Friday, January 27, 2023

FA Cup win should relieve club of crippling pressure

Morning all.

There was some interesting listening on this week’s Football Weekly when the discussion turned to who from Arsenal and Liverpool had had the better season. As we know the Mugsmashers exceeded expectations with a second place finish, but as good as that was, considering the position they were in with just a few games to go, you can’t overlook the fact they let a brilliant chance at winning the league slip.

Similarly, you can make the same accusation of Arsenal, although we let our title challenge falter in a more gradual way. When we missed the chance to go 7 points clear by beating Everton in December, some suggested that was a day we might regret. When we got pummelled away from home and ended up battling Martinez’s team for 4th, it did feel like a lot had gone wrong – even if we won that scrap and finished just points off the eventual winners.

I’m sure Liverpool’s fans are delighted with what they did this season. That delight may be tinged with regret, but they can point to a season of some progress. Clearly they have defensive issues to work out, they conceded more goals than 11th place Crystal Palace for example, and there’s a touch of Ardiles’ Sp*rs philosophy where the idea is to make up for defensive deficiency by scoring a shitload of goals. To a great extent that worked for them.

However, as Amy Lawrence tried to fight the Arsenal corner, the others were insistent that Liverpool had enjoyed a better season. Considering how we’ve been constantly told that the only real definition of success is a trophy, it seemed odd to me. I know there’s a case to be made for both sides, and Liverpool’s improvement in terms of league position has been more dramatic, but do they get to celebrate the mythical 2nd place trophy like we enjoyed the one we got every season for 4th?

Is one non-existent pot more acceptable than another? Is it to do with expectations? I just don’t get how actually winning something tangible, something you can pick up, wave around and share, doesn’t outdo a runners-up position. Yes, you can point that improvement, from 7th to 2nd is good going, but it’s still 2nd. And if you want to put it all in context, it was done without having to endure the rigours of European football which does put a significant strain on a squad.

I suppose the other thing is that it doesn’t really matter. Liverpool fans can enjoy what they did, or not enjoy what they did; while Arsenal fans can still be cheesed off about what happened in the league if they like. But the enjoyment of that day at Wembley, of an extra-time winner having come back from 2-0 down, would always trump finishing second in the league to me. There’s no reason why those two things can’t be combined either.

The other thing I expect from us now is a measure of freedom and liberation because we’ve finally wandered out of the trophy-less wilderness. I think when you look back at the FA Cup campaign as a whole, you can see how difficult it became as it progressed. Sp*rs were swatted aside in the third round, as were Coventry after them. We beat Liverpool in the 5th round a week after being smashed by them at Anfield and followed that up with a 4-1 quarter-final win over Everton.

At that point we have a semi-final against Championship Wigan and a final against Hull. We came within 8 minutes of losing that semi and in the final we found ourselves 2-0 down against a team we’d beaten quite comfortably away from home a few weeks previously. The only explanation I have for that is the pressure they felt to achieve and win a cup after so many years was beyond anything we could really appreciate.

It must have inhibited the performances, which is to take nothing away from either opponent who acquitted themselves very well in both games, but it’s safe to say that Arsenal were below par. Sometimes it’s too tempting to look at the opposition without sufficient context. Yes, you would expect us to beat Wigan and Hull, but when there’s so much riding on the outcome of those games it’s like playing with lead boots. To me it seemed obvious that the pressure we were under adversely affected the way we played both times we visited Wembley.

Yet on each occasion we showed great character. To keep going in the semi-final then producing a near flawless penalty shoot-out; and to overturn a 2-0 deficit in any final is something to be applauded. So now, having won this trophy, there may not be the same intensity in games like this in the future. There just won’t be as much riding on them.

I genuinely think that without the FA Cup this season we’d be facing a hugely different summer. Not only would we require the same amount of players, I think we’d be scrambling for a new manager right about now – and I’m not sure it’s something that we, as a club, made a great deal of preparation for. We find it complicated enough to do our transfer business, trying to do so through a manager-less period, which would bring a huge amount of upheaval, would have made this close season a nightmare.

We were staggering towards a precipice for the last few months, but we’ve righted ourselves and as much as I felt delight and happiness and achievement, I do feel like there was a healthy dollop of relief mixed in with it all too. Hopefully now this win can provide the platform we’ve all talked about, but also instill the kind of belief in this squad that might make further tilts at trophies a little more controlled.

In other news, you can check out this week’s post-FA Cup final Arsecast Extra with myself and James from Gunnerblog right here. We made the executive decision yesterday to carry on the podcast throughout the summer. The Friday Arsecast will go on its summer holidays as usual – although if anything special happens we might drag it back off the beach assuming it’s not too banjaxed on mojitos – but we’ll continue throughout the close season on Monday’s.

On this week’s show, all the thoughts about the cup final, winning, what it means, and all kinds of questions including what we might think of T*ttenham, some transfer targets and Aaron Ramsey being made of bacon. Check it out.

The book

I am hoping to get the new book on sale today via the website, just working on a couple of final little things. The main one is that due to the high quality of the book itself, it’s pretty heavy (1kg!), and dispatching more than 1 book moves it from packet to parcel. If you’ve ever seen how much it costs to send a parcel these days, you’ll know that’s a bit of a problem.

So, for now I’m restricting each purchase to 1 copy. I’m trying to find a solution that makes it less expensive to post and I may have found something for the UK, but sending more than one book worldwide is still going to be a challenge. I’m open to any suggestions by the way, feel free to get in touch if you know of a postal service from Ireland that can tick the boxes required.

Still, this is a book that has to be on the shelves of any Arsenal fan. Check out this nice post from 7amkickoff’s Les, who attended the event in The Tollington last week. And if you’re a Dublin based Gooner, we’re having a launch tomorrow night in the Mercantile at 6.30pm – details here.

Keep an eye out on the site today for more details when we do go live.

Right, that’s yer lot. Till tomorrow.

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