“Just win, baby!”
The eponymous quote of the late Al Davis, known for his work as coach, and later owner of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders. Davis had a way with words, and in the immediate aftermath of winning a SuperBowl, he was asked about what his instructions to the team had been before the game. Instead of providing an inane quote about tactics and preparation, he summed up the attitude and the philosophy of his team with just three words and a smile.
Those same three words can sum up the feeling of every football fan before a game, but without the smile. As much as they would prefer to watch their team destroy the opposition with pace, flair and free-flowing football, offer them a 1-0 win thanks to an own goal that came from the only corner that you won all game, and they would take it. Every time. “Just win, baby. Please.”
So when their team doesn’t win, just like Arsenal failed to win against Southampton on Tuesday night, it doesn’t so much matter as to how or why they didn’t win, it only matters that they didn’t win. Context and reason are thrown out of the way so that the view of the scoreboard is unobstructed. No matter how bizarre or unique the circumstances are, if Arsenal don’t win, the blame is always put on Arsenal for not winning.
Far too much emphasis is placed solely on the result of a football game, especially the ones that negatively affect us. Arsenal have failed to score in their previous three Premier League games, and much has been made of this ‘pattern’ of profligacy. Yet in those three games, Alexis has started in only one of them, Özil in two. We had 10 men for 70 minutes of one game, and the man of the match in the other two games was the opposition goalkeeper. But it’s only down to Arsenal that they didn’t score? Ok.
It’s all too easy to say that Arsenal didn’t do enough to score when the scoreboard says that they didn’t score, but it’s almost never as clear cut as that. Having the belief that Arsenal are the best team in the country is one thing, but to think that Arsenal can control the outcome of every game with their own performance is highly optimistic, if not totally myopic. Sometimes the footballing gods will bring you light, and sometimes they will rain on your parade. It just happens.
It’s also far too easy to suggest that the best alternative to what Arsenal tried during a game in which they failed to win is ‘something else’, because that ‘something else’ always gets given the credibility of not having failed in front of our eyes. I don’t know about you, but short of nailing him to the crossbar, we could have played until Christmas against Fraser Forster and still not have scored, such was the form he was in on Tuesday.
Then there’s the criticism of Arsenal not performing in a ‘big’ game. Have you noticed that games tend to only get labelled as ‘big’ when Arsenal don’t win it? If Arsenal had beaten Southampton 3-0, would it have been labelled a ‘big’ game, or just written off as a routine home win that should be expected of Arsenal anyway? And the same will happen if it’s a game that we expect to lose, but win. If Arsenal beat Barcelona in three weeks, it’ll be a ‘big’ win. If they lose, we’ll move on because we expected to lose.
And there’s where the problem lies. If we expect Arsenal to win every game, then we’re going to be let down. It can’t be helped, purely because Arsenal will never win more than around two-thirds of their games to begin with. Even the Invincibles lost some really awful games, 0-3 vs Inter, 1-2 to Chelsea in the Champions League, etc etc. We can hope all we want, but at some point during any season, Arsenal will have a bad run of results because it’s impossible not to.
I get why some fans are a bit jumpy at the moment. One minute Arsenal are top of the league, then three games later and they’re 4th, behind Tottenham. The advantage that we had built up over our rivals over the start of the season is gone, and time is running out. But before we start writing off the season and debating whether the manager needs to go or not, we need to look at the league as a whole, and not just the table.
We’re five points behind the leaders. Five. Not ten. Not twenty. Five. And Leicester still have to play at the Emirates. We’ve played the last two months without our best forward and were forced to play a midfield pairing that goes together like cheese and battery acid. Those days are now over, and if we continue to create chances in the same way we did on Tuesday, then scoring goals won’t be a problem.
The title is still very much within our grasp, it’s just the margin for error that has diminished. Are Arsenal solely to blame for this? Only if you believe that opposition goalkeepers have an unfair advantage at the Emirates, or that we should have infinite midfielders to cover all injuries, or that Leicester and Manchester City are going to win every game.
We might want Arsenal to “Just win, baby!”, but we all know it doesn’t work like that. So can we stop saying that it can?