Steven Gerrard made a mistake.
Don’t worry though, he came out to apologise to the people of Liverpool after the event, which makes everything OK again.
Oh to be a Scouser, and all that.
It would almost be laughable to compare the press treatment of his stamp on Herrera* with that of Ozil’s night out in Berlin, except that we’re all too used to the reaction when one of our players ‘goes rogue‘. It’s the same as the shock when the good kid at school gets caught copying homework or something equally trivial.
(*no apology to the player, by the way, only to the people he let down by getting caught…)
So yes, Stevie G made a mistake.
But is it a mistake that could come back to hurt Arsenal?
If we beat Liverpool next week, it will mean the gap between us will stretch to nine points with seven games remaining. It is a game that Liverpool simply have to win if they harbour hopes of Champions League football next season.
All the more reason then that on the face of it, it should be a good thing for us to face Liverpool while they are missing their talismanic captain as well as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Skrtel.
The centre back will certainly be a miss when we welcome the red half of Merseyside to the Emirates for our next league fixture – Liverpool have been keeping clean sheet after clean sheet and he has been central to that run. Despite conceding two goals last weekend at Anfield, it was hardly the shambolic defensive performance of, say, Arsenal at home to Monaco.
Gary Neville and company waxed lyrical about the way United played in that fixture, but in reality both goals came from Liverpool’s left back taking a summer holiday and allowing Juan Mata to ghost inside him. This is a team that can prove tough to score against, and missing their pivotal centre back has to be a good thing.
However, the loss of Gerrard is of slightly less clear cut consequence.
It’s no longer hard to find analysis of how his legs have ‘gone‘, but that’s not the reason I think it’s dangerous for us that he’s missing. This is a man who is still capable of leading a team, inspiring that team to be greater than the sum of their collective parts. When they most need him, this is a man capable of scoring a top corner screamer to soothe unhappy Liverpool hearts.
No, why it’s dangerous is that this is turning into a blockbuster film script which could take a very nasty turn.
Watching the recent Enigma film, The Imitation Game, there is a scene where the team finally crack the code and realise an attack on a passenger convoy is imminent. They then have to make the painful decision to allow the attack to go ahead so as not to give away that they have cracked the code, and thus endanger potentially more crucial information later in the war. In principle, it’s a case where you have to look at the bigger picture, and potentially sacrifice the short term for a more worthwhile prize.
It struck me that this clash between ourselves and Liverpool is potentially a precursor to an FA Cup final match up, with a rather significant prize.
Gerrard’s final season at Anfield is hardly going superbly – he’s suffered with injuries, his team were abysmal in the early season and as a result are only just in touch with the top four despite impressive form in 2015, and most recently he has obviously been sent off after 38 seconds in a crucial game for the club.
Here’s the problem – if you were making a film on this subject, you wouldn’t have a very good storyline so far. You need a climax. We’ve all seen those kind of films, and the same way that so many of us could predict the 0-2 win at Monaco, so it’s not hard to imagine a climax where the hero scores a top corner screamer – that very same top corner screamer of which I already mentioned Gerrard is capable of – in the last minute at Wembley on his birthday to win the FA Cup final.
At our expense.
There’s clearly a very real possibility that the FA Cup final ends up being a repeat of the upcoming league fixture. While there are still three other results needed for that outcome, a win for the favourites in each game would deliver an Arsenal-Liverpool final, as Blackburn, Reading and Aston Villa fall by the wayside.
So if that is what the future holds, and it comes down to a choice between winning on the April 4th or on May 31st, I doubt there’s many Arsenal fans out there who would choose the former fixture when we currently have a six point (plus a theoretical point for our superior goal difference) cushion.
In most films, the hero has to hit rock bottom before rising to their ultimate success. Gerrard hasn’t been having a great season, and he’s now lost his team a crunch match against United, and rendered himself unavailable for another against Arsenal through suspension. About the only way he could get any lower is to end up in the tabloids for some sort of seedy allegation about his private life (perhaps clubbing in Berlin, Steven?).
That makes me very nervous.
So really, I’d have faced him next Saturday and given the narrative a chance to play out more naturally.
There is some hope though.
Arsenal have their very own filmstar hero, a man who has himself scored an FA Cup Final winning goal. No pressure then Rambo, I’m counting on you to make sure this movie has the right happy ending.
Oh, and if there are any kids reading: copying homework is bad, you should do your own. I am in no way responsible if you get caught 😉
As an aside, fair play to the FA for improving their disciplinary processes recently.
I might not always agree with their decisions – I don’t remember Gervinho having his red card ban reduced for mitigating provocation a la , for instance – but they have started to speed up those decisions to take away the use of ‘tactical appeals‘ so beloved by the likes of Jose Mourinho.
Diego Costa’s stamp on Skrtel was dealt with three days after the incident right through to the ban being upheld on appeal. Nemanja Matic’s red card appeal was also dealt with in the space of days to ensure that he was not able to use red tape as a way to be available for the League Cup Final.
And, of course, Skrtel’s ban was imposed and upheld just two days after the incident in question.
There’s still plenty of things they need to sort out, but it does at least show that progress can be made, however slowly.