C’mon, don’t be shy. Reach in and let’s have a hug. We’ve all earned it. Also locked in a not-so-manly embrace with me for the last of our monthly podcasts this season are Dave Meikleham and Elliot ‘YankeeGunner’ Smith, discussing the glorious end of season finale, likely transfers*, and whether we should deliberately throw the Champions League qualifier. Just for lulz.
A strange feeling this morning: Waking up without that pervading will-they, won’t-they worry about Champions League qualification. Not to mention the not insignificant matter of keeping Spurs in our cannon-shaped shadow. The air feels sweeter somehow. The pressure lifted. It’s quite a relief to be able to step out from under the dangling Damoclesian sword of finishing fifth, and to enjoy the summer with the expectation that maybe, just maybe, we’ll actually strengthen the team substantially.
There are those, though, who are now trying to paint the Arsenal fans and players celebrating finishing fourth as somehow unbecoming of a big club. Let’s be honest, that’s bollocks. You only need to watch Milan going mental after qualifying late last night to see what it means to even a club which has won the thing seven times. Also, ask yourself if Spurs, or Everton, or Liverpool had qualified, would they have just shrugged stoically? Would the press have congratulated them in a manner that would be considered unbecoming of a biscuit-based circle jerk? You know the answer to both these questions.
I’m wary of getting carried away after last night, as it’s effectively only halftime in the vital double header that will determine the Champions League qualifying spots. Nonetheless, even if you’re weary of people banging on about how vital finishing fourth is, which I can sympathise with to a degree, there’s no doubt this was one of the most electric nights at the Grove all season.
This blogging lark is a piece of the proverbial once you’ve been doing it for a while. See, if we’d dropped points against Rangers I’d have fallen back on my regular assertion that we’re a team which abrogates responsibility, afraid of taking shots or trying truly risky passes, and that’s why we struggle against teams we should swat aside.
But we didn’t drop any points this time. Thanks to an early Walcott scuffer and a late Szczesny wondersave, we emerged, blinking into Sunday, with another win. So instead I’ll dust off last season’s climactic narrative, and say that if we are going to win the race for fourth, then it will only be by collapsing over the line, coughing up blood and prayers as we do so. Yay football!
I’ll happily take that point, as I would haven taken it if you’d offered it to me at any time before, or indeed during, the game. Yes, even in our 30-minute spell of near total dominance. The idea that this Arsenal side was just going to turn up and beat the current Utd one because they’ve already won the league was always an unlikely looking fantasy. They certainly didn’t look happy to settle for the draw in the second half.
Here we are then. The penultimate podcast of a season which, lets be honest, hasn’t yielded maximum fun times, but could still end on a comparatively upbeat note. Don’t make that face. I said comparatively. Since we last spoke the team has been on a startlingly good, but also fairly nerve-racking, run. Joining me to talk about that, and all things AFC are, as usual, Scottish Dave and Elliot ‘YankeeGunner’ Smith.
On the agenda: Arsenal’s remaining matches – starting on Sunday, when Arsenal are 3/1 with Ladbrokes to beat Manchester United – plus all the guff about the guard of honour and the return of *him*. We’ve also got thoughts on Giroud’s ban, Suarez’s bite and Gotze’s betrayal. Because why not? Man cannot live on Arsenal alone. Oh, and I even managed to sneak some transfer talk in. Of course I did.
Another Saturday, another horrendous test of nerves. As games go that was awful, and in a season where we’ve served up some absolute stinkers, that it ranks among the stinkiest is saying something. I can find nothing to redeem it beyond the result, but the result is, y’know, massive. So the temptingly obvious narrative to reach for is: don’t worry about the quality of the performance, just feel the points. Especially against a side we’ve struggled to beat at all in recent seasons.
And yet, and yet. I suppose it’s because of our unblemished 15-year run of Champions League qualification that this sort of run-in makes it feel like, rather than trying to win a prize, (I know: not an actual prize), it instead feels like we’re trying to avoid losing something that we’ve already got. Or in other words: when it’s this tight, as it was last year, the mood feels like we’re trying to avoid relegation.
That was a meat grinder of a game. It felt about as intense, bruising and gripping as a match gets without any goals, and in the aftermath I don’t have too many complaints about only taking a point. Yes, Gibson should’ve been sent off in the first half, but I’m not surprised Neil Swarbrick dodged the decision. That sort of cynical block, intended to snuff out an attack, almost invariably earns a booking. Unless of course the player has been cautioned a minute before for a crude hack, in which case it’s time for a paternal talking to instead.
Jesus Henry Christ, that’s another couple of years sliced off my life expectancy. Earlier in the week, having received my personal signed copy of the ‘Wenger’s View’ weekly email, I was interested to read the manager’s take on the race for fourth. “We are conscious that it will demand 100% commitment in every single game,” said Arsene, presumably sparking a crafty Gauloises for emphasis. “It will be difficult and edgy.” My heart sank at those words, though I didn’t doubt them. Of course it will.
Apologies for the headline, but it’s the best I can muster after a long week and what felt like an even longer game. It ought to have been comfortable enough. A largely dominant first half, ending with what should have been a simple Ramsey finish to a fabulous move, which was then followed by a second Rosicky goal at the start of the second half which should have put West Brom to bed. With no conciliatory cocoa.
But on went the handbrake, and sure enough the red card, which had felt like it was in the post once Webb had booked Rosicky and Rambo in the first half, instead went to Per for a bringing down Shane Long. No complaints about the decision, although I suppose I’d have prefered the player to have allowed the shot rather than get himself sent off trying to stop it. But I guess defenders can’t think like that, or they’d be constantly waving strikers through like senile doormen.
Arsenal were controlled, dominant, and at times quite brilliant against a Reading side with one foot in the Championship (and the other might as well be in a wood chipper). Controlled. Brilliant. Dominant. It’s fair to say those are not three adjectives I’ve had cause to dust off in combination too many times this season, but after the tedious doldrums of yet another international break, it was great to get back to business. And off the back of our two previous performances, Arsenal’s fans and players both seemed refreshed.
The mood is very different to a couple of weeks ago. After the disappointment of the Spurs game I was looking at the remainder of the season with all the enthusiasm of a condemned man being served a burrito full of used batteries for his final meal. But since Swansea away, and the seriousness shown by the team in Munich, I’ve had a growing sense we can do this. And yes, by this, I mean finish 4th, and no, that’s shouldn’t be seen as a successful season on its own.
Hello chums. The avid readers among you (hello dad) may have noticed that I’ve failed to post anything since the Swansea game, despite the fact I tend to post roughly one article per game. (With the exception of losses to Utd, which get roughly none articles.) Anyway, sorry. (I’m not sorry.) Even more avid readers among you (mother) will recall that IRL I am in the process of buying a new house. Except now I’m probably not, because it’s turned into the sort of endless nightmare even Osborne’s new free money scheme can’t fix.
Anyway, that’s largely why I’ve neglected the updates here. But! I haven’t been entirely idle/paralysed by fear of bankruptcy. Using my newfound numeracy skills I’ve knocked up another patented end of season Predictortron device – (yes, a spreadsheet, what?) – with which you can guess the remaining results for Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea and – what the hell! – Everton, thereby discovering RIGHT NOW if we’re going to win the fourth place trophy. Or not.
So, it’s glorious to defeat to one of Europe’s elite in the first round of the knockout stage again. But I don’t feel any of the usual frustration. Last season we came within a goal of forcing extra time. This time we needed one more to win the tie outright. That’s not to claim the team has progressed, particularly – although Bayern are a stronger side than last year’s Milan – but the reason I feel satisfied is because this Arsenal side delivered a performance I thought was beyond its personnel.
Let’s make no bones about it: If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know I gave Arsenal zero chance of making it through to the next round. I’d have gladly taken a spirited draw beforehand. In fact I thought we were more likely to be swept up by the Rapture than beat Bayern. (I may also have suggested there was as much chance of me growing a second cock as putting three goals past Neuer. But no need to revisit that awkwardness now.)
Apologies for the slightly late arrival of what’s theoretically the February podcast. Having struggled with motivation over the course of a month which saw failures against Blackburn (unacceptable) and Bayern (more acceptable, but still not much fun), I naively hoped that the North London Derby might offer some potential respite. Good call, me.
There will be no blog about the Spurs game, because, honestly, fuck that. Instead, you can listen to myself, regular contributor Elliot from YankeeGunner, and (filling in for Dave) Hayley, who does the Diary Of A Season vlog. Topics for discussion include ‘can we finish fourth?’, ‘what’s the deal with Podolski?’ and ‘is the continuing existence of Stefan Freund irrefutable evidence that we live in a godless universe’.