Sunday, 28 March 2010

It's not over till it's over. Birmingham match report.

A Sp*rs-supporting friend (I know...) of mine told me a good one yesterday. Really, a brilliant joke. "How do you know it's Spring?" he asked me smirking like a twat. "Because Arsenal's season is over".

I should have just punched him; when confronted with neanderthals it is by far the easiest approach. I could have pointed out the for all our historical dominance over his team, Arsenal have actually only been around since 1886. The passing of the seasons is not a recently observed phenomena but rather, something the Biblical festivals are based around.

But instead, I told him the truth. That above all, it was a ridiculous joke because Arsenal's season is far from over. Before we get to the title race, lets not overlook that there is the small matter of a Champions League quarter-final in midweek. It is easy to overlook that the so-called barren years have yielded four Champions League quarter-finals in five years. It's lucky we're not Spuds. Because, aside from 500 other reasons, it would mean that all football matches are played on paper. Their consistent failure to beat Arsenal/Man United/Chelsea make this viewpoint understandable. But it means that they are swanning around assuming that Barcelona will beat Arsenal.

Porto are no mugs. But they are the last team who tried to come and play attacking football against Arsenal. And they were beaten 5-0. Now I'm not suggesting that is going to happen to Barca but it must give us some degree of confidence. Anyone who thinks Thierry Henry is going to show us what we've been missing clearly has not read Vieira's autobiography. The most interesting part of that is how he simply could not perform when playing for Juve, because the whole Highbury crowd was singing his name. It is important to make the stadium bounce on Wednesday night; but more than that, what is of crucial importance is to sing Thierry Henry's name and hopefully spook him and his Barcelona team-mates.

Meanwhile, we are still very much part of the title race. It's one thing to write a team off if they are nine points behind. But if United and Chelsea draw next week and we beat Wolves we'll be back where we were before Saturday's matches. This isn't clutching at straws, it is just a simple statement of fact. Arshavin said we needed to win every game till the end of the season after the Liverpool match; but he probably wasn't expecting Chelsea and United to routinely slip up. It's not over till it's over and it's very much not over.

But it could be so much simpler. First half, we were poor. On yet another crap away pitch, we simply failed to fire. Cesc was a passenger after he took a knock on 35 minutes but he wasn't much better before that. The question is not so much one of whether our opponents will drop points. But more, if we still have to play away to Wigan, will we be able to score on that pitch?

The crux of the issue is this. It was a very average performance - we haven't played all that well since the Porto game. Against Hull and West Ham we got away with it. Against the former, it was a massive stoppage time goal. Against the latter, we could thank our goalkeeper because make no mistake, if West Ham had scored that penalty, it would have been a different game.

This week it didn't come off for us. It's fair to question the team selection: Theo was awful. I don't know why I bother writing that anymore its so obvious. Perhaps most pertinently, it is fair to question why Cesc has more power than Wenger. At his post-match press conference Wenger said words to the effect of "we wanted to take Cesc off but he insisted he stayed on". The by-product of this was three-fold. First, we played with 10.5 men in a game in which we were already struggling; second, the club's chances in the Champions League will be weakened if Cesc is anything less than fully fit on Wednesday; and thirdly, medium-term, as far as the title race is going, if Cesc has exacerbated his injury that could have massive repercussions. Nasri came on and played well, but to this observer, and maybe I am something of a romantic, I felt Eduardo should have been brought on.

Sure, when he has played he has looked haphazard. But what a fairytale it would have been for him to score, and maybe he could have exorcised some demons. Instead, St Andrews 2008 may have been replicated two years on. It is up to these players to prove events will not unfold in the same way.

The Barcelona game is the biggest match of the season so far, and the most eagerly anticipated game in four years at The Grove. Before Stoke away it was suggested in many quarters that it would be something of a bellwether game. Well, with no hyperbole intended, the two games against Barcelona will have a massive impact on the future of Arsenal Football Club long-term.

Form is temporary, class is permanent. Remember that, and observe Sol with Lionel Messi in his back pocket. We live in hope.

Keep the faith,

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