Another post from Alex Anderson this morning….
Not that long ago you could look at the list of upcoming fixtures and make a reasonably accurate prediction about how many points Arsenal would pick up. Identifying potential trouble spots was equally simple. Bolton away was always going to be difficult. Manchester United, Liverpool and Spurs would usually set the heart to racing a bit as all had the potential to unsettle the nerves. The rest…the rest were usually just three points waiting to be picked up – injuries or the odd underperformance notwithstanding. Indeed, when the likes of Arsenal or Man United came to town several managers trotted out their second string, preferring to rest their best players for the following week’s relegation fight against FC-WE-ALSO-SUCK.
The old adage about any team being able to beat any other team on any given day was only true until you got the betting parlour. Once through the doors at the odds maker’s the better team was always going to pick up the points and usually could be counted on to do so.
Don’t you miss those days?
To say that this is no longer the case is the height of understatement.
What’s even worse: FC-WE-USED-TO-SUCK hasn’t become more competitive with the likes of Arsenal by kicking lumps out of them and parking the bus the way Fat Sam likes to do. They are playing football! Football has become flush with TV money, money that now reaches throughout the division making it possible for Swansea, Norwich and QPR to bring in quality talent from overseas. Michu can actually play the game and he’s being allowed to by his manager!
This is the evolution of the EPL.
It wasn’t really that long ago that Arsenal were so different from the usual EPL fare that pundits had to go to Catalonia to find something comparable. Arsenal and Barca shared a football philosophy based on possession, a sophisticated ground game and skill. While such comparisons drew derision from some observers who claimed the Gunners would never be the equal of the Catalans. In reality the comparison was less about Arsenal and Barcelona than it was about Arsenal and the rest of teams in the Premiership, most of which played a more industrial brand of football. While the Gunners enjoyed possession, accurate passes and guile the rest doggedly parked the team bus across the face of goal and kicked lumps out of Titi and Dennis while going Route One every chance they got.
That was The Wenger Revolution. Class and guile rather than up and unders and what the rest of the world calls English style football in mocking tones.
Today a lot more teams are trying to play Wengerball, not the least of which is Laudrup’s Swansea.
One wouldn’t have thought that such parity stretched as far down the leagues as Bradford, and it doesn’t. Bradford will be thanking the Football Gods for their League Cup shoot out result. Before the game they said they were hoping for penalties and they got their. Their keeper, Duke was brilliant, he got help from the frame of the goal and a lot more help from dubious play from certain Gunners. Ninety-nine times out of 100 the Gunners beat them by five goals. Sadly, the one that counted knocked Arsenal out of a cup.
Time now to turn towards what’s coming next. Five critical games in the Premiership loom over the festive season. We have Reading and Wigan away, followed by Fat Sam’s Hammers and Newcastle at Emirates and Southampton away before we break for the FA Cup and Swansea in Wales.
Once upon a time we would have looked at this fixture list, shrugged and been very confident of winning four of them. The only concern would have been the Hammers because Sam has always seemed to know how to get a result from Arsenal. We would tune in, or arrive at the stadium, and comfortably sit back while the lads won 3-0. For 49 games we were invincible! No one could touch us.
Now it seems that every game is approached with trepidation. There are no sure things. Parity in the EPL is a reality. That’s not to say that cream won’t rise. Some teams have a lot of expensive cream and the Gunners have their share – they really do, despite recent form and results. But they are underperforming, making that parity even more prevalent through their own problems (I refuse to say “through their own ineptitude” even though I really want to in the wake of the Bradford game.)
One may hope that they break out of the funk they are in soon. Five games loom over the holidays from which the Gunners really need at least 12 points, if not all 15. Once upon a time we would have looked at the schedule and thanked the league for what looks like an easy holiday period. But then, those were the good old days.