Firstly allow me to apologise for the late post this morning. You can thank my neighbours who felt it appropriate to detonate explosives at midnight to celebrate one day turning into another. Maybe on June 18th I’ll go smash all the windows in their cars at 3 am. It is after all a special day for me and I like the sound of car alarms. Anyone who complains will get a sarcastic ‘Happy June 18th’ and be accused of being a miserable party pooper.
Anyway I finally calmed the hysterical pets and got back to some sort of fitful sleep many hours later, but then the alarm summoned me to my duty and so here I am. A glance at the Arsenal club website tells me we host Crystal Palace at four o’clock this afternoon. I can only hope our players got a better night’s sleep than I did and that the ‘few flu’ cases Arsène mentioned en passent in his press briefing are not in fact anything quite so serious.
Brushed over in the discussion of injuries this was in fact the most worrying of all. Flu is very different from a nasty cold despite the two often being conflated. I know, I’ve had it and you can barely lift your head from the pillow. A friend once described being so drained of motivation and energy that if you’d told him there was a million pounds outside his bedroom door he would not have bothered crossing the room to check.
I well remember the team being utterly debilitated by a bug prior to a visit to Old Trafford and can only pray we don’t see a recurrence today. Apart from anything else it is the relentless nature of this team, the famous spirit Arsène always praises, which wins so many games. Despite the sneering after the Man City defeat, the ludicrous suggestion that the players didn’t try, or want it enough, the facts are that Arsenal wins more matches in the final five minutes of a contest than any other side.
It is possible that the tactical blanket employed by many of our opponents contributes to this statistic. When prising open two lines of five and an unusually inspired keeper, you have to tease, and press, and cajole them out of shape. You can’t move the ball more quickly forward because you are playing most of the game in an attacking position already. Instead you need to move it sideways, dart forward, step back, try to winkle an opening. This is a game of long, drawn out siege football and usually pays dividends but often takes time. The defenders are sharper, fresher and less likely to lose discipline early in the match.
If we contrive an early goal there is often a flurry of activity, a passage of stormy play to navigate as the opposition strive to get back into the game and we shift gears into control mode. Sometimes we don’t do this as well as we might hope, other times we get a second and the players relax and have fun. It’s not an exact science, it can go either way. Without that breakthrough we end up with an attritional war and for fans that isn’t easy to take.
I watched my nephew wilt as we slowly picked West Brom’s lock last week. I heard his optimism and enthusiasm erode to the point where he would have been happy for me to turn off the match and play some Minesweeper videos on Youtube instead. It made me realise that those awful tweets and forum comments you read when watching this kind of match are actually quite understandable.
For very young children and those with limited cognitive powers it isn’t easy to mask disappointment. After all we all watch for entertainment don’t we? If we aren’t being entertained then we feel let down. If the careful, patient application of pressure doesn’t thrill supporters then it’s inevitable that some will vent their frustration. The only reason we don’t do that here isn’t because we’re necessarily any more intelligent or insightful than other people it’s because we try harder.
We want this to be a haven of positive encouragement and mutual support not just another place where people can show off their waspish, sniping skills. We could also gain something by understanding those who feel less of an urge to mask their exasperation. In fact at this time of resolutions I am going to try to do just that. I resolve not to get angry with those who give voice to their anguish when life doesn’t go their way. I may wish for a world where all fans become more rather than less supportive when the team is struggling but that isn’t the world I live in and so I need to adjust.
I don’t expect it to be easy but I’m going to try. All supporters who want the best for the team regardless of how they express it are effectively on the same side. Those who wish ill on the manager and players are not included. Oh, and neither are people who set off fireworks in the middle of the night in response to the whims of Pope Gregory XIII. They can go shove their heads up a dead bear’s bum.