Bravado is something football supporters are rarely short of, even when the truth undermines them at every turn. It’s this which underpins the hope at the start of each season, that this will be better than the next. The only certainty is that it will be different; not necessarily better, just not the same.
There is an element of that around Arsenal at the moment. United’s defeat at Everton doesn’t rule them out of the race to finish in Chelsea’s wake but they have made their job harder. Even beating Arsenal doesn’t guarantee that they will finish higher. Not that they will win when the two sides meet, of course.
The aftermath of Sunday’s draw was almost comical. Mourinho was presented an open goal with the chants deriding Chelsea’s defensive determination. Even for a man who didn’t have enjoy a career as a professional footballer, it was too good an opportunity to miss and he didn’t. Which wound everyone up even more so he continued on his merry way leaving a wake of sniping in his trail.
If Mourinho was a superhero, which as The Special One he ought to be, his superpower would be monotony. He would bore the criminals into submission by going on and on and on and on at them, pointing out the error of their ways and how they should live a virtuous life similar to his own. In fact that could be his superhero pseudonym: Monorinho. Granted, it’s not quite as devilishly hard to work out who he is as say, Batman, which as a name fulfilled its’ obligation of keeping the true identity of the man secret.
Olivier Giroud nailed it with his post-match observation that “It is true maybe they are not [playing] the same game as us but we are not going to change our game and I think they are not going to change their game. I think they are pleased with that and if they are champions, what can you say?”
We, however, shield ourselves by wearing our bravado as a cloak. “Next season will be better” is the mantra and you’d better get with the message. Better than what? This season isn’t over and we don’t know if it is going to yet end up as an improvement on last year. The jury is still out on whether there will be a tangible improvement, e.g. more points, more wins, or whether it will be a subjective judgement. Probably a mix of both; the tangible will be minimal so it will be a personal determination of whether things really are a dream and getting better.
Surprisingly, the players have more brass neck than we do. Arsenal have schooled successive squads is talking the talk; walking proved more difficult. Giroud responded to Thierry Henry’s comments with humility, speaking about his desire to work harder each day to become a better player. Not for Giroud the bravado of claiming we will be a title race, just a desire to do well:
To get second in the league and win the FA Cup would be a great season. I know we can still improve ourselves and that is what we have been doing since I signed for Arsenal. I am proud of what I’ve done and I’m pleased with that. I just want to carry on like that and I know if we keep our best players and this determination with the team spirit, I am sure we are going to join this championship race next season.
That, according to Giroud, is if the squad is strengthened and stays relatively injury free. OK, he wasn’t that ambitious, he just wanted fewer injuries. We’ve asked for the same thing for the best part of a decade, Oli, and it still hasn’t happened. I’m not sure I would pin too much hope on any improvement next season either. Better for Arsène to get some more cover in.
Or alternatives. There is criticism of Henry in some quarters for his views on Giroud. The current French international has yet to score against Chelsea; he did against United and City. You want a forward to score in every big match but it doesn’t always happen; we know that from painful experience. What Arsenal lack is much of an alternative.
Whether that is changing formation or personnel depends on the circumstance of a match and form over a season. Arsène has also to balance the unhappiness of players who aren’t in the starting line-up and don’t register from the bench. Whilst Theo Walcott was the poster boy of that group with talk about his contract, Jack Wilshere is current favourite as Manchester City apparently circle in wait. Wilshere, according to reports, is frustrated that having been injured for most of the season, he can’t get back into an unbeaten side.
It’s media fodder, in much the same way Henry’s comments were. There were positive signs in that criticism. Arsenal may well sign a striker this year but I don’t think it will be Wenger’s highest priority, replacing the ageing Arteta and Flamini will be that. It’s debatable whether it will be someone who takes Giroud’s starting place as well.
After a summer linking Arsenal to Higuain and Suarez, Giroud noted he wasn’t worried by the Uruguayan signing; the Argentine was a different matter, being so similar in style and that, if there is a new striker, will be the tell-tale sign. Someone similar is Arsène losing patience with his current forward line; a different type of player is someone else to shoe-horn into the formation or less likely, a change in style.
I don’t think the latter will happen next season. Arsène has found an effective way for the squad to play. Remain unbeaten for the rest of the season and that is how we will line-up next. Lose the final and finish fourth? It’s not worth thinking about is it, this is all in the bag…