Saturday comes around so quickly, today’s match…oh. Defeat at the hands of Blackburn and Everton’s selfishness in ending Oldham’s FA Cup adventure, combined to leave Arsenal with a ten day gap to fill. Not for them a trip to the Middle East with all the delightful charm of the mischievous press pack, Arsène preferring instead to reward his players with a daily jaunt into the Hertfordshire countryside. Beats running up and down the terraces at Highbury, I suppose. On the subject of that grand old stadium, on this day in 1935, Arsenal’s record crowd saw a goalless draw with Sunderland, more of which here. I know some will say the record attendance came in the Champions League match against Lens but that was at Wembley. That was no more an Arsenal home game than the 1993 FA Cup Final which saw Arsenal designated as home team and an attendance of 79,347, some six thousand more than the European match.
This weekend is one for watching from the sidelines, knowing that a Liverpool victory tomorrow can be the trigger for a Tottenham collapse and see the deficit remain at seven points with a game in hand. The opposite outcome would, I think, put them out of reach for this season. Ten points is too much of a gap to close at this stage, even with their matches at Chelsea and Manchester City. In any case, their failures rely on Arsenal taking advantage with good form, displaying consistency which has previously eluded them thus far. An extraordinarily unlikely progression to the Champions League would be the catalyst for that happening, this season is likely to be the Tottenham equivalent of winning the title, finishing above Arsenal for the first time in the best part of two decades. Chelsea by contrast, are flying below the radar and have a run-in that would normally be considered easier than Arsenal’s. Their biggest barrier to a place in the top four seems to be Rafa Benitez and his ongoing battles with players and fans alike.
Carl Jenkinson understands the hopes (and disappointments of supporters) and still believes that the collapses will be taken advantage of,
There are two teams to chase and I don’t think we can get too caught up in how they’re doing. If we go on a good run now, we’ll finish in the top four. I’m sure of that. If you look at Tottenham’s run in, it’s quite difficult. They’ve got some difficult games so we’re going to hope that they drop points.
If we focus on what we’ve got to do, I think it will take care of itself.
There’s a lot of if’s in this game and to be honest, it is impossible to be certain that the squad will take advantage. If they do, it will be some miracle and offers strength to both sides of the argument on their abilities. Those who passionately believe in them will offer a top four finish of how the strength shone through in the end and that next season they will kick on. The opposite argument questions why they have not displayed this form before. It isn’t hard to see how it will go back and forth or third or fifth.
The reality is that the players have to forget where they are, play with the dreaded handbrake off. Accept that the pressure is coming from below and win their games. Jenkinson is looking for the optimistic solution, the one that feeds hope. The sense is though, that Arsenal have not coped with pressure well this season; when pressure moments have come, the outcomes have been hit and miss. For every Liverpool and Tottenham, there is a Tottenham and Chelsea. For this reason, predicting where the team will finish is impossible. Fifth is what they have, anything more is a bonus, anything less almost doesn’t bear thinking about.
In those circumstances, if the players know they have given their best over the remainder of the season, that is all which can now be expected of them.