I don’t want to write this, and more importantly you don’t want to read it. So as an exercise in futility today’s blog is hard to beat. After Zagreb, the last thing we needed was an hour and a half in the company of the world’s most detestable football club. Like getting beaten up on the way home from work on Wednesday only to find your husband in bed with your sister on Saturday. Not the greatest of weeks. And now we have to think about football all over again.
All we’ve wanted to do, you and I, is push all thoughts of the once beautiful game from our minds and try to find solace in other more tranquil, distracting pursuits. I’ve been indulging in an orgy of regression spending time either reading stories or playing with my friend on our bikes or listening to my favourite bands on my record player. Sadly while this attempt to run backwards towards the womb has managed somewhat to confound the morose patina which has otherwise overlaid and occasionally obnubilated my usual placid state of serene beatitude, nothing can entirely obliterate the image of Mike Dean and Diego Costa from my mind.
How do you distract yourself after a run of sporting disappointments? I must confess I can’t find a path through the woods this time. Ignoring it and hoping it will go away has failed. Taking increasing and frankly ill advised risks on a mountain bike is, for a man of my advancing years, not only an undignified but some might say a disproportionate response. Reading a book is difficult when the words either float from their place and form an image of a shiny headed, useless match official in the air above the page or the letters rearrange themselves into Football Association, PGMOL and corruption, before my disbelieving eyes. Even the anticipation of a new MJ Hibbett album hasn’t stirred me. Is everything lost? Has this proven one disappointment too many?
The answer is I’m still here. So while hope may not be springing in its usual defiance of eternity I am limping onwards and as you’re taking time out from your precious schedule to read these forced, constipated and unwilling thoughts it seems that both of us have survived the standing count and have staggered from our corners to raise our weary gloves and try to make it through another round.
One thought keeps going through my head when I try to look forward to tonight. If only it wasn’t Spurs. The league cup provides us with the perfect scenario, the ideal opportunity to wipe away our disenchantment with the game. At least it ought to. If we have to play again so soon then this is the tournament I would have chosen. It’s the least important of all the cups isn’t it? Traditionally Arsène fields a team full of fringe players of whom we usually see all too little and exciting young talent to whet our appetites for the future. The side has often played with exuberance and a freedom from pressure which has been refreshing to watch and a great antidote to the usual cauldron of anxiety that is the Premier League.
Not against Spurs though. You cannot expect the fans nor the players to take any meeting against their historic rivals and near neighbours with a pinch of salt. Factor in that this is the Middlesex cub’s only real chance of a trophy this and every other season and the stakes are higher than they otherwise would be and certainly higher than I would like. I just wanted a light hearted match with Jeff Reine-Adelaide dancing through the opposition midfield and Joel Campbell scoring a hat-trick. This could have been useful game time at centre back or central midfield for Calum Chambers and a run out for Mathieu Debuchy. The main talking point might have been how will Krystian Bielik and Alex Iwobi look alongside more seasoned pros. Instead it is now being described as a must win fixture.
God I hate that expression. Don’t you? Must win. I know ‘would be more preferable to win’ doesn’t trip off the tongue with such elegance and ease but honestly if any game was a ‘must’ win then how come the club still exists after a defeat? The suggestion of finality the conjuring of the imperative are misleading because there is no apocalypse awaiting us if we lose. It is all part of the football fans’ need the to reach for ever more fanciful hyperbole in their desperation to show how important their team is and how acute their personal commitment to the cause.
I read a Chelsea fan saying that if they lost at Goodison Park it would be disastrous. I repeated the ludicrous comment in an attempt to highlight how other clubs also have their fair share of ridiculous fans. I had hoped to illustrate that it is not only Arsenal that is so blighted with these bufoons. I was immediately taken to task by one of our own who suggested that defeat against Everton would effectively end Chelsea’s title challenge and therefore would indeed be a disaster. Where do you start with such a silly argument? With so many points still in play even suggesting that Chelsea could not still win the league was the stuff of illogic and fantasy.
The real false note ringing out from this argument was the idea that any defeat could be seen as a disaster. Even if it had spelled the end of their title ambitions it would not be a disaster merely, well, merely the end of their title ambitions. If one begins to describe as disastrous a single defeat then where does that leave us when facing that which is truly devastating? Hillsborough, Bradford, Ibrox, Heysel, these were disasters. Tragedies beyond the meagre resources of a thesaurus. If you start exploding the day to day disappointments out of all proportion you leave yourself nowhere to go when something genuinely awful happens.
So tonight is not a must win. Tonight is a hell of a lot more desirable to win than if it had been against a less antagonistic opponent and that detracts from the feet up, cup of tea and a gypsy cream insouciance with which games like this are usually to be enjoyed. But the sun will still come up tomorrow and Leicester will still be waiting for us on Saturday whatever the result this evening.
As I meander through this preview it occurs to me that the answer to the question I posed nearer the top of the page has perhaps revealed itself. The fact that just by pondering upon the match this evening I have started the gears turning once again. The only way to deal with a couple of horrible defeats is perhaps to anticipate another game. All that has passed is prologue. The sting of Zagreb, the burning resentment at Costa and Dean’s Bolero at the Bridge will only fade into the shadows when the floodlights click on in N17 tonight. Rather than dwell, the only thing we can do is to lash ourselves to the bull and open the gate into the arena once more.
There will surely still be rotation in the team tonight. Arsène must rest players after their gruelling schedule recently and who’s to say that a couple of youngsters might not shine, some fringe players make a name for themselves? Remember Cesc against Rotherham? Baptista at Anfield? The greatest league cup tie ever against Reading? How about the youngsters putting six past Sheffield United when Carlos Vela patented his dinked finish; all wonderful entertainment and the perfect curative to Premier and Champions League ills. So come on then, let’s drag ourselves out of the Slough of Despond and allow a little hope to creep back into our lives. Tonight could be a memorable night. Just this once, let it be memorable for the right reasons.