Monday, May 20, 2024

Fighting the present and the past …

Like most of you, I’m sure, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Aston Villa game and the way it made us all feel.

Clearly there is something in the belief that if you let this Manchester City side get in front, they’ll just power on to the finish line. We’ve watched that happen time and again in the Premier League, even the very best efforts of the best Liverpool team since the dominant sides of the 70s and 80s couldn’t do much about it. It was sometimes close, but bar that one time during the surreal Covid afflicted season, it has always played out in City’s favour.

Even then, it was as much about City not being at their best level, losing 5 Premier League games before the end of December, while Liverpool didn’t lose their first game until February. Which isn’t to take anything away from them or diminish their title win in any way, but that was atypical of Pep Guardiola’s side and the Mugsmashers took full advantage.

In every other season though, that need to be almost perfect is there. Bar that first season, where he came in and didn’t really have the players he wanted or needed, their record is absurd.

2017-18: Champions, 100 points, lost 2 games.

2018-19: Champions, 98 points, lost 4 games and still beat a Liverpool side who lost only once in the league (97 points).

2019-20: The aforementioned Liverpool title win. City still finished second, losing 9 times, but still 15 points ahead of third place Man Utd.

2020-21: Champions, 86 points, lost 6 times, but Liverpool were poor by their standards, losing 9 games, and finishing third. City won it by 12 points with Man Utd second.

2021-22: Champions with 93 points, losing 3 games. Liverpool finished second on 92 points having lost 2 games all season, taking 54 from the last 57 points available (19 games), and it still wasn’t enough.

2022-23: Champions, winning 14 and drawing 1 in a run between February and May to overtake us as our challenge faded with the injuries to Saliba and Tomiyasu decisive in that regard.

At the moment, they’re on a run without defeat since losing to Aston Villa on December 6th, taking 47 of the last 51 points available. Step right up, and witness the awesome power of the Manchester City Financial Industrial Complex right here, folks! It is part of why we feel the way we feel because for just a moment you let yourself believe that with the right blend of tactics, belief, momentum, team spirit, spending of our own, and a manager who has done an incredible job to get us to where we are, you can compete.

And then you realise that one bad game, even one bad half of football, puts you in the jaws of the machine. You’re just grist for the mill as they launder you like they’ve laundered so much cash the Premier League has made an unprecedented 115 charges against them, but that cash will also fuel legal challenges that could go on for years. It’s no wonder people are downhearted.

However, I do think there’s something else too. Our own history, our own experiences as fans. It’s been 20 years since Arsenal won the Premier League, one of the longest periods between title wins in our history (maybe the longest?). It’s been so long that there are a couple of generations of fans who have never witnessed it, who only know it as part of our storied history.

But in that time we have come close. We have looked like a team that could do it, that could go the distance, but who ultimately fell short. There is still the trauma of the 2007-08 season, from Eduardo’s injury, the subsequent sequence of draws, losing to Chelsea, and having the final nail in the coffin put in away at Man Utd. Being within touching distance in 2009-10, and taking 4 points from the last 15, losing a North London derby and to Wigan and Blackburn in that run of games.

Beating Leicester in 2016 with that incredible Danny Welbeck moment which should have propelled us to the title as all the other big teams in the league fell apart. Instead, we followed that up by losing to a Man Utd side that looks even worse than today’s iteration, and then going down 2-1 at home to Swansea in our next game. And obviously last season is fresh in the memory, leading for so long, riding that wave of good form and excitement until things stuttered with those three draws before we crashed headfirst into Man City and lost 4-1. From there, they did what they always do.

Objectively, what we have done of late has been superb. Our form has been excellent, our performances top class, our game-management brilliant, so one poor half of football in which we let slip a couple of goals late on shouldn’t feel so damaging. Or, at least, ought to be easier to cope with in that context. Instead, the weight of Man City, and the wounds inflicted in the past have been – if not opened up again – scratched at in a big way.

So, I understand it from an Arsenal fan perspective. I have lived all of those moments, all of those disappointments, and experienced all that pain. As long as we keep coming close, and not quite going to distance, this is something we’re going to have to live with. Defeats like Villa will feel the way they do because we’ve endured them and their ilk before.

The key though is that remains the fan experience. I think the team will be disappointed, obviously, but individually and collectively they’re not going to be feeling what we’re feeling. It’s so acute for us, but our context and theirs is very different. When Arteta says it’s about the reaction, he’s right. When Declan Rice says there’s still a lot to play for, he’s right. They have to shake off Sunday to go again in Munich and beyond. To beat Wolves. Then win the next game and the next game, and hope for a City slip somewhere along the way. It’s not impossible, and that’s how their mindset has to be. There is no other way at this point of a season.

It’s something I’ve thought about a lot: what would my reaction be if we won the league? Excitement. Joy. Happiness. Pride. Relief. A large dose of smugness that you have to take on board if you’re champions, because you’ve earned it.

But one more, very close to the top of the list, and maybe it would be fleeting in the midst of all the others, but it would be as powerful as anything else: peace.

Till tomorrow.

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