Zagreb then is it? I wonder if our fortunes will be reversed from earlier in the season when our league form was scintillating and our European scorelines so disappointing. I suspect not. Life seldom runs on such neat and predictable lines. People are glibly, or airily if you prefer, predicting that the return of some injured players will be the magic bullet needed to get everything back into the groove from which we have so recently slipped.
What is it with all this magic bullet baloney? Bullets aren’t magic. Firearms are simple machines, what comes out and where it ends up are dependent on what you put in and how well you aim them. There seems an almost superstitious Arthurian bent among much of our fan base. People spend the entire season believing that some mythical saviour will come riding over the hill, sunlight glinting on his shield, to save us from the dragon or lift the siege and free the city.
All the evidence points in a far more prosaic direction. Success comes from patient hard work. From sticking remorselessly to first principles and doing the right thing and when the right thing appears elusive continuing to try to do the right thing until over time a run of good performances and results have dragged us back into contention.
No single returning player can achieve what diligent hard work and nerve can do. The big problem with the returning player as saviour script is that injuries wreck our good form not just because we lose players at the top of their game and because the replacements are wont to be ring rusty. These things are of course significant, but what really gums up the works is disruption.
Players like to play in settled formations and to build understandings and trust with their partners all over the pitch. Taking people out and adding them back in just buggers all that up, and again it takes time and patience to get it back. Give the returning players a chance for goodness sake. Let them bed back in and let their team mates get back into playing with them again. Nothing good happens in a hurry and the team will need a little luck and a lot of resolve to get out of the trough into which they’ve slipped.
There is no crisis just an understandable dip in form or rather in results. Some of the performances have been fine, some of the individuals have been wonderful. A couple of things go wrong and in some matches you get punished in others you don’t – that is the boring truth.
I am not going to waste much time on the nonsense I’ve had to listen to and read about injuries. How they were avoidable or that something more could have been done to prepare for them. Not so many, not all at once and not all affecting similar positions on the pitch. Not possible and the drivel that I’ve read suggesting such catastrophic and unpredictable events could have been better planned for is too feeble minded and frankly beneath my contempt and so I shall pass over it with ne’er a backward glance. The manager and the remaining fit players must somehow cope with all that is thrown at them and we as fans must hope, or pray if praying is your thing, and just wait and see what luck and hard work can bring.
I’d like us to do well tonight but it isn’t the priority, that is the league. The problem I have is with the unpredictable and frankly surreal spate of one injury after another I’m left reeling and I now watch matches just beseeching the great unknowable forces of the universe that no one else goes under. Which is a shame as I am lucky enough to support one of the most entertaining football sides on the planet and I ought to watch games with a mood of drooling anticipation rather that the world weary cynicism that someone else is just bound to get hurt.
However these feelings can’t hold a good man down for long, and they certainly can’t hold a weak, old fool like me down either and I shall begin once more to approach each kick off with the same level of belief and will to win as I did the first match I ever saw as an Arsenal fan.
What will Zagreb bring to tonight’s encounter? I would be amazed if they didn’t come with precisely the same mind set as when they hosted us way back in September. Soak up whatever we throw at them, hope the ref does them a massive favour and look to hit us on the counter. Lightning we have been assured since childhood does not strike the same place twice. I am no scientist but I’m happy to go along with this as simple fact rather than the colourful metaphorical language it almost certainly intended to be. I can’t believe the luck which saw us hit the post, miss an open goal and a penalty will curse us again tonight as it did in the Midlands on Saturday. Likewise I can’t see Zagreb getting the run of green in quite the same was as they did in our previous meeting.
I can’t predict an amazing reversal of all the poor results and rotten fortune that has so blighted our enjoyment of the beautiful game of late but just a small change of wind might help. A deflected goal perhaps, a glaring miss for an opposition player instead of one of ours for a change, a close off side call going our way that sort of thing. It won’t take a lot, I’m sure the application and willingness is there among the players – they like everyone else just need a helping hand every now and again.
We here are of course not called negative Arsenal and for a bloody good reason. If we want to wail and gnash our teeth and rip our shirts to bear the freshly bloody self inflicted wounds of torment we have plenty of other places we can go and do these things. There are myriad Arsenal related (I don’t say supporting) blogs where such veiled and open criticisms of the manager and individual players can be aired, there is always Arsenal twitter which loves a moan and there are newspapers and talk sport and BBC radio which thrive on an Arsenal hating, self loathing, alleged Arsenal fan venting their spleen. Here we try to maintain our sanity and our equilibrium and pick out that which went well rather that pore over a tiny defensive lapse merely because it led to a goal. Honestly what pleasure does that bring people? I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, looking at and discussing a conceded goal is like gazing into the toilet pan after a difficult, unpleasant and forgettable visit to the smallest room. Why on earth would you want to do such a thing?
We have much to cheer still. Santi has been a revelation this season, playing us out of defence with calm assurance, supporting the attack with invention and wit. Mesut and Petr Čech are on a different level and Alexis is too hot to handle. Olivier Giroud can’t stop scoring and Monreal is one of the best defenders in the league right now. Much to love much to get excited about, much to distract all but the most hopeless masochists among us.
So chin up boys and girls, we live to fight another day. Saturday is already history, glory beckons the faithful, fame and fortune await the brave.