Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The morning after

The sun was shining, the mood was good – verging on buoyant – but always underpinned by a sense of reality. You thought about how David slayed Goliath, but in the back of your mind you understood that if that fight took place 100 times, 99 times David was crushed into oblivion.

The atmosphere inside and outside the stadium was incredible. Everyone wanted to believe. Everyone was entitled to believe. The songs were sung, the team and the manager and the club backed to the hilt.

The game was strange. The early goals elsewhere had an impact, there’s no escaping that. Everton’s fans sang ‘You nearly won the league, you nearly won the league’, and look, they’re entitled to have their fun but this morning I hope 777’s takeover goes through and in 2 years time that club has been turned into a cryptocurrency that is worth half of nothing and a bit less than that. In a new stadium that gets turned into a car park.

They scored via a deflection from a free kick. We equalised through Takehiro Tomiyasu. Then we heard it was 2-1 elsewhere and for a few seconds it was said it was 2-2 but nobody around me believed that because the scoreline on the phones stayed 2-1. It was 1-1 at the break in our game.

I don’t think we played particularly well. But we huffed and puffed and got away with some stuff, and in the end won the game 2-1 via a Kai Havertz goal. Martin Odegaard with his second assist of the day. It was 3-2 elsewhere but then it wasn’t, and everyone knew. Everyone understood.

I think it was important that we won, regardless of whether it had an impact on the final destination of the Premier League, and for the fourth successive season, football Lance Armstrong won it. Football Ben Johnson lifted the trophy. A unique achievement in English top flight football was met with a shrug and zero respect from anybody. Nobody cares. Everyone knows. It’s meaningless, soulless, empty success. Maybe next season we have to get 115 points to win it.

After the final whistle, you could have understood if people had decided to slink out because even the most realistic outlook didn’t save you from a bit of hurt in your heart. You could see instantly how despondent some of the players were at the final whistle. The fans stayed to sing and support and to acknowledge what they have given us. You all know the stats, but to win 28 games in a Premier League season and not win the title must really sting when you’ve given so much to do that.

It hurts too because it’s really not normal to win 28 games in a 38 game campaign and come away with nothing. But that is the reality. This is what the Premier League has become in this era. There’s a danger to it also that is rarely written about. If an entire season becomes a foregone conclusion, your product is damaged. Lance won 6 in a row, but even after the punishment, did the Tour ever properly recover in the eyes of those whose interest was more casual than the super fan? The Premier League relies on so many of those around the world.

Martin Odegaard spoke. Mikel Arteta spoke. The fans stayed to show love and support, because this team has given us so much since last August. They gave us goals and points and wins and hope and belief, and even though it didn’t end the way we had wished, nothing can take that away. The connection exists. It remains strong, and all we can do now is build on it.

Missing out on Champions League in 2022 hurt, and we came back stronger. The title challenge faltering in 2023 hurt, and we came back stronger. Coming so close the title in 2024 will hurt more than both of those put together, and all we can do is come back stronger. What else is there?

I have no doubt in the conviction of the manager and his players to do that. I won’t lie, I have some concerns that it might feel like an exercise in futility because of what we’re up against, but let’s not forget that to reach this level of elite sport, your mentality has to be so driven and ambitious. They will want to win, to do better, and maybe take some revenge too.

They need some time off, some space to recover physically and mentally, because it won’t be long before they stand at the foot of the mountain again and are asked to climb it, but faster and better than they ever have before. But they will do so knowing that they are loved and appreciated for what they did this season. Even with that hurt at the final whistle, the reaction from 60,000 people was to back their players and their manager and their club. The stadium yesterday was not full of Arsenal fans, it was full of Arsenal supporters.

The dust will settle, and the job for next season will begin. How do we improve on the remarkable output we produced? It won’t be easy, but nobody expects it to be. You take your hits, and you get back up. Arsenal may not have won the title yesterday, but we weren’t beaten.

Not yet.

A small word of thanks to everyone I met and spent time with over the course of the weekend, you made it even more wonderful. To those of you who read every day and listen every week, thank you for being part of this season. It has made it even more special. Please know how much I love and appreciate you all. Arsenal creates communities and I am so grateful for mine.

I’m gonna get a coffee, head to the airport, head back to Dublin, and we’ll keep going like we always do.

What else is there?

❤️

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