’s chest of shiny passing and shooting skills as we did in the 250 minutes before Per’s telescopic leg failed him at the Hawthorns. Because that’s where we are right now. Three cup finals down. 270 must win minutes played. Eight wonderful, glorious, lovely goals scored and a miserly two conceded. Two away wins, one home win. So far so good. Now look, before you all gang up on me please understand that there is no hubris here, no AVB style chicken counting from me at all. I know full well that we have a very long way to go and seven cup finals still to play. But there does seem to be a little bit of strain , a few cracks beginning to show in the pretenders to our throne. Both Chelsea and AVB’s downward spiralling Spuds have looked somewhat shaky of late and I have to believe that is in part down to us piling on the points and pouring on the pressure.
Arsene’s remark certainly put his own players under pressure, but what did it say to them and to us? I think it said ‘here it is, a really big ask. Ten cup finals in the toughest league out there. And I’m laying on the line . Not talking about what our rivals might or might not do, not trying some feeble ‘mind game’ on anybody else. I’m saying that we have a massive job ahead of us and by saying it I am telling you publicly that I believe you can do it. One final at a time.’
And by God the team has come out looking like they’re ready for a fight in each match. And for us supporters he’s given a real meaning and edge to what some denigrate as another failed season. Let’s be honest we all want to win every trophy and every August I hope and believe that we will. It’s the joy of following football as a sport, you get reborn every summer and each close season sees all your hope and belief entirely rekindled and fired up in readiness for the next go around. OK so this time there is only one thing left to fight for. A top four finish is for me more than the league cup and just shades the FA cup – you may see things differently, if so feel free to disagree with me, I can take it. European qualification is third choice on my list of five targets when August comes around. But here’s the thing, there’s a whole lot of clubs dream of a top four finish in the Prem and we are one of the few capable of getting there. We have seven finals left and while we would like our rivals to do that vertical downhill spinny thing a few more times just to ease our way (it adds spice after all), whether they help us or not this season looks like going all the way to the wire and as a football fan you simply cannot ask for any more than that.
Imagine having secured mid table tedium a few weeks back and just playing out the remaining fixtures. Of course the matches themselves might be exciting but the season would be effectively over for you. We are one of a very few clubs at the absolute pinnacle of the English league system who have a big old prize still to aim at and the way Arsène laid that out for us has really whetted my appetite for the home straight. And I’ll tell you what, the players look like they’re up for it too. We’re so lucky to have experienced campaigners like the incomparable Tomáš Rosický and the unruffleable Vice Captain Fantastic Mikel Arteta to help steer the ship through the rocks and rapids which will no doubt try to sink us, but more than that all the new faces that so disrupted our progress way back in the autumn of last year now look like a team. A special mention for Nacho Monreal here who has had literally no time to settle but looks like he was born in the red and white. What a buy he turned out to be and be honest not one anybody saw coming. The squad is in pretty good shape, obvious and tragic injuries aside, and we have some pretty phenomenal experience and young talent on the bench these days.
So as far as my flu addled brain can make out we have made an impressive start to climbing this particular hill, there is a long way to go but every week brings more excitement and more drama and every week the results around us become harder to predict. If I still drank I’d raise a glass to you all and say what a joy it is to have you along for this crazy ride, and if you’ll allow me, I’ll make just one small prediction. If we do pull off the unlikely but not impossible ten cup finals, we will have laid the perfect foundation for the next campaign. The self belief that every squad needs will be in place and the bond forged between the artists on the pitch will make 2013/14 a truly mouth watering prospect.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. One day at a time as we say in AA. Or one final at a time as we say at The Arsenal.