Curious feeling this. Like floating weightlessly after months of rolling helpless in the furious cataract of storm torn seas. This gentle drift towards the end of the season, while all the time the gradual background hum of excitement builds at the prospect of an FA Cup final. These two contradictory emotions running side by side. The title has gone. St Totts has passed. Other teams are engaged in a frantic scrap for either a Europa place or to escape relegation. We are in a curious position which is, emotionally at least, more akin to that enjoyed by a mid table side. Playing for as high a finish as possible but not desperate, no nail biting tension informs our final few fixtures. I know there is a battle for the runners up spot between ourselves and Man City, a disruptive European qualifier to be avoided and United once again snapping at our heels. But then we also have two games in hand which takes the sting out of things a little.
Is it just me? I don’t know if you’re a little deflated now as well or whether the soul destroying despair which has enveloped the country since the frankly appalling election result has infected my mood. Maybe it’s simply that we have gone two weekends with no football. That’s been a little strange hasn’t it? I rely on Arsenal to distract me, to lift me from the daily torpor of my moribund existence and with the exception of midweek cup competitions I’ve grown rather used to this happening at the weekend.
The shade of Wembley is definitely casting a certain murk over the winding up of the league agenda. When Aaron was injured how many of us honestly thought ‘Oh no, I wonder if he’ll be fit in time for Swansea?’ rather than ‘will he recover by May 30th?’ When Jack played his sparkling cameo at Hull my first thought was he doesn’t want to start another final on the bench does he?
I suppose my languid indifference to the potential potholes along our road to season’s end may be horribly exposed if we lose our two games in hand and find ourselves beneath Man United. But even then will Liverpool be able to catch us? I’ve never been a great one for the mathematics, in fact the high point of my school career in that particular discipline was deliberately giving myself a nose bleed in Miss Kelly’s class and allowing the blood to obliterate two pages of my exercise book just before the bell rang. The teacher could neither prove nor disprove whether I’d actually been doing any work in her lesson. Maybe not the greatest ever dodge but certainly more subtle than my friend John Dack who once set fire to his desk in order to enliven a tedious morning of double RE. However, I am drifting from the point. The issue is my mathematical skills. It seems to me that even if we lose all of our remaining fixtures and Liverpool win all of theirs we will still finish in the top four. So what are we playing for then?
Tonight we are playing to win because we’re at home, we owe Swansea one and we want to maintain our unbeaten run and keep the pressure on a Man City side which, I’m told, succeeded in overcoming Queens Park Rangers with some ease yesterday. We then need to beat Man United because we absolutely despise them and cannot bear to lose to them. Sunderland and West Brom? Because we are at home and they are either among the poorest sides in the league or managed by Tony Pulis. So it’s not as if there’s nothing to play for but I cannot shake this feeling that the single most important thing for May is nobody gets injured before the final.
Sorry. You come here for a rabble rousing speech and I’m as flat as freshly ironed pancake. Let’s have a look at the recent form of the two teams and see if I can’t cheer up a bit. We are of course top of the form table, the only blemish being the dropped points against you know who. Swansea are riding high, just below third placed Chelsea in fact, having won four of their last six. A look at their form away from Liberty Stadium however shows a less rosy picture, a real on off run of three wins and three defeats. They are still hopeful of finishing up among the likes of Liverpool and Spurs and so ought to come and try to play tonight which is the best thing that could happen. I’d hate sides to just sit for a draw at this stage of the season. Mind you, according to Garry Monk who Arsène seems to rate as a manager the pressure of Europa league football can have a negative effect on your league form. In truth he merely acknowledged what many people prefer to ignore; the enormous achievement represented by challenging in the FA Cup, and European competition and simultaneously maintaining a place at the top of the table.
I have a lot of time for Swansea and the way they play the game. I see them as similar to Southampton. Not a massive club but not a bunch of lower table shit kickers either. I think they have a great keeper and some quick and powerful forwards, but I have to say I think Arsenal have about fourteen or fifteen of the best players in the premier League so it ought not to be an even contest.
I wonder if the players are affected by the same ennui which has enveloped me of late. Do they play with less enthusiasm when there is ostensibly less riding on the result? Or do they play with a greater freedom once the real pressure has lifted? Is this in truth where the manager’s skill in motivating his players comes to the fore? Do they even need motivating especially or do they have their sights firmly set on finishing above Man City? Perhaps the line which managers trot out at press conferences about taking it one game at a time is actually true and they are somehow able to pretend they aren’t aware of anything other than the forthcoming ninety minutes. Who knows? I recall being similarly concerned about motivation before the Hull game and it didn’t take the players long to disabuse me of any concerns I might have had so perhaps I need to relax and just enjoy the game. I certainly need a couple of hours of entertainment to lift my mood at the moment.
A lot of people seem to think that, in light of Aaron’s injury, we’ll see Theo start tonight but my tea leaves tell me it’ll be Jack who steps in if the Huddlestone clump proves too much for our Welsh Wizard to overcome. I of course know nothing of Arsène’s plans, nor do any other bloggers or journalists but it doesn’t stop them pretending they do so what the hell – there is my wild speculation for what it’s worth. Who I think will play is one thing, who I’d like to see play is another matter. Above all else I’d love to see Tomáš Rosický tonight. I have an awful feeling that we’ve seen the last meaningful contribution to a season from my favourite Arsenal player and as such I want as many chances to see him pirouetting around and through the bewildered Swansea midfield and defence as possible. Come to that I’d like to see him feature in all of our remaining matches but that’s because I’m sentimental and I love watching the man dance on a football pitch. Arsène is rightly renowned for the care he lavishes on his players but he can be as brutally ruthless as the job demands him to be. As the most forward thinking manager of his generation he will always favour tomorrow’s star over yesterday’s so I know I will have to settle for the likes of Sanchez, Wilshere, Ramsey and Özil for the foreseeable future. Oh poor me.
You know what? The mental imagery conjured while writing that last paragraph has rather lifted me from my torpidity. When a man is tired of the prospect of Mesut Özil a man is tired of life as I believe Samuel Johnson once said. So let’s rouse ourselves and enjoy the final four league matches. As ever let us hope everyone stays fit and unclumped between now and the final, and if you’re going to the match give us a wave.