Villa Vanquished. Thoughts on Progress

Good morning, I don’t know how it is for you but here in Canterbury it’s a morning of glorious sunshine and pleasant temperatures. I have no doubt it will remain thus over the next two weeks or so whilst I slave away on the busiest part of the academic year. Of course, once my tasks are complete the fine weather will undoubtedly abruptly terminate and return to conning me on a daily basis. Do I need a coat? Do I not need a coat? It seems the weather is responsive to my personal decisions on this subject and punishes me accordingly.

In the world of Arsenal however, it’s all sunshine and lollipops or something. I missed being able to do a triumphant blog yesterday on the various things that went right for us on Saturday but if you think that means that I’m going to meekly accept that that ship has sailed then you can think again. Frankly its always seemed to me in the years I’ve been writing this blog that victory has a very short shelf life with fans. Apart from the really big ones over the times we dislike the most, victory tends to be forgotten about by the time we play our next game whereas defeat continues to make its slimy presence felt for far longer.

So, to cover the bases of why things are rosy after the weekend it goes like this:

1) We beat Aston Villa.

2) We beat Aston Villa very well.

3) Our team is playing football with a confidence and a security we haven’t seen for a long time.

4) Chelsea and Spurs drew with each other in the worst game of top flight football ever played, ensuring our advantage over both teams in the league is extended. 

I think those are just about the major points. There other positives of course but I think they all fit into those four categories. For example Theo Walcott scoring possibly his best ever goal for the club goes neatly under categories 2) and 3). All reasons to be very cheerful. Not reasons to get carried away, mind, but reasons to be cheerful.

And it deserves noting that whilst this year represented our worst start to a season since the time of the dinosaurs or something, it has now also seen our best league run since the autumn of 2007 which was part of a league campaign which really should have seen us finish as champions. 

The worry of course, is that we’ve seen encouraging signs before. The team has played well and then suddenly a setback has come along and everything went south. Does this Arsenal team have the capability to handle something going wrong, or are we still in a situation where everything will be fine so long there are no setbacks?

The team still has a lot of work to do this season. We’ve given ourselves a great chance of accomplishing our goal of Champions League qualification but there’s enough time and points left for it all to turn around again so we can’t lose our focus or allow doubt to creep in.

Arsene Wenger believes that finishing third would make a massive difference to us due to the bonus of being put straight into the Champions League group stages. The manager said, 

“We have come through a very difficult period. We have learnt from that and must keep our feet on the ground and focus on the next game,” 

“It makes a massive difference because fourth place is a qualifier and third place is really the Champions League.

“I would prefer not [to have to qualify], as would everybody, but if we have to do it, we do it. And don’t forget, it’s after the Euros so we might not have all of our players.”

If you think back to the dark days of August and September, we really could have done without the high pressure tie with Udinese. In fact our progression to the group stage looks quite impressive considering the struggles that we were having at the time. The qualifier as we know has become harder than it was a few years ago with the reorganisation of the Champions League’s early stages. Since the new rules came in we were fairly fortunate to draw the abysmal Celtic and then Tottenham were luckier still to draw Young Boys (and still nearly lost). This season though goes to show the possibility of facing a good team from one of the big leagues and that I think was one reason that we had such a disrupted summer – because our Champions League participation was still in doubt. I’m not saying it was the only factor, but I do think it mattered. After all most of our transfer business was done only after we won the first leg.

As much as some of the manager’s well known lines have gotten a bad press and in some cases rightly so (“Like a new signing” and “fourth is like a trophy” being two obvious examples) , he always talks about the next game being the most important one and I think in our current situation those words have never been more true. It’s been a long time since Arsenal have had a strong finish to the league season but that’s exactly what has to be delivered this time around. The fact that we don’t have external distractions such as the Cup or the Champions League may not be the worst thing (though obviously I’d prefer it if we were still in both) for Arsenal right now.

Of course, football being football we’ve gone from the sky falling in a month or two ago to us being the best thing ever now and expectations are rising amongst fans as to what might be achieved next season. One one level, it’s quite amazing that anyone is thinking in those sorts of terms when our Champions League qualification for next season hasn’t even been secured yet, but as I say on another level it’s not surprising at all because that’s what football fans and football writers are like. Arsene Wenger has talked about this a little, saying

“Lets just see if we have the quality to maintain this consistency until the end of the season and then we can say ‘OK, look’, that is not done yet, there are eight games to go and things can change.

“We are more experienced this season. Last year we were [down] at the end of the season because we went out of the League Cup, FA Cup and Champions League in days – subconsciously we couldn’t win any more.”

It will be an interesting question to ask at the end of the season as to whether this campaign ultimately reflects progress from last season and where we might go from that point, but it is a question for then and not for now. For now the only thing that matters is QPR away on Saturday, and then after that home to Manchester City is all that matters and so on.

The jobs not done yet, but I think we’ve now got every chance of a third place finish, and no that’s not “like a trophy”, but after everything this season it would be a positive. 

That’ll do it for this morning then. Take it easy and I’ll return soon.

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  • Fabio  On 06/04/2012 at 10:36 am

    Hi Mate 😉
    Good luck in this new Arsenal’s space

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