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A Wilde Year And so we have had a Wilde year, we reached the peak as being acclaimed the most brilliant team in both London and the UK. We were fashionable, adorable, flamboyant and prolific. But like our dear Oscar, it all went wrong. But let’s look first at how it all went right. Oscar -Flamboyant, briliant but doomed Palace, Leicester and Bournemouth were dispatched as if they were nothing but vessels to throw goals into. Then Villa and Fulham but not so easy. And then we had our first big shock, Man Utd had a strategy that unnerved us, a long ball over the top enabled them to get 3 goals to our one. Like Wilde, being exceptional didn’t matter, we had a weakness that could be exploited. But we went all Wildean after that. We must have read from the master the following line. “What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise” Because we won our next eight, including several in the Europa league. We hammered Brentford, the team that caused problems for everyone, 3-0, a revenge for last year, we beat Tottenham, we beat Liverpool, and home or away didn’t matter, we were flying at the top, acclaimed as the most brilliant of our time. We were beautiful and everyone wanted to be us. This has to be our goal But Southampton brought us back to earth , the team we are coming to hate drew 1-1, despite being laughed at by most other teams. But it hinted that there was a frailty to our genius. That we couldn’t perform against teams that do well against us. There was a struggle with belief. But then we took our cue from Oscar: “Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.” We went on a great run of victories, although we stumbled against Brighton in the League cup as they beat us for the first time at home. It didn’t faze us, though, as we won 7 matches around it including 5-0 against Forest, a revenge away against Brighton, 3-1 against West Ham and beating Chelsea at the Bridge, something we haven’t done too often. London teams were being sent home crying as the Kings of the capital surfaced again. We are the real Kings of London A dogged Newcastle side came to the Emirates and carved out a 0-0, spoiling the party and again hinting that there was a weakness to be exploited. Once again, though, we threw away any assumptions that we weren’t the real deal. We bounced back with wins at Oxford, at the shiny new Spud home 2-0 and got a nervy revenge against Man Utd 3-2. But the real challenge was then faced. “A good friend will always stab you in the front.” Pep Guardiola showed he is a friend who will give you no quarter as Man City beat us 1-0 in the F.A. Cup. It was starting to go wrong. The Blue Mooners were showing that they will do anything to stop us. This defeat seemed to unnerve us as Everton then beat us, yes, Everton who couldn’t win a match to save their lives and were ready to fall out of the division. Brentford drew with us at home and we then had Man City at home. Next year we want to be the friend that stabs you in the front, Pep Guardiola lived up to Oscar Wilde’s quote as he stabbed us in the front 3 times. Yes, maybe we were brilliant but our weakness was now showing. Our enemies smelled blood and were ready to spill it. We seemed unsure who was friend or foe, we were arguing amongst ourselves and our next match was against Unai Emery and Villa. He had transformed them from being relegation candidates under Steven Gerrard to becoming the form team in the league. And they were at home. What could this broken Arsenal team do against a Unai Emery desperate to prove he was a great manager? And we had lost our friends in the media who were only recently praising our shining talent. We were hurting and had to try and pick ourselves up. Our trial was starting. “The only people I would care to be with now are artists and people who have suffered: those who know what beauty is, and those who know what sorrow is: nobody else interests me.” But we came out fighting. We beat them 4-2. We beat Leicester. We trounced Everton 4-0 to pay them back for their audacity against us. We beat a resurgent Bournemouth. We drew away against Sporting Lisbon to leave ourselves an easy task at the Emirates. We trounced Fulham at the Cottage, showing once again who the Kings of London were. Not from Oscar but the bible And then came what I regard as the unveiling of our Wildean spirit, an overconfidence that we had beaten our enemies, that our genius is declared and is enough. Sporting Lisbon beat us on penalties at our home. Our penalties were weak, our character being once again under scrutiny. Our enemies were watching and taking note. “If you cannot prove a man wrong, don't panic. You can always call him names.” The name calling had began in Earnest. Even from some of our own fans. We were bottlers, hadn’t got the temperament for the big occasion. A trophy that seemed much easier to win than the Premier league was thrown away. Enjoy your name calling - we will be back stronger But we laughed at such childish name calling. We trounced Palace and Leeds 4-1. We were showing we were Arsenal and we were back. Then we marched up to Anfield and quickly ran up two goals and Anfield was silent and Liverpool were hopeless. We all thought that Arsenal finally had left our frailties behind. Until Granit Xhaka got involved in a needless fight. The Anfield crowd woke up, Liverpool came back and it was 2-2. Still it was Liverpool away. It was no disaster. We went away to West Ham and also ran up a 2-0 lead quickly. West Ham were mostly rubbish all season so we were back on track, except we weren’t, they came back at us as well. But at least we had Southampton next at the Emirates. A win there would get the confidence flowing again. Useless Southampton drew 3-3 and the name calling restarted big time. But this time our weakness was about to be exposed. Not the same weakness of Oscar Wilde but our enemies circled as Man City tore us apart 4-1 and our dream was all but over. The glory and the fame of being champions had slipped away from us. “Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working”. Now we only had hope left. But we did respond. We beat Chelsea and Newcastle in a strange season in that the one that was normally hard to beat became easy. A slip up by City and we could do it. But Brighton and Forest beat us in our next two games. We learned, like Wilde, that you cannot take on the establishment and win. And so we were sent to prison. The prison of being second, that hardest position in football, the one that drains you the most as Liverpool learned last season. We must always work no matter how we feel We ended with a glimmer of hope that we can be released. 5-0 against Wolves gave us a sign that when we get out of jail next season we can make a comeback. We must work hard, we must not give in to tired legs, and we can once again show the genius that once made us champions and made us Arsenal. Let’s go, the Gunners! Oh, and thanks to Oscar Wilde for all the quotes.
The Table of Doom Update Arsenal Current 74 Max 95 Man City(a) Newcastle (a) Brighton(h) 7 games left Man City Max 94 Brighton (a) Arsenal (h) 8 games left Man Utd Max 83 Brighton(a) Tottenham(a) 8 games left Newcastle Max 80 Tottenham(h) Arsenal(h) 8 games left Brighton Max 76 Man Utd(h)Man City (h) Arsenal(a) 9 games left Tottenham Max 74 Newcastle(a) Man Utd(h) 7 games left And so it was a mixed time in the Table of Doom. Man City are surely a live danger and we most likely cannot afford any slip-ups. Newcastle and Tottenham lost and now the Spuds have virtually no chance of catching us. Brighton won but even our point made it harder for them. A win at Southampton on Friday means both will be gone from the table leaving only four left and guaranteed CL spot, the first team to do so this season. I just hope that reaching that goal, probably our real target at the start, will not cause the players to relax. Newcastle and Man Utd will be next in our targets. That 77 may well be enough for second as it stands, particularly if the Spuds teach the two of them a lesson. Go the Spuds! The Spark was kindled by Manchester City This week my focus is on what it takes now to be champions. Three of our group understand this, the imports from Man City. You can throw in Jorginho as well. The arrival of Jesus and Zinchenko seemingly ignited this belief that we could do it. We need them to reinject that spark. It is there to be won, still. This is our template Ice cold water in their veins? What if I told you Arsenal showed the grit of champions in the last 2 matches against West Ham and Liverpool? Coming back with a dominant display in the last 30 minutes to score 2 goals and rescue a point from being 2 goals down? Playing extraordinary football the likes of which any team would be proud of? Yes, I have to turn the matches on their head to come to this conclusion but if we do, we say Arsenal are fighters to the end and that is what will make us champions. We would be disappointed with the result but far less with the display. Jesus: A Brazilian warrior has come to us One thing is certain, we have struggled for consistency. We rarely play strongly for 90 minutes and we have got a lot of goals and wins late on. Scoring early for us seems to make us fall asleep. Young teams always struggle for consistency, it is well known. If I was to pick out one in particular it would be Martinelli, who looks electrifying at times then drifts out of the match. I also question Jesus’s positioning, playing way too deep to make an impact on the scoring. He seemed to be having difficulties with getting bashed about as well against West Ham and was taken off, but I for sure would have taken him off earlier. I suspect he has picked up a knock. Zinchenko: the guy who said we could win it A Frenchman out and we are out? Saliba out has been our biggest loss of the season. Holding has mistakes in him. He needs to improve to make the defence a wall again. Maybe he can but if not we will leak goals, I feel. If Saliba comes back soon, say against City, he might steady the ship and bring stability to the team. A Spanish demon who knows how to win There is no doubt in my mind about one thing, serial winners learn to move on from setbacks, and that is the true hallmark of champions. 2 away draws at tough grounds are not so bad really. We just need to start winning again and City will know they are in a fight. City also know how to drop points But can they also drop points? Well, let’s take a look at their PL wins over the past years. Last season they had this: over the last ten matches they had 3 draws at Palace and West Ham away plus Liverpool at home. The previous season: lost at home to Chelsea and Leeds plus Brighton away. 2019 they won all. 2018 drew to Huddersfield at home and lost to Man Utd at home. 2014 they drew with Sunderland at home, lost to Liverpool away and drew with Arsenal away. 2012 lost to Swansea away, and drew with Stoke away and Sunderland at home. They rarely manage a clean sweep. The mentality monsters were very fragile in the run-in to the league And what about Liverpool, the mentality monsters? In 2020 they lost to Arsenal, Man City, and Watford away plus drew with Burnley away and Everton at home. The last ten games are generally nervy for all teams. These statistics show that. Squeaky bum time as Fergie used to say. Inject ice into our veins The only certain thing is that if either us or City win all their matches they will win the league. Arteta will be aware that he must keep the players positive, try to introduce an icy steeliness into their veins that when you have a team on the ropes, you knock them out. You show no mercy. None should have been shown to Liverpool or West Ham. Stand on their throats when they are down. Arteta knows what happened at City in 2019 when they won all 10 of their last matches. He helped them do that. He has to replicate that ruthlessness at Arsenal. He has to pick the players up and crucially, get them to keep their form for longer in matches. We seem to get into pretty but ineffective keepball when in front instead of killing them with attacks. Will the Saints guarantee us Champions League? And so we are looking at Southampton. It, like I suspect all our matches from now on, are must wins. Getting to 77 points may mean some of the nervousness dissipates as CL is assured. Or it could mean the opposite as I have suggested above, and we relax. We all need to believe, the fans, particularly those at the ground to push the players on, the staff, and above all the players. A team that can make Liverpool look like donkeys can win this league, and that is the team we need. Let nervousness be banished. We are Arsenal.