back to normal now after a weekend in London which has left me a bit woolly of head and aching of limbs, torso, extremities, organs, skin and beyond, but sure you wouldn’t change any of that. You certainly would take it in advance if you were offered a fun weekend of football and beer. And rum. And stuff.
It’s another Monday after a great weekend for us from a footballing point of view. Villa were blown away more easily than I had expected but that’s quite all right by me. Sp*rs played Chelsea and dropped points and when you look at how much the table has changed from Feb 12th to today it’s quite remarkable.
After 30 games last season we had 59 points and were second in the table, seven points behind United who had 66 points but who had played one more game. Of course then we were in the midst of the slumpiest slump of all time, our season fizzled out and such was the lack of momentum we finished in fourth, meaning we had to go through the Champions League knock-out round before we qualified fully. That is something the manager is keen to avoid, saying:
It makes a massive difference because fourth place is a qualifier and third place is really the Champions League.
I would prefer not [to have to qualify], as would everybody, but if we have to do it, we do it. And don’t forget, it’s after the Euros so we might not have all of our players.
If you’d asked me 5 or 6 weeks ago if third was doable I don’t know how positive my answer would have been. Now it’s not only doable, it’s well and truly in our own hands after a turnaround in form which is almost a mirror or last season. We went from doing very well to doing very poorly, this time it’s the other way around.
On the one hand there might still be a measure of frustration because there was always a feeling that despite the bad results we were capable of better. A run of injuries, individual errors and an increasingly tetchy atmosphere perhaps made things feel worse than they actually were, but perhaps we had to hit a kind of rock bottom to make things right again.
Standards at Arsenal have been very high in recent seasons so our ‘rock bottom’ doesn’t really compare to that which other clubs might face, but post United and following the two cup defeats it did feel pretty bad. I know I’ve used this analogy before but at 2-0 down against Sp*rs we were like the boxer in a movie who is being battered on the ropes, you think it’s all over, he’s going to be pounded into submission, when out of nowhere he lands a fierce right hook and finds his feet again.
Bacary Sagna’s goal against Sp*rs was the punch that got us going again and since then, despite a couple of hairy moments along the way, we’ve been delivering the knock-out blows. The other factor is the return of confidence which does play a huge part. They look like they believe in themselves again, fans feel like they can believe in them too and there’s a much more positive energy about the place than there was just a few short weeks ago.
But with eight games still to go, including tricky fixtures against Man City and Chelsea (and an away trip to Stoke), there is still a lot for us to do to ensure this season finishes properly. Arsene says:
Let’s just see if we have the quality to maintain this consistency until the end of the season. That is not done yet, there are eight games to go and things can change.
Indeed they can. Ask Sp*rs who were crowing about a ten point gap not too long ago. Ask Chelsea whose five point lead on us in January is now an eight point deficit. There’s already talk of Arsenal being title contenders next season but it’s way to early to even think about that or to think about what we need to do in the summer to make that happen.
Don’t get me wrong, the club should be thinking about it, and making plans for it, and we can see with the Podolski stuff and with talk of other high profile signings that perhaps a change in strategy is being implemented. But the focus of the team must remain on winning games in a league which we know all too well will punish you for a performance which is slightly below par or complacent.
One bad result will mean the pressure is on and with the best will in the world we have found ourselves unable to cope with that in the final stretches of recent seasons. Arsene has called all eight games ‘finals’ and I’d go along with that. With a bad spell at the start of the season and a bad spell in January we cannot afford another one.
Yet twice this season we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down and proved people wrong. That’s not to say everything is perfect, by any means. We’ve been over the reasons why we needed to do that more than once so there’s little point going over it again, but as much as the knives were out when things were going badly, then the … er … forks should be in when things are better.
With a full week to QPR we can keep up the hard work on the training ground, the benefits of which can clearly be seen in how we’re playing at the moment, and we can concentrate on beating a team who will be scrapping for their lives and managed by a man who will ensure we know we’ve been in a game when the final whistle goes.
Right, that’s about that for today. News over on Arseblog News as it happens, more blogging here tomorrow.