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I’ve decided to write a New Year’s piece early. Twenty-fifteen has been jam-packed for me–I graduated from university, I put together a pretty fun footy event, I travelled through Germany, and then I got an awesome job–so I figure I’ve already used up all of the excitement. Sorry, just lots of grey and beige from here until January folks.
But, it’s not all bad. 2016 is here. Would you believe it? (Hey, play along.) What’s more, Arsenal sits on top of the Premier League.
A quick aside: I had to visit the Manchester City website to find their fixture list for what follows. I will repent. At the very least I will shower, the quick browse left me feeling rather… oily.
Back to the future. Arsenal is in the ascendancy. And to think, looking back at mid-November 2015, we sat level with Manchester City and we were playing some guy’s cousin on the right one week, another guy’s work-mate the next. This is how the table looked back then:
But that is merely a snapshot of what was. In November, we still had to go to West Brom and Norwich, with a European fixture at home to Dinamo Zagreb sandwiched between. Three wins from three games; that’s the stuff! Fair play to Arsenal, keeping things interesting in Europe despite supporters’ already knowing we’d surely bottle it away in Greece.
Our co-leaders had a tough task wrapping up November in the same manner. Hosting Liverpool proved routine, but a European loss to Juventus wounded City’s momentum. As a result, they had to settle for a draw against Southampton. Up two on City by December 1st.
With November and traditional calendars out the window, it was time for a chocolate a day and a frantic fixture list.
Arsenal took care of business at home to Sunderland. Next, we travelled to Greece, and as anyone could predict, “crashed out of Europe” by a “Herculean effort” from the home-side. This was bad. So bad that our next league match, away at Villa, was one that we weren’t quite present for. A bad loss to a bad team. Blegh.
Meanwhile, City found their form only to misstep again. A big ‘W’ away at the Britannia (nothing to scoff at). Three points in Europe against Borussia Monchengladbach. A disappointing draw to Swansea.
Arsenal 35 points. Manchester City 34 points. The top two then had to face each other. There’s no need to linger here though, as, this already being 2016, you know that it was a stale draw. The best case scenario for Manchester United I suppose, and I suppose not much else.
Arsenal would go on to win their remaining two games, the depth of the side evident given that there wasn’t even 48 hours between the trip to Southampton and our match at home against Bournemouth.
City wrapped up 2015 with two convincing wins; first against Sunderland, then against hangers-around, Leicester.
Where’d that leave us? Arsenal atop by one glorious point. Everything to play for (except the Champions League). A squad regaining its once-wounded bodies. A squad without excuses.
But you know all that. Now get off the computer and enjoy the future. There’s hover
boards and stuff.
That’s the future. See you there.
Man, we suck. Seriously, Arsenal gonna Arsenal. After a good bit of fun at the King Power Stadium on the weekend against Leicester (where both teams sportingly met before the match to agree not to defend for 90 minutes) we resumed our tireless efforts at the Champions League today by welcoming Superleague Greece champions Olympiacos to the Emirates. After a poor away loss to Zagreb on Matchday 1, three points were surely needed in a home fixture against a team most Gunners fans are bored of watching in the UCL. It turns out, the Arsenal players are bored of Olympiacos too! They decided not to turn up, conceding three goals at home to lose 3-2. You’d almost think it was the first leg of a knockout tie!
I didn’t get a chance to watch the match admittedly, but I am very alarmed to see us lose to a weaker team, while at home, in an important game, when we field one of our strongest possible starting XI’s. Say what you will about transfers, the eleven players Arsenal had on the field today absolutely must be able to beat the eleven that a team like Olympiacos put out – and don’t even get me started on the massive differential in talent available on the bench.
Speaking of the bench, there’s some unrest about Cech not getting the start. I don’t have much time for that argument, for two reasons. First, Arsene frequently rotates goalkeepers and it should be no surprise that we’re keeping our backup option ready through the use of regular game time (PS: Don’t worry, Szczesny didn’t have much fun today in the CL either). Additionally, even considering the poor game by Ospina, that provides an all-too-convenient scapegoat for the other ten players who couldn’t muster up enough to beat the Greek upstarts. Clearly someone forgot to turn the defense switch back to “ON” after the Leicester game. You’d think we’d have learned from our European mistakes when it comes to conceding goals – especially against a team we’ve seen a lot of in the past five years. It seems that our opponents are the only teams learning lessons from these repeated encounters.
But you know what? As the headline reads, I’m not even upset. The Champions League is a pipe dream for this club. I would suggest to you that the hope of winning the competition most Gunners fans have stems from the painful memories of a runner-up finish in 2006, although we are no longer the same team in terms of players or mentality. Despite the additions of proven winners like Özil and Sanchez we still have a soft underbelly, one we expose frequently enough to put us out of the running of major trophies year after year. Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Juventus, Barcelona, the current royalty of European football are all too battle-tested to lose a two-leg tie against us. And that’s assuming we could even reach their station; considering our struggles with teams like Olympiacos, Zagreb, and last year’s Monaco, going deep enough to face the super clubs seems unlikely (excluding the possibility of getting an unfavourable draw early on).
Even if we do something equally “Arsenal” next – i.e. taking a bunch of points from Bayern Munich over the next two games – it would be difficult for long-term fans to get excited. It has become commonplace to see the club climb mountains only to fall down molehills. When our back is against the wall, and there’s seemingly no hope for us, we fight like a different animal and often make a real scrap of an “unwinnable” contest. That type of fighting spirit may be required to even grasp at second place in our Champions League group this season, the way we’ve started.
The reason I won’t be too upset if we can’t get ourselves going again in Europe this campaign is because I’d rather see the club focus its efforts on a Premier League title chase. The Premier League involves 38 incredibly demanding games and with the Chavs looking completely lost, Man United unconvincing, and City prone to form-swings, it could be available for Arsenal to take a proper run at. The only way we can effectively mount a proper League challenge however, with our current (thin) squad, is for us to stop wasting our collective energies and health in the European fixtures. Play the kids in the Champion League and/or Europa League as necessary (preferably effecting a speedy exit) and let’s give the domestic competition a real go this year. While we might not be able to beat the aforementioned European super teams in two-leg ties, I’m pretty confident we can do some damage in England (and Wales, so to speak).
With a game against Manchester United coming up on Sunday, it looks like a convenient time to forget about our Olympiac-woes and move on. I invite you to join me in encouraging Arsenal: Forget Europe – let’s win local.