Monday, May 20, 2024

A final day miracle required, but …

Morning all.

So, against my better judgement, I watched the game last night. I won’t say I was encouraged by the first half, because there’s just such a high-wire element to how Spurs play that it felt like it could go wrong at any time. Playing it out from the back is all well and good, but you need to choose your moments.

In the second half, they kept giving it away in their own defensive third, and then City scored. Romero, with his empty box of a head, ran beyond the gigantic Norwegian guy, and Porro just ignored him too, allowing Haaland to tap home unmarked. I know his movement is good, but it’s not as if he can turn himself invisible or something. The whole thing was defensively awful from Spurs, from start to finish.

I turned off at that point, went to bed. Read my book (the new John Connolly if you must know). I hoped my phone would buzz. It was mostly unbuzzed. Then it buzzed. Phil Costa sent me a clip of Son’s miss. What a chance, but football is, as we’ve often said, a game of fine margins. It wasn’t deliberate, it was just a bad miss. He fluffed his lines. I’m not going down the conspiracy route with this one, although I did think Postecoglou’s comments after the game about how the last 48 hours have opened his eyes to certain things at that football club were certainly very interesting.

I didn’t know until this morning it was 2-0, Haaland with a penalty, and it puts them in pole position going into the final day. The temptation, of course, is to go back and pore over moments that have happened between August and now. From that Son miss to things we could and probably should have done better in the course of this season. That is understandable, it’s human nature, and I get it completely.

But it’s important to understand that the ‘if only’ aspect to football (and other sports) is the thing that makes it so compelling. If football is the tobacco, the ‘if only’ is the nicotine, the active ingredient that keeps us addicted. Whatever happens on Sunday, judgements will be made on the final outcome.

City will probably win it, but if they don’t, they’ll have ‘bottled it’ on the final day if West Ham pull off an unlikely result away from home. Which is patently absurd on every level. I’m sure knives are already out for Arsenal, but if something remarkable happens on the final day, we’ll have shown incredible resolve and character if we beat Everton and lift the title. As if we only possessed those characteristics in the final showdown, ignoring the fact you don’t get to where are at this exact moment without them.

Is the golfer who shoots 20 under par in a major tournament, but misses out in the end because a putt lips out on the 18th a terrible golfer? Especially if the winner shoots -21 due to his massive financial advantage. I don’t think so. Is the tennis player who reaches the final of Wimbledon, and loses because a shot in the final set is 1cm too low and hits the net, or 1cm too heavy and goes out, a terrible tennis player? Of course not. They could go back and think about shots they could have played in the first round or the first set, but ultimately that’s pointless. They are human, and playing at an extraordinary level, but in the end there can only be one winner.

Which is kinda the way I see this Arsenal team, and what it has done this season. Are there things we could have done better? Unquestionably. Does that make this season a failure if we don’t win the league? Not for me. Disappointing. Heartbreaking. Frustrating, perhaps, but not a failure.

This is a team which has illustrated its capacity – not just to learn from disappointment – but to use in a positive way. To learn. To show that they understand how much you have to work, and to demonstrate the commitment you have put into every performance to do even better. And if you need more context, let’s not be blind to the fact that without City Group Project Inc, a mechanised, soulless organisation built not just to win but to do so in a way which removes true competitiveness from sport itself, this Arsenal team did enough this season to win the league in a normal environment.

But this is our reality. It’s not normal, even if their facade of respectability goes a long way to convince people of that. A conglomerate will win the league. A team nobody cares about beyond their fans. They might be lionised for winning four in a row, the first team to do it, but there is something so artificial, so meaningless about that when it has been achieved with so many asterisks over it. Nobody bats an eyelid. We shrug, we move on.

And here’s the thing – at the heart of the best rivalries, there is a respect. When Liverpool were winning everything in the 80s, it was because they were the best. You had to acknowledge their quality, and for Arsenal fans it’s part of what made 1989 so special. When we were going toe to toe with Man Utd, the Wenger v Ferguson era, I hated them with every fibre of my being, but it was underpinned by a grudging respect for what they did and how they did it. I loved those battles, those intense showdowns, Vieira v Keane, all of it. Sometimes it hurt, sometimes it was joyful, but it was real. It was human.

Since the arrival of Abramovich at Chelsea, what constitutes a rivalry has been shifted off its axis. Financial doping, Wenger used to call it, and he was right. I have little respect for Man City or Pep or any of their players. It’s not that I don’t see the collective or individual quality, it just leaves me cold. It’s not just about this season or last season either, by the way. I’ve been consistent on this. There is nothing to like or admire about them, that club, or how their success has been built. Write it off as bitterness if you want, but that’s how I feel. I respected Liverpool in their endeavours to compete with them under Jurgen Klopp, but not City. Not then. Not now. Not ever.

I think Mikel Arteta has done an incredible job to get us this close. I think the players have been outstanding for most of this season. They have given us so much to enjoy, so much to believe in, and to take it to the final day is a credit to them. Whatever happens on Sunday, I’m thankful for this season. I’ll keep fingers crossed for a miracle elsewhere and for us to do what we need to do against Everton, but the final outcome won’t change how I feel about what I’ve experienced since last August.

Till tomorrow.

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