Monday’s win at Old Trafford slips into the history books, another reference point in the season and one which will hopefully serve as a more reliable fillip to the season than the win at The Etihad proved to be. Three Premier League games later that had been replaced by the slough of despair following defeat in the North London Derby.
And if you’ve been to Slough, you’ll understand the despair.
Last night’s glorious failure on the part of Schalke brought forth a slew of optimism about next week’s trip to Monaco. If the Germans can go to the Bernabeu and play fearlessly, why can Arsenal not go to the Principality with the same attitude and the same endeavour?
There’s no reason why not, of course. Arsenal should go to Monaco believing they can overhaul a two-goal deficit but we know from past experience, it doesn’t end well. And this time won’t be any different in my view.
But there are games around that fixture which will shape the season to a greater extent and its these where the impact of winning at United will (hopefully) be felt. It was the second away win of the season in big fixtures for the club, bring the record this campaign to – excluding the Charity Shield – to Played 8, won 2, drawn 3, lost 3. It’s better than previous years and with three more matches in the series to go, it could be considerably better come May.
It might be worse and we wouldn’t be surprised by that. It might get better and we would, happily so I might add. It’s unrealistic to expect Arsenal to win every fixture against the other sides in the top four and Tottenham but improving on the woeful record of the last decade will be a significant step for the squad.
This weekend has the potential to be defining for the top four. Arsenal have a derby match against West Ham, one where the expectation is of three points. With Chelsea entertaining Southampton and United Tottenham, the picture could be a lot clearer. If the top five all win this weekend, the gap between fourth and sixth would be six points; a healthy divide at this stage of the season and one where the chasing pack struggle to make inroads.
Then it is the simple case of making five four. All straightforward and United seem to be the most likely to drop out. Even if Tottenham win at Old Trafford, an Arsenal victory will leave the gap to the pair at four points, one that cannot be closed in one game. A key gap that needs momentum and collapse, neither of which on the face of it at least, seems probable.
Football’s an easy game on paper, isn’t it?
But it needs perspective. Hillsborough has cast its deadly pall over English football for a number of years and yesterday’s admission from David Duckenfield is by far the biggest yet although much of the information which has come to light about media and political machinations have been seismic.
For the record, David Conn’s tweets and columns during the inquest have been invaluable for those of us who remember the tragic events clearly, even if they were viewed from a distance.
Those of us who travelled the length and breadth of the land at the time, irrespective of club colours, know the sensation of a packed terrace. We moaned about it at the time, complained about being treated worse than cattle but throughout it all, rejoiced in the camaraderie of the terrace culture. It is a world away from Premier League football, in terms of facilities and supporters themselves.
In his weekly round-up of last weekend’s Bundesliga, Raphael Honigstein lamented the change in supporters attitudes and the excesses brought about by zealotry. I’m in the group where football is not as important as it once was, even though it still is high on the lists of priorities; Arsenal losing a match hurts for less time than it used to and I don’t see any reason to temper my views on what is right or wrong at the club. I never have and probably am becoming more waspish as the years go by in this respect.
The weekend’s pitch invasion at Villa Park and the senseless attack on a Watford supporter at the weekend are uncomfortable reminders of what football used to be like; is still like, these events happened. But they are the exceptions rather than the norm. Policing at fixtures has changed in terms of numbers but the immediate reaction of senior officers to Villa Park underlines that not all attitudes have.
Money has come into the game in unprecedented volume and facilities have improved. Watching a game is, in terms of facilities, safer and more comfortable. Is it more enjoyable? The relationship between club and supporters has changed. It was feared that the move to all-seater stadia would lead to a decline in atmosphere and around the country, you can sense that happening. Passion is subdued when posteriors are perched in comfort.
As much as supporters try to do things, to organise themselves, the absence of co-operation from clubs exacerbates problems. Arsenal were culpable with that failure for the first leg against Monaco. It’s a product now, not a professional sport, an all-encompassing arm of the entertainment industry and clubs need to remember that. When they get complaints, it’s no different from theatre-goers reviewing a play and the surroundings. That’s what it has come to. It’s not how it should be though.
As money from other sources becomes more important than supporter revenues, little wonder the CEO’s of United and Arsenal recently paid more interest to what they termed ‘football tourists’, who make up around a fifth of the crowd at each game. Clubs view them preferably because of the extra spend they bring with each, I dare say, spending more in the club shop on one visit than I would. The sums, however, may not be different over the course of a season.
Football is different, its times are no longer a-changing Mr Dylan, they already have.