The presents have been bought, though not wrapped and, thankful that we only live a five minute walk from Waitrose, the shopping is in.
It really is,
“the most wonderful time of the year…”
Sentiments that everyone connected with Leicester City football club can identify with, no doubt. Perhaps less so, everyone connected with Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs. Particularly after Manchester City’s strangely listless defeat at our place on Monday night.
How do things stand for Arsenal, though? Is our garden full of roses, or are there weeds, dead flowers and a whole pile of massive bloody thorns hiding just underneath the topsoil of our beautiful pitch?
As regular readers of this column, and I believe there are a few of you, will have picked up, I feel very positive about this Arsenal side. I believe the cumulative effect of the signings of Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil, Alexis and Petr Cech (all with bags of experience to go with their undoubted class) has transformed the Gunners from perennial also rans to a team of winners. I look at this team and see a proper spine to it now. To the point that even when we are missing Cazorla and Alexis, as we are now, you don’t notice it because other players have stepped up.
Laurent Koscielny is one of those players who, whilst he seems to have been a very good defender for most of his time at Arsenal has really stepped it up this season; likewise Olivier Giroud. Theo Walcott is showing that, even when he flits in and out of games, he can make devastating, match winning contributions before you’ve had a chance to say “unlucky”. What a goal that was on Monday night. The fact that Joel Campbell can come in from out of the cold and make the sort of contributions that he has speaks volumes about the depth of the squad. It also says something, I think, about the kind of atmosphere being fostered around the squad. For example, would Campbell have been allowed, or able to contribute as he has were he a Chelsea player? Unlikely, I think.
It was a strange experience watching the game on Monday night. Not least because I actually watched it at 7am on Tuesday morning, having powered through an all nighter. You might have expected the football to have been a drag in those circumstances. Not a bit of it, it flew by. Well, at least it did until Yaya Toure scored that ridiculously insouciant, but brilliant goal. Whereas the previous 82 minutes had flown by, the next 10 minutes seemed to last… well, about 82 minutes. We all knew what was at stake on Monday night. Arsenal had established a two goal lead against the team most see as title favourites and defended it beautifully. City never looked like scoring and then they did and then it was panic stations.
I don’t know how I would have felt, beyond gutted, had City equalised, but you can imagine what the rest of the world would have said, how the players would have felt had we somehow contrived to blow such a vital win. But we didn’t, we won. In the process, we denied my uncle Stephen the “moral high ground” he was seeking to claim when we meet up over Christmas! So, er, thanks guys, nice one.
It is obvious to me, well to anyone who has an interest in Arsenal, that my uncle’s viewpoint- that we’re not good enough and, in fact, occupy a false position in the league – is shared across sections of the fanbase. As I said last week, I do understand it to a certain extent, but I do wonder about the mindset of a group of fans who have seen their team beat both Manchester clubs twice this year. Particularly as United have been such a bête noire for us. We’ve also beaten Chelsea, thrashed Liverpool and beat a Bayern Munich side most have as favourites for the Champions League.
And yet, some of our fans – as Alan Davies pointed out on this week’s Tuesday Club – prefer to moan about a player like the wonderful Mesut Özil, calling him “a bottler”. They prefer to question a manager who has shown this year that he can adapt and change his style of play, that he isn’t totally wedded to the idea of winning beautifully. That some Arsenal fans still claim “Wenger Out” as a badge of honour, even as we head towards 2016 with our best chance of winning the title this decade, I find bizarre. It kind of reminds me of the Guilty Remnant from The Leftovers, where is your logic?*
There will be bumps in the road, of course there will. I remain uneasy about our chances at Southampton. January brings trips to Anfield and Stoke as well as the visit of some Russian billionaire’s plaything. In February, we have a potentially huge game against top of the table Leicester, as well as Barcelona and a trip to Old Trafford. In March, we go to both Everton and Spurs. As much as no game in the Premier League can be taken for granted, it is easy to see how it might go wrong for Arsenal over the next three months, but that is in the future. What’s the point in worrying about it all now? Why can’t we enjoy what we’ve got now? Particularly when this team has demonstrated that it can win anywhere and, as epitomised in our home victories against both City and United this season, do so playing different styles of football. Or is this just the psyche of the battle weary Arsenal fan?
I enjoyed watching the City game almost as much as the United one, because I saw a team that were prepared to defend and fill in the gaps that needed to be filled in. I’ve said it before, I make no apology for saying it again, it seems to me that the team, under the influence of Petr Cech, has learned that defending well is just as important as attacking well. Now they’ve made this shift in their thinking, I really feel like the sky’s the limit for this team.
That’s enough from me, I think. Merry Christmas everyone!
*No spoilers please, I haven’t started season two yet.