As much I struggle to maintain a tight rein on my aspirations as we turn into this season’s home straight, with my eternal pessimism reminding me of the realities that were patently apparent in the hidings we’ve suffered at the hands of Chelsea and Man Utd, it’s hard not to be swept along on the tide of optimism that’s floated so many Gooner boats these past couple of weeks. Having been repeatedly written off, the Arsenal have consistently managed to shove a foot back in the door, each time the competition have left it slightly ajar. As a result, there eventually comes a time, when you can’t help but wonder if perhaps fate is working as “Les Cannonières” cornerman this season?
With Chelsea dependent on Drogba and Man Utd. relying on Rooney, (in the continued absence of Van Persie) it’s bonkers to think that we’re banking on Bendtner for the main thrust of our goal scoring assault. Yet despite the bevy of sitters shunned by our Danish striker against Burnley, such is this burgeoning mood of predetermination about our domestic challenge that much of the Saturday's half-time chatter focused on the possibility of Spurs drawing or winning against Fulham and their continued involvement in the FA Cup causing a postponement of our derby clash, to the point where we could end up with a much cherished opportunity of winning the league at White Hart Lane (again)!
Myself, I only wish I was as certain as some of my Spurs mates, who’ve become so inure to swallowing the bitter pill of the Arsenal’s success, that they seem convinced the cards are fated to fall our way. Personally I still find the whole proposition just a little fanciful, as aside from a couple of seriously impressive outings, the Gunners have looked a long way from being genuine contenders.
Then again, I suppose anything is possible, in a season where the other principal parties have insisted on passing up each of their opportunities to grab the bull by the horns. But as tempting as it is, to get caught up in this swell of enthusiasm, with all the pundits pointing to our comparatively easy run-in on paper, I prefer to hold my whist for the time being, until the Gunners convince me that we’ve not merely arrived in this situation by default, but that we’ve truly got the taste in our mouths for a serious assault on the title.
Until I’m confident the Gunners have gained the impetus to lift me up onto the board, I daren’t risk that harum-scarum ride. At least not before I really start to believe we’re capable of surfing all the way through that turbulent emotional tube until May, without fear of certain drowning, when the wave of expectation comes crashing down upon our heads.
Living around the corner to the ground, I was able to take advantage of a last minute freebie for the Ireland v Brazil friendly. At half-time we headed downstairs, hoping for a warm up amidst the atmosphere in the lower tier (sadly all samba drums and no bodhráns), taking the opportunity to check out various displays on the walls of the lower tier concourse at the South end of the stadium. We’re usually separated from these by the section of away fans - one would work up quite a sweat walking virtually the circumference of the stadium, or hiking up to the top deck, across, down and back again in the 15 minute break!
Looking at some of the images on the walls of teams from yesteryear, celebrating their success, my pal commented on the number of “real men” in each of these Arsenal squads of old, alluding to the potential lack of character in our current crop of Playstation prodigies. They must be equally riled by the ‘men v boys’ definition of every Arsenal defeat and I’m sure we’ve seen signs, of late, of a concerted effort to cast off this ‘easily bullied’ reputation.
We’ve witnessed encouraging evidence of the likes of Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri and Abou Diaby beginning to pull their weight and even Manny Eboué knuckling down and finally providing a return on the manager’s faith (which many believed misplaced!). While apparently others, like our captain continue to play at the risk of aggravating a niggle. But with us holding our breath every time Burnley threatened our slender, single goal advantage on Saturday, it’s the infuriating sight of the likes of Denilson ambling to catch up with an opposition counter, that contradicts Arsène’s “spirit and belief” mantra.
Momentum is key at this stage and Saturday’s result should’ve been far more convincing. But if we can continue to build, without any slip-ups and begin to develop the swagger of a team determined to take what should be theirs by right, there will soon come a time when I can no longer ignore the evidence and for better or for worse, I’m forced to immerse myself in the white water of a traumatic title chase.
Meanwhile that’s on the assumption that the engines of the good ship Arsenal have been stoked by midweek success and that with the elimination of the Portuguese champions, we’ve managed to maintain a course for Madrid in May. Should we fail to overturn a one-goal deficit, such a breach amidships of a premature exit against Porto could sink our season completely, as we’re likely to be left with no wind in our sails, listing towards yet another unfulfilled campaign.
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