As fans, this is the kind of day that we live for. The alarm shrills, sleepy fingers grope for the off switch and the first coherent thought to form through the fog of recently departed sleep is ‘Arsenal. It’s tonight’. This is the big one folks. Our nearest rivals have done all we could ask to ensure the pressure remains fully over in the red and Arsene has done all he can to prepare the players to work within that pressure. You can feel the expectation, tension and excitement vibrating in every Arsenal fan you meet, in every tweet and every status update the nervous thrill as our penultimate ‘cup final’ approaches.
I want you to put your hand on your heart and tell me: Did you truly believe we’d get through the first eight of these ten games and only draw two, losing none? When Arsene cranked up the tension with his ten cup final speech, how many of us thought ‘that’s a big ask’ after a sometimes infuriatingly inconsistent season? I knew we had the ability to do it, and in public I sounded resolute, but that little voice inside me kept chipping away. Long unbeaten runs in this version of the premiership where squads packed with first choice internationals can get easily relegated are so very difficult to establish. It is as George pointed out in a recent post a much, much tougher league than it used to be.
And yet here we are. Tantalisingly close. Like that bloke and his ginger girlfriend off Game Of Thrones trying to climb the impossibly tall ice wall, just a couple of last gasps from the parapet. One false step and they plummet to the eternal winter of the Europa league, two more herculean lunges and they are gazing down over the meadows and rich pastures of the UCL. So what then of tonight’s ice wall? What of Wigan? What, I wonder, will they bring to the table ? We have all been attempting to read the tea leaves after their heroics against the Oil Barons on Saturday. It’s as if everyone is reading the same thriller and trying to work out where the plot is leading them. Will Martinez have kept them away from the champers and go go girls? Will they be hung over or inspired by Wembley? Did Macmanamanamanam have the game of his life or is Kieran in for a roasting like that his predecessor endured?
Sorry to disappoint you but I’m not in the business of making predictions. Go to Blackpool and visit a fortune teller if that’s what you want. Who predicted Wigan to beat the oil men, Bradford to beat us, or us to utterly humiliate Bayern away from home? Who on earth thought the Spuds would, after their customary end of season capitulation, find the inner strength and belief to cling, no matter how tenuously to their top four ambitions? The point is none of us know. I’m sick of bloggers pretending they do. Remember when Theo had a temporary contract extension as his people and our people got round the table to thrash out a deal? You all read as I did countless bloggers airily asserting that “Walcott is already gone, we all know that” and “Of course everyone knows we have lost Theo, we need to ask who if anyone will be brought in to replace him” that kind of pathetic, self serving egotistical drivel that passes for amateur journalism. I challenged one prominent blogger to make a full and public apology if and when Theo re-signed but I had just as well piss in the wind. As far as I can see these people have their negative agenda whether conscious and deliberate or innate and unacknowledged. They like the sound of their high pronouncements with the clear implication that they somehow know the future. Well they don’t. And nor do we. We haven’t a clue. The form book, the squads, the manager’s experience all point to us winning. But no matter how much I expect us to I don’t know and nor do you so lets leave predictions to Eileen Drewery and just try to enjoy the match.
My mate Wilb, when asked what result he wanted if watching a match as a neutral always answered without hesitation “Extra time and penalties”. He wanted as many minutes of football entertainment as the two teams could give him. I am enormously out of step with many of you I know because for all the edge of the seat nail chewing, for all the times the dog has slid from the room on her belly emitting toxic farts of terror as I scream at the screen and bite the furniture, I am actually thoroughly enjoying the fact that this season is going to the wire. Like Wilb I want as much as I can get out of this thing. Yes I hoped both Spuds and Chavs might lose at the weekend because like everyone else I’m conscious that it would buy us leeway should we have ‘one of those days’ either tonight or on Sunday. But they didn’t lose and so we get to go to the very end of the season still needing to win our games to be certain, still hoping the others slip up and help us. It is squeezing the season until the pips squeak and I’m loving every second of it. My hopes are that we stay unbeaten to the end and kick off 2013/14 with something already to defend. I pray we finally see a summer with none of the usual upheaval (please God no transfer activity to further disrupt us) so that the squad defending that nascent unbeaten run will be the ones who earned it.
Of course to realise my dreams we need to stay focussed and keep defending like we have been lately. We have at last a settled defensive partnership which breathes calm and stability and provides the perfect foundation for our more advanced players. We have a midfielder in Aaron Ramsay just coming of age and putting in the kind of dynamic never say die performances that are little short of inspirational. With the experience and guile of Tomas, Santi and Lukas and a proper captain at last I think the side looks as balanced as I can remember. When you factor in the youngsters like Wilshere and Oxelaide-Chamberlain who are hammering on the door wanting their place the future is very bright indeed.
So yes I think we can. Heck I know we can. Will we? Let’s just say I bloody well hope so.