One of Us Speaks – Keep Looking Forward
Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel – After the game is before the game. World Cup winning German manager and one of the sport’s great motivators, Sepp Herberger said that. It’s a classic German football cliché, and works for me when I think about this run.
Fight for the win with everything you’ve got, celebrate it like mad on the pitch then put it behind you. Prepare for the next one. Scratch a line through Everton and draw a circle around Villa. Get back to HQ and get ready to throw everything at the next opponents.
We’ve got a hell of a battle on our hands to stay in the top four, but so far we’ve overcome both odds and popular expectation. Take pride in that, but don’t take stock yet; ignore the table; fix your gaze on the next opponent and refuse to countenance any regrets come June.
Nine matches to go now. For the players the days must pass in a blur – we all know how it feels when you’re in the thick of a challenge that once looked daunting. You get your head down and hit a kind of rhythm. For van Persie and teammates it’s the routine of training, downtime with family, trains and planes to various cities across the country, checking in at hotels. All with the upcoming match in their minds. Six more weeks of this and they can relax.
It helps to have some players back now. When Thomas Vermaelen celebrates a goal or victory it looks like he’s just fed the monkey. He’s a raging win addict and he’ll be damned if he’s going to wait for his next fix. It doesn’t matter if it means sprinting up to the other end of the pitch in injury time or becoming the first person on earth to get a bird’s eye view of Fellaini’s afro.
And the fans have seen too much this season to take our position or form as given – through the carnage of those first few weeks and the injury-blighted New Year slump. After the trauma in late summer I feel we’ve emerged with a more realistic understanding of how this league works, and a less neurotic character.
We don’t seem to worry so much. We read the premature obituaries. We know everyone thinks Arsenal is in decline or already dead so what have we got to fear? In a couple of years I’d be delighted if we could look back at the 8-2 as a positive landmark in Arsenal’s history. Not for the humiliation and pain, but what came after – a captain who doesn’t need token gestures to show he cares, fans who stopped worrying and learned to get behind the team, and a group of young players aware that talent and reputation will only get them so far.
With our star slipping this season the youngsters sound like they know what it takes. Here’s Nico Yennaris in a recent interview:
…if you’re going to fail, do so through your ability and not your work rate
Whether he makes it at Arsenal or not is immaterial, his comments reflect the kind of culture we need, and which might have been lacking over the last few years.
And the fans understand that this competition is not fair. And because of this, one team’s expectations for a season are completely different to the next, even at the very top of the table. Put it this way – if Man City fail to win the league this season then they should be ridiculed. All that money spent, and all the times they undermined and mocked their direct opponents over the last four years – anything less than first place would be a huge failure.
Norwich and Swansea have been fantastic this season and should be lauded for staying up. Swansea especially have been mind-boggling – playing pass and move football, defenders overlapping all over the place, with players found in the Football League. They’re a real reason to love this competition, despite the throwbacks in charge of it. If Chelsea do fall short in Europe this season then we’ll hear about how the premiership is in decline, but I’d say it’s as watchable now as at any time over the last two decades.
If the golden age was the mid noughties, when cautious tactics and grit dragged English teams to the top in Europe then I hope you don’t mind if I revel in these lean times. Co-efficient be damned – when you watch a match as a neutral you want entertainment, and Newcastle, Swansea, Everton and Fulham play some good football and can beat the best teams. Stoke’s ugliness stands out in a way it didn’t when Sam Allardyce’s was here, shirt barely containing his ample gut on the touchline.
So what’s a good season for us? If we’re to gauge it by current spending power then a top five finish should be about right. But that was before we lost two international midfielders for a whole season, and went three months without all four full-backs.
Fortunately we’ve still got the knack of finding and developing talent. If Arsenal is to challenge for the title again we’ll need that upper hand, as well as a break when it comes to injuries. We need the fans to maintain their current fervour, understand the reasons why we win games and appreciate the mitigating factors when things don’t work out.
And there’s a lot to be said about the current attitude the club is radiating. So far they’ve had the benefit of having a team ahead of us to chase down. But now they’re ahead in the race for third and all alone. They need to maintain this intensity, be ready to overcome the bad luck, injustice and doubts that could lie in wait over the next nine matches.
As for us fans – this is no time to brag. If things go our way we’ll have the whole summer to do that. Before then we need to roar this team across the finish line. After the game is before the game.