I first undertook this column just days before the ill fated League Cup Final against Birmingham City. My closing line of that debut article, “Here’s hoping that when I speak to you again this time next week, I’ll be able to punctuate the blog with, “Arsenal haven’t won a trophy since Sunday….”
Viewing my maiden Arseblog voyage, a few of my observations stand out. Obviously I penned these in the giddy expectation of beating Birmingham at Wembley.
“I think we realise that this could be an excellent launch pad for this team a la Graham’s class of ’87. We seem to have all of the ingredients, but we just need that piece of silver to give the team the belief and the tang of sweet success in their nostrils.”
The comment that stuck out most of all however, was that “The squad have dined out some nice plaudit hors d’ouevres over the last few years, but you sense we really need the meaty goodness of a trophy to kick on.”
My overriding impression in February 2011 was that Arsenal still had a sympathetic reputation amongst their fans, neutrals and the press. It seems positively otherworldly to think that I held that impression so recently.
I know the rather tragic result in that final remoulded perceptions and invited a slew of dark clouds over the club. But I hadn’t realised that in the week leading up to that match that I still thought that, largely, the public and the fans were on our side. Maybe I was just deluded, but it does seem remarkable to me. I think it illuminates the toll that the “trophy drought” has taken on all of us. I like to think I have been rather calm about it. I’ve been privileged to see the Gunners lift many a cup and the club has started every single season for the last 80 years or so with a good chance of silverware.
I knew it would come eventually. And besides, pursuit of trophies is not my primary enjoyment in football. I have fun during pretty much every season. Yet there’s no denying that a monkey was well and truly flung from our backs on Saturday. That it was in the most nerve shredding, ‘Arsenal’ manner possible served to add to the euphoria. I sheepishly admit to digging out Johnny Nash’s 1972 hit ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ on Sunday and reflecting on its aptness.
I was fortunate enough to attend the Cup Final media open day at London Colney last week and nearly every question was prefaced either by the 9 year trophy drought or that Birmingham Final. The pressure was on and it showed. Nerves permeated those first twenty minutes (which I only just managed to see thanks to another turnstile failure at Wembley stadium). One can see why the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea made quick work of Arsenal in the opening twenty minutes of our meetings with them this spring.
Against Liverpool and Chelsea, if nerves get the better of you in the first twenty minutes, you’re 4-0 down with no way back. Against Hull, it’s 0-2 and you have a fighting chance of reversing your fortunes. It’s that tension and those inhibiting nerves in big games that you hope procurement of this trophy will dispel. I’ve also detected a real undercurrent of our detractors wanting to criticise us for over-celebraring this cup win, yet realizing they’re unable to because they made the ‘trophy drought’ such a big issue.
It was an issue of course. Even with respect to the change in competitive landscape, it shouldn’t have been a 9 year wait. Nevertheless, there are a lot of people that were rooting against us. As I staggered my way home through London in the wee small hours of Sunday, fresh from raucous celebrations in the Tollington, I encountered a lot of hostility from Saturday night revelers as they spied my Arsenal shirt. If there were a metric for measuring the smugness of a grin, mine would have been off the charts. It was wonderful.
That’s the sort of boiled piss I can live with. That of our detractors. Our critics. In fact, I’ll pour it into a tankard and raise a toast with it. I’ll bottle it and leave it to mature in my cellar. Because these are the days one must savour as a football fan. Not to don the cloak of captain bring down, but this trophy is, realistically, not going to usher in an era of Arsenal dominance. We won’t win the treble next season and sweep all before us for a generation. Past trophy wins have had that aura to them and this one doesn’t.
It simply can’t because the competition has changed irrevocably. Manchester City are about to pay our 31 year-old right back six figures a week and a hefty signing on fee to be their understudy. In terms of the Premier League and the Champions League, we are still underdogs. In retrospect, we probably should have seen the 2005 F.A. Cup victory as the last hurrah that it was, with Abramovic and stadium debt already firmly gripping us around the larynx (though as I said earlier, the pause between trophies probably should not have been that pregnant).
What this trophy can do is develop and improve players, especially our younger squad members. It can flatten those big match nerves with a rolled up newspaper. Realistically, it can help us maintain a title challenge a little longer next season. It’s also significant that the team have managed to sustain a cup run and end a league season well simultaneously. The run to 4th in the two previous seasons was probably aided by our lack of involvement in any cup competitions. This year, we won our last seven matches, including two high octane cup ties at Wembley.
There’s a vindication of sorts for the executive branch of the club who have maintained for some years that this period would be more likely to bear fruit, with increased resources available to us. In curt terms, we bought Mesut Özil, improved our points total and won a trophy. Our bank balance will swell again this summer so the aim will be to maintain and accelerate that improvement. We’re going to have to because Manchester City and Chelsea have bedded new managers in and are likely to start next year more quickly than they did this season. Liverpool have reentered the equation and Manchester United have possibly appointed somebody that’s actually up to the job. Arsenal will hope that the gap between trophies is not allowed to become that large again.
The pressure should not be as significant on our next cup run, or in our next top of the table clash. But most of all, this has been our week to enjoy, to savour. They don’t come around very often and for the majority of clubs in the world, they don’t come around at all. A piñata of relief and joy exploded over Arsenal on Saturday like a nourishing storm cloud over a drought. Like a geyser of glory in the Las Vegas desert. This week, as we bask in the afterglow, we can see clearly now the rain has gone and all the bad feelings have disappeared. LD.
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