It’s Friday and I’m sloping off for the day. Instead, here’s Darius…
I wondered how much time would elapse before the traditional piss-taking phone call would come in. And sure enough, it took until yesterday afternoon with my smug and smiling friend Dean ready to enthusiastically spread his ‘positivity’.
“Dude, get the hell out of the bunker. We’re at war here and you guys have a job to do against the Manure. I have an early birthday present to cheer you up. Get up – get up, we’ve got to stop these punks”.
You see, Dean is a diehard Liverpool supporter who can’t stand the thought of the red Mancunians winning another title. He’s always been of the school of thought that the Champions League was a distraction for us and that there were bigger fish to fry. We have a mutual enemy in that, but without prejudicing his right to take the piss, hence the early present.
Apparently, it’s a special edition limited release of a double epic DVD that he picked up while on his rounds on the wrong side of the Seven Sisters Road.
“It’s a collector’s item”, he insists, “with Spurs v AC Milan and a bonus disc with Barcelona v Arsenal”.
But as we pick up the debris from the crash out of Europe, it’s easy to forget that there’s still a massive job in front of us. I suspect that like Dean, most Liverpool fans would be happy to let their team roll over at the Emirates in a tactical manoeuvre to outwit the old enemy. Whether Dalglish and his charges think the same way is another matter altogether.
A lot has been said about the injustice at the Nou Camp, with Busaccas performance rivalling the Phil Daud show at St. James’ Park – something you would think was impossible to replicate. My take is that even with the referee shafting us, we still had an opportunity to take the tie in the last minute, but such is the bitter sweet nature of the beast.
I would rather take the positives out, and in particular, a gallant display in defending. It puts paid to the argument that if we needed to, we can’t defend, but as the narrative goes, many will have you believe otherwise. Of course, we would rather play an attacking game, and that comes with its warts and all, but by God it’s entertaining.
The home straight is here and what bemuses me somewhat, is that there is still a lot of noise about the ability of this team. The noise that comes from other camps about the smash and grab that smuggled the Carling cup out of Wembley forget to mention that the supporters of these teams were watching the game on TV. If there teams were any good at it this season, they would have been at Wembley instead of us.
The noise about whether our defence is good enough and the flawed argument about needing a ‘world class keeper’ has been bitch-slapped by the consistency of a solid back 5. I argued here the other week about the privilege of having the most experienced 2nd choice keeper in the league and the name Shay Given was thrown back at me.
Manuel Almunia has had more experience than Given in big name European games and that’s fact. He showed it again on Tuesday and you have to admire his dignity and humility after all that has happened. He was still ready to come in and do a stellar job for the cause. Our 3 keepers this season, despite the regulation moments of madness have done us proud. And in case you doubt it, look at the league table, the table doesn’t lie.
It’s easy to forget that Thomas Vermaelen, the best defender in the league last season is still on the Arsenal payroll. I’m sure he’s even doubting whether he will be an automatic starter when he gets back. Even with the individual mistakes at the back that you can’t legislate for, all our first choice defenders without exception, have given an excellent account of themselves. If you doubt this – the league table doesn’t lie.
Despite everything that has happened in this campaign, we are in an excellent position to end up with a very successful season. It would be naive and even criminal to actually think that it’s going to be easy. There’s no such thing as an easy run-in. There’s prizes to be won at the top and bottom of the table and all teams will be fighting for something.
The team is under no illusions about the fact that referees are not necessarily inclined to be impartial and this job has to be done the hard way. Can we win 14 straight games? Yes, it’s a possibility, but it probably won’t happen. Even so, we are in control of our destiny and don’t have to necessarily depend on other teams to do us favours, as much as it will be welcome.
Picking up from this week’s defeat and the bitter way it happened is something both the team and supporters have to do and have to do very quickly. This journey doesn’t take prisoners and it’s not for the faint-hearted.
My sense is that the reaction – especially from within the Arsenal ranks – when we suffer a defeat is amplified beyond belief. There is a bigger danger that the overwhelming negativity and defeatist mentality will consume us and keep us firmly in the gutter with the red-herrings, as opposed to focussing on the rest of the job.
We’re at the stage of the season where results are more important than vintage performances, and our regular display of Wengerball will be a bonus. Make no mistake, our character, our belief, our patience and our sanity will be tested.
Now is not the time to pick perceived holes in our performances, or to consume ourselves with over analysing actual mistakes that we can live with. It’s time to get out of the bunker and from behind the sofa and enjoy the 14 game roller-coaster.
Watch out for the warning signs for the faint-hearted before you board.