What does it take to be Premier League champions?
When Arsenal skipped off into the sunset last weekend with three barely deserved points in the bag, that old cliché about winning when you’re playing badly made its customary appearance. Not that we did play that badly – indeed, for the first quarter of an hour we played some fairly decent stuff – but we did play like a side who had had four games in about as many days and no real ability to rotate.
But there’s no denying that we weren’t at our best, and a bundled set piece goal, a couple of top saves and some profligate finishing by Mitrovic helped us to deny Newcastle at the very least a point, and possibly even all three. The hallmark of champions, or so we are led to believe.
For me though, the result which stands out all the more is the game against Bournemouth on the 28th December.
We saw back in November that the slightest wobble can turn into a perceived crisis, as a rescued point against Tottenham, followed by a dismal result away at West Brom, was compounded by another draw this time at Carrow Road. Two points from nine is a poor return no matter how you look at it, especially when two of those sides languish in the lower half of the table – indeed, it would see you collect just 25 points over a full Premier League season – and it took Arsenal from 2nd (joint top, if you follow the media’s apparent ignorance of the goal difference concept) to our customary 4th position.
Domestically, we have dropped 18 points so far, and seven of them came in the space of three weeks in November in three consecutive games. But that is our only poor run all season so far.
Our loss to West Ham was followed up by a gutsy away win at Palace, a bore draw with Liverpool by a hard-fought three points at Newcastle, and the 2-0 Mike Dean show was followed by a 5-2 demolition of everyone’s new favourite second team Leicester.
And of course, our 4-0 Boxing Day drubbing at the hands of Southampton (with a healthy dose of help from Jon Moss) was firmly put to bed by a professional display which, although stilted, gave Bournemouth no chance of having any real impact on the game just two days later.
And that for me is the key – every team is going to draw games, and every team is going to lose games. None of the current crop will come close to matching the Invincibles’ achievement, and even our hallowed heroes dropped a fair few points of their own by collecting a number of draws. Lest we forget, they were not top at Christmas in 2003!
The real strength is not in avoiding getting beaten in the first place (to me, a draw always feels like being beaten, so allow me to ignore any distinction between the two!) but in how you respond to that defeat to prevent a single blip from becoming a crisis. A mountain out of a molehill, if you will.
We’ve been pretty good this year at responding to disappointments, but just to throw some contrast into the ring, allow me to show how other teams have been less fortunate.
Prior to the weekend, Manchester United and their millions had failed to win for SIX games.
Imagine that: six games without a victory, three points from a possible 18. Imagine how angry the Gunnersphere would be in the same circumstances!
Leicester have just hit their own sticky spell, with a loss and two draws in quick succession and their next game a tough fixture away at White Hart Lane.
Even Manchester City haven’t had it all their own way, having dropped points twice in a row in September and November and failed to string together two consecutive wins since back-to-back home stuffings of Newcastle and Bournemouth back at the start of October.
And then, of course, there’s Chelsea – after all, it wouldn’t be a Helen Trantum column without including a sly (or not so sly) dig at the tramp-in-a-tracksuit sacking failures. They have yet to record more than one win in any month this season, with just six victories to their name in 20 attempts.
Arsène is somewhat famed for his classic “mental strength” remarks, and of course we have to put up with a litany of articles on the dot com in the event of a poor results about “picking ourselves up” or “bouncing back” straight away, but the truth is we’re pretty good at it.
So when we look back at the mess that was our Boxing Day nightmare, it’s important to remember that one result does not a season make, in the league at least.
No second chances
Having said that, one result does very much a season make this weekend. The FA Cup doesn’t offer second chances, and we have a chance to have a serious go at winning an historic third title in a row. Wanderers first achieved such a feat, back when less than 20 teams were entering the competition and the holders received a bye straight to the final!
Blackburn were the second, last, and only currently playing side to achieve such a feat back in 1886, the very same year our magnificent club was founded.
Come Sunday morning, I don’t want to be reading articles about getting back on the horse, so we need to make sure that we hit the ground running.
Go get ‘em boys.